Contributions of Nangeli, Kerala
date March 8 every year is exclusively dedicated to women.
At an International level, feminists and feminist organizations
have arranged several functions regarding it. All types of
ceremonial functions are also held in Kerala. But a lady,
who must not be forgotten is completely forgotten by feminists
and feminist organizations in Kerala.
There were several women who sacrificed their lives in world
history. Right from Joan of Arc of France to Rani Jhansi of
India - they devoted their own lives for the freedom of their
motherland. They lost their lives by rival’s hand.
is an entirely different story about a lady who made sacrifices
in history. The story of Nangeli was written with blood not gold.
She was the first woman who dared to challenge the social injustice
by giving her own life. In fact, she was the one who lit fire of
struggles in Kerala against social circumstances based on caste
system. Nangeli opened the doors of freedom for woman, especially
those belonging to low castes. Unfortunately, her great sacrifice
went into oblivion in history. Today, if anyone remembers her sacrifice,
it is only vocally transmuted to the next generation. Some of her
relatives have only vague memories of her and that too is becoming
thinned in the passage of generations and time. Only Leela (61)
belonging to the fourth generation of Nangeli has kept alive the
memories her courageous ancestor.
All of us have heard about taxes related with land, house, commerce,
income etc. Think of a time when tax was imposed on human organs.
Such a time prevailed in erstwhile Travancore. Women belonging to
lower castes were not allowed to cover their breast. If any one
cherished to do it, she should have to pay a high amount as tax.
This tax was called “Mulakkaram” (Breast Tax). Those ladies who
violated the rule were brutally harassed and penalties were imposed
on them. No lady was bold enough to challenge this injustice.
Beautiful ladies hesitated to go out of the house without covering
their chest. Beauty and elegance of the body became a curse for
them. Lives of so many beautiful ladies was stranded in the dark
room by this cruel law.
this time a lady called Nangeli challenged this situation.
This bloody incident took place almost a century ago. Physically
very attractive and at the same time stocky and healthy, Nangeli
was a resident of the Cherthala town. Thirty-five years
old Nangeli was not ready to see her beauty as a curse. She
had long curls which reached out to her knees and she was
very fair and attractive. “During that time, she was the symbol
of beauty. Those who saw her said that she was like an “Apsara”
depicted in mythologies like Mahabharatha.” - Leela remembered
these words, which were orally transmuted from generation
mind was throbbing with hopes of living a life of freedom. She was
determined to wear a cloth on her chest. The news immediately spread
like wild fire. People who were equivocal of her beauty and youth
and always meditated her figure in their minds were mutually exchanging
words of violation of the prevailing law. The village officer
who was entitled to collect breast tax came to know about this.
He rushed to Nangeli’s house. Her husband Kandappan was not there.
The Village Officer demanded tax for covering her breast. During
that time, the custom was to serve money as breast tax on a plantain
leaf, which was put behind a lighted lamp. Nangeli had followed
all rituals. She wanted some time to bring the money and entered
her room. Within seconds she came back - she had cut herself and
brought it on plantain leaf. The Village officer shivered with fear.
Suddenly Nangeli became unconscious and died within a few seconds
before the lamp. Blood flowed around her body. By evening her body
was brought to the pyre for cremation. As fire began to swallow
Nangeli, Kandappan rushed to the spot. He failed to suppress his
sorrow. He gave his life by jumping into the pyre of his beloved
Nangeli. The place where their house is situated is still known
as “Mulachiparambu” in Cherthala town.
On the next day itself, the King of Travancore Sreemolam Thirunal
issued a royal proclamation banning breast tax and allowed all lower
caste women to cover their chest.
sole of Nangeli might been smiled and enjoyed this proclamation
since her sacrifice did not go in vain, though she and her memory
have disappeared from the history of Kerala as well as female liberation
Radhakrishnan is an English Journalist and writes articles in
National Dailies. He writes articles on topics such as history,
politics, business, environment and tourism in Kerala.