What was Channar Revolution, why could Dalit women not cover their bodies?
This incident happened last year. The marriage procession was to come to a house of Valmiki community in Lohavai village of Sambhal district of Uttar Pradesh. The daughter wanted her groom to come riding a mare. But he was afraid that the upper caste people would not allow the groom to come on a mare. The daughter’s father sought protection from the police. SP himself was present on the spot. Under the protection of the police, the groom came riding a mare and took his bride away safely.
Voice: Rohit Upadhyay
This is the story of a country that became independent in the year 1947, whose constitution came into force in 1950. The Constitution of the country gives equal rights in every way. But, even after 72 years, no groom from the Dalit community could come to this village riding a mare.
In this village of Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit daughter took the help of the law to fulfill her wish, but if we turn the pages of history, we can see the ugly face of social discrimination, the thought of which shudders the soul. At that time it was difficult to even imagine daring to protest, it was unthinkable that anyone would come along.
It is about Travancore. Travancore also came into existence in the year 1729. This story of discrimination goes back much earlier than that. What the discrimination was like can only be imagined from the fact that Dalit women were not allowed to wear clothes above the waist. That is, they had to keep their breasts open. This was the identity of his belonging to a lower caste. It was not only about Dalits, every woman had to go with her body uncovered in front of people of higher caste than her. This practice was also prevalent in the upper caste on the basis of sub-castes. There was no opposition to this for a long time, but women were unhappy with it. She felt guilty as to why she was born in a lower caste. Even the highest caste Brahmin women had to keep their breasts exposed in front of the deities in temples.
Well, let us come to the matter after 1792. The British had established their dominance. They were present in every empire in some form or the other. At the same time, the king of Travancore had become an advocate of this discrimination to fill the treasury of the empire. Name was Tirunal Ram Varma. He imposed all kinds of taxes on the lower castes in the society. For example, tax on moustache. That is, if lower caste men want to have a mustache like upper caste men, they will pay tax. If a lower caste family kept a fish net, they also had to pay tax. If lower caste women or men want to wear jewellery, they will also have to pay tax. There were other types like this. One of these was breast tax. Yes, you are understanding right. Tax even for covering breasts. In Malayalam it was called Mulakkaram. Which means breast tax in Hindi. That is, breast tax.
Now how would the lower caste people have so much money that they could pay taxes even for covering the breasts of women. Not only this, tax was taken on the basis of breast size and its beauty. For this, the king’s tax collector used to go to the houses of Dalits and collect taxes. As long as they had the capacity to bear it, Dalit families somehow managed to raise money and pay taxes. However, the number of people doing so was not large. Daughters, sisters and women were forced to live with their breasts open. The atrocities on Dalits by the tax collector and his subordinates were increasing. In Travancore at that time, Erava and Panayeri Nadar were the major Dalit castes.
Eventually, this oppression began to take the form of a rebellion. The first rebellion took place in 1822-23. Women belonging to the Dalit caste then started demanding their right to wear Kuppayam. In protest, she started commuting wearing Kuppayam. Kuppayam was a kind of coat or robe which could cover the breasts. At that time there was an English Diwan in the kingdom of Tirunal Rama Varma, Colonel John Munro. He saw in this opposition a way to spread Christianity. With the hope of religious conversion, he got the king to issue a decree that those Dalit women who convert to Christianity can be allowed to wear Kuppayam. Rest, Dalit women will have to live with bare breasts and will have to pay tax if they want to cover it.
The trick worked. Many people adopted Christianity. But even then there was a large number who did not like to leave their religion. However, people from the upper class started opposing this decree saying that then what would be the difference between upper caste and Dalit women who became Christians? On the one hand, there was opposition to this decree from the upper castes, while on the other hand, the upper caste women, who were considered lower among the sub-castes, also came out in protest. From 1827 to 1829, the flames of protest started burning again in Travancore. Eventually, the king decreed that upper caste and all Christian women, except Dalit women, would be allowed to cover their breasts.
After this decree, peace was restored in the society for some time. But Dalit women did not get any relief from both these rebellions and the decrees issued to end them. Once again the fire of rebellion started gaining momentum. Despite being a Dalit, she wanted the right to cover her breasts. Dalit women started coming and going with their breasts covered. Due to all restrictions, she became bent on rebellion. Even when officials came to collect taxes, they started beating them. The repression of power and the rebellion of Dalit women were now face to face.
This was the year 1858, the rebellion was at its peak. Even the upper caste people had indulged in indecency with Dalit women. Any Dalit women who passed by with their breasts covered, their clothes were torn. The Nair community, which was considered an upper caste, came forward to oppose socially Dalit women. But Dalit women did not bow down. This was the third phase of the Channar rebellion and its peak. In history, this three-part rebellion is called revolution.
Nangeli’s sacrifice is also mentioned in a part of this revolution. Although there is little historical evidence, his story is common in the folklore of Kerala. It is said that once when the tax collector of the king of Travancore came to her house to collect her breasts, in protest Nangeli cut off both her breasts, wrapped them in a banana leaf and gave them to him. Seeing the blood soaked breasts, the tax collector lost his senses and ran away. But Nangeli also did not survive due to loss of blood. Her husband also committed suicide by burning himself in her bier.
This resistance of Nangeli became a new flame of rebellion. The opposition to the government was not stopping. When wives were insulted, husbands also immolated themselves in fire. An incident happened such that the people of Nair community tore the clothes of Dalit women and the government tax collectors hanged those women on trees. After this, Dalit men started burning villages. When the fire of rebellion was not stopping and the violence was increasing, the Governor of Madras ordered the King of Travancore to stop the violence at any cost.
Finally, on 26 July 1859, the king issued a decree that Dalit women would also be able to wear Kuppayam. Apart from this, they were given the option to cover the upper parts of the body with the clothes worn by fishermen. Then this struggle stopped but the protest continued at a slow pace till the right to wear clothes like the women of elite families. Finally, in the year 1915-16, they got the right to wear ordinary clothes.
This year, Kerala CM P Vijayan and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin celebrated 200 years of Thol Seelai Podattam, the fight for the right to wear the saree from the shoulder. This Channar Revolution, which started in the year 1822, is one of those less-sung stories of history, due to which women snatched their rights. Nangeli may not be mentioned in history books, but the story of his sacrifice is on the lips of people in Kerala and entire South India. The place where he is said to have hailed from, near Cherthala in Kerala, came to be known as Mulachiparambu, which in Hindi means the land of the mammalian women.
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