Story of Nangeli in Hindi: When Nangeli cut off both her breasts and kept them on a leaf, the story of Nangeli’s rebellion
The Story Of Nangeli: The village officer standing at the door was shamelessly telling the tax calculations. ‘It is due for so many years. In total, two thousand rupees will have to be paid. The woman standing in front could neither pay that much tax nor wanted to pay it. The village officer then said, ‘To recover this much money, the properties of both your husband and your parents will have to be auctioned.’
Voice: Babita Jain
The woman thought for a moment and made the village officer sit on the chair and turned back inside the house. He went into the courtyard and lit a lamp in front of the statue of Lord Shiva. Fold hands. Plucked a leaf from the banana tree in the courtyard. Then she picked up her clavicle and cut off both her breasts and placed them on a leaf. Picking up the leaf in her hand, she returned to the village officer with faltering steps.
Seeing this, the village officer lost his senses. Before he could understand anything, the woman fell there and died within a short time. The village officer who came to collect the tax then thought it best to run away.
This story is from 1916. This is the story of Nangeli, who raised her voice against breast tax. This tax was levied in Travancore kingdom. Its name in the local language was Mulakram. Under this, women of lower castes like Ezhava, Shenar, Shanaras, Nadar were not allowed to cover their breasts. If they did so, they would have to pay tax. Tax is decided by the size of the breast. The minimum rate was Rs 25. There was so much fear of this tax that many lower caste families left their villages and went to Sri Lanka and started working as laborers in the tea gardens there.
At a similar time, Nangeli was born on 4 April 1887 in Cherthal, a coastal village in Travancore. Father Kannada and mother Lakshmi, both worked for the richest people of the village, Ram Menon and Padmini Menon. Nangeli was his second daughter. When she turned seven, she started going to school with her elder sister Neeli. At the age of 14, bulges started appearing on the chest. Many girls in her class remained without covering their breasts. Boys from upper castes used to molest many times. Then the teacher does not scold the boy for teasing, but asks him to come to the class after washing his hands and feet. In such a situation, Nangeli tied a part of her dhoti and started going to school. The elder sister stubbornly asked Neeli to cover her breasts while walking.
In Travancore State, it was the responsibility of village officers to collect breast tax. One day the village officer of Cherthal reached Nangeli’s house and asked her elder sister to pay breast tax of Rs 25 per year. She warned that if the tax was not deposited on time, a fine would be imposed. .
In 1902, Neeli got married to Krishna from the neighboring village. Whereas, Nangeli had to leave studies after 7th. Then there was another trend of celebrating festivals among the lower castes. If the girl of the house was menstruating for the first time, many dishes would be prepared. New clothes would be bought for that girl. Special puja was performed. In 1903, Kannada and Lakshmi also celebrated this festival for their daughter. The family members were happy, then the village officer came and threatened to collect the tax. Nangeli’s breasts were measured in front of Kannada and Lakshmi and a tax of Rs 25 per year was fixed.
Priests used to tear clothes
If Nangeli walked with her breasts covered, the upper caste women would take sarcasm. The priests used to carry a stick of about 6 feet with them. There would be a knife tied at one end of it. He would tear Nangeli’s clothes from the knife side. Many times his skin was also cut by the edge of the knife. Marks were made, but Nangeli’s rebellion continued.
One day when Nangeli returned home after work, after some time the village officer also arrived. This time she asked for breast tax and fine of Rs 500. 500 at that time i.e. around Rs 14.5 lakh today. How could a person who does not have enough food for two meals a day in his home give such a huge amount?
love amidst opposition
Aditya was the son of Ram Menon, whose parents were servants of Nangeli. Nangeli’s childhood was spent with Aditya. She called Aditya Thambooran i.e. owner or sir. 21 year old Aditya fell in love with 19 year old Nangeli. One day he expressed his feelings to Nangeli.
PS Menon has written in his book ‘The Breast Tax’ that Nangeli was amazingly beautiful. One day Aditya was alone in his mansion. When Nangeli arrived for work, he hugged her tightly. The love grew so much that both of them broke all the bonds. Aditya had to go to Madras the next day. Nangeli asked what if she could stomach it? After this Aditya went to the doctor and gave him medicine. This love story continued like this for 6 years with the help of medicine. Aditya, now 25 years old, had started practicing after completing LLB. Despite all the opposition at home, Nangeli became his office assistant.
Aditya’s practice started going well. When he talked about marrying Nangeli, there was an uproar in the house. Then Nangeli moved away from him and started making women aware against breast tax. Meanwhile, one day the village officer went to Nangeli’s place. This time he increased the tax to Rs 75.
The year slipped to 1913. One day Nangeli gathered about 50 thousand women in front of the Kottayam Collectorate office. Seeing such a crowd, Collector Harrison Brown came out. He thought there must be some great leader. He too was stunned to see the beauty of Nangeli. He took the complaint letter and assured to inform the higher authorities.
Fought legal battle for 13 years
Nangeli’s family married her to Chirakundan of a nearby village in 1914 at the age of 27. Aditya and Nangeli could not unite, but both remained together in the fight against the shameful tax. Nangeli filed a petition in the court against the breast tax. Aditya would cross-examine on this. But, only date was being received from the court. The Collector also did not forward the letter. The fighting continued like this for 13 years.
Then a day came when Nangeli had to cut off both her breasts. He took this step because he felt that he would not get justice while he was alive. His death created a real uproar. The police somehow handled the situation and performed his last rites under tight security. It is said that her husband Chirakundan also committed suicide by jumping into the same pyre. However, PS Menon writes that Chirakundan had hanged himself on the tree in front of his house.
This death had an impact. The king immediately abolished the breast tax. However, in many backward areas it continued till 1924. After Nangeli’s death Cherthala was named Mulachhipuram (place of the breast). Now it is known as Manorama Junction. Nangeli’s house is still safe.
Courtesy : Nav Bharat Times
Note: This news piece was originally published in navbharattimes.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights