“Chest taxes” were considered one of the worst taxes in India’s ruling system in the early 1800s.
The chest tax system was introduced by the king of the kingdom of Travancore, one of 550 states of India, now Kerala state. Accordingly, women are not allowed to cover their breasts and will be severely taxed if they do so.
The royal officials of the king will travel from house to house, collecting taxes from women who have passed through puberty.
The amount of tax will depend on the size of the breast. The bigger the chest, the bigger the tax. Tax collectors will check it by touching and measuring the size manually.
The purpose of this tax collection is to humiliate low-class women. Because in reality, only middle or lower class women must pay for this tax.
High-class women are allowed to cover their breasts and do not have to pay any money. This tax is called mulakkaram, if low-class women do not pay, they cannot cover their breasts in public.
Dr. Sheeba KM, associate professor at Shri Shankaracharya Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya in Kerala, India, said: “The purpose of breast tax is to maintain the class structure and nothing else.
Clothing is considered a sign of wealth and prosperity. The poor and the lower classes don’t enjoy it. “
Images of a topless woman more than 200 years ago
200 years ago, depending on the clothes, the clothes that a person wears on himself will determine which level he belongs to in society.
In his book “Native Life in Travancore,” author Samuel Mateer said that there are about 110 taxes that apply only to people of the lower classes.
The author also said that chest taxes were one of the worst taxes ever.
The rebellion of women and the sacrifice of Nangeli
Discontent persisted in the Travancore community for a long time and it reached its peak in 1859 when two low-class women were stripped of their clothes by people in Travancore’s bureaucracy. tax.
The two women were then hung up in a tree in front of everyone as a warning to others against the rules.
A brave woman named Nangeli decided to put an end to this injustice, once and for all. Nangeli is one of the victims of this terrible tax collection.
Nangeli’s death prompted the revolt of the locals in the kingdom of Travancore
Once the taxpayer went to her house to collect money, instead of giving money, Nangeli cut off his chest and placed it on a banana leaf and gave it to the tax collector.
Then, due to excessive blood loss, she passed away that very day. The husband is so distraught, so he commits suicide.
Nangeli’s death prompted the revolt of the locals in the kingdom of Travancore. A large number of women stood up for their rights, this is called the Barkar uprising.
The massive demonstration frightened the king, and under pressure from Governor Madras, the king was forced to empower all women to wear clothes in 1924.
Nangeli was painted by Murali
Nangeli’s residence was later named Mulachhipuram, which means the land of the breasted women, to remember Nangeli’s great sacrifice.
Nangeli’s actions ended the brutal tax collection reign of the kingdom of Travancore.
Maniyan Velu, descendant of Nangeli, said: “Her actions are unselfish, a sacrifice to benefit all women in Tranvancore.”
Another Nangeli descendant says: “We feel very proud because we are her family.
All we want is that many people should know about her sacrifice. It would be fitting if her name were part of regional history. “
Nangeli becomes an anonymous heroine in history. She is one of the women who laid the first bricks to build the foundation for equality. However, the story of Nangeli was only once again resurrected by a local artist named Murali.
Five years ago, when he browsed the internal magazine of a local bank, he came across a small article about Nangeli, written by someone from Kerala.
Fascinated by the story, he finds his way to the town of Mulachhipuram. He was deeply moved by the story of Nangeli and decided to immortalize her with his paintings.
Three paintings of Nangeli by artist Murali.
His three paintings of Nangeli are now published in the book Amana – The Hidden Pictures of History and he has also organized 15 exhibitions of his paintings throughout Kerala and other parts of India.
Artist Murali said in an interview that: “I don’t want to describe it as a bloody event, instead, my purpose is to honor her actions as an inspiration to humanity. “