Nowadays, it’s a matter of individual liberty to choose one’s attire, and any attempt to establish a list of dos and don’ts is roundly criticized and condemned. The concept of “contempt for individual freedom for dressing up” originated in the Western globe, namely in the so-called progressive mindsets of that region. At first glance, our educated minds yell in denouncing any endeavor that restricts our feeling of dressing. Since Bharat is a nation with diverse cultures and climatic circumstances, the clothing worn by people in different places varies.
The coastal region of Hind Mahasagar in the southern state of Kerala experiences tropical weather conditions.
Travancore, governed by the Hindu king Raja Marthanda Verma and other Hindu dynasties, was located along the same coastline. Other than Nepal, it was the only Hindu state that resisted Muslim domination.
There has recently been a lot of talk about a Keralan folktale that has captured people’s interest. A few films have also been made around it. The folktale describes the widespread practice of the Breast Tax, which was enforced on women from lower castes if they covered their breasts in prior generations.
Mulakkaram was the name of the tax.
Recently, the tale of Nangeli, a woman from the Keralan Ezhava group who hacked off her breast and gave it to the tax collector after being accused of hiding them, has gained fame. Her death from profuse bleeding and her husband Kandappan’s suicide in the aftermath are also depicted in the Nangeli narrative.
Imagine a terrible tradition where upper-caste ladies forbade lower-caste women from covering their breasts and levied a “breast tax” against those who ventured to do so. According to the legend, those Ezhava women who could no longer stand the degrading exploitation cut off their breasts and reached martyrdom.
This may be among the most shameful incidences among the innumerable terrible acts against lower castes that have been recorded throughout history. The worst type of oppression one could imagine is the one that humiliates lower castes and offends women’s modesty.
As we comprehend the narrative, a vision of a nobleman dressed in exquisitely opulent garb and a woman seated next to him on an elaborate throne, dressed head to toe in the finest silks, glides into our minds.
We must now set aside our fantasies and pose the following essential query:
Does the narrative become credible and the gospel truth simply because it describes horrifying crimes against women of lesser social status? Let’s fact-check the attire and social customs in Kerala’s tropical environment before the 19th century.
It is a well-recognized pattern that the traditional clothes used in their daily life were greatly influenced by the local climate.
Due to the humidity, it was simply a piece of cotton material wrapped about the stomach, and both men and women were expected to do so. The ladies of the upper castes occasionally wore another fabric (uttarayin), which hung over the shoulder but was not used to hide the breast.
The Queen of Quilon was shown in a visitation by the Dutch traveler Johan Nieuhof showing her with her breast exposed. In the travel writings of the 17th and 18th centuries, Pietro Della Valle and John Hanry Grose, noted that neither men nor women in Kerala wore upper clothes.
Abbe Dubois, a different traveler, wrote in his 1815 book “Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies” that courtesans were the only women who covered their breasts to draw clients. The act of covering the breast was viewed as appealing.
The majority of Keralian civilization has been matrilineal. For adherents of the Abrahamic religion, Muslims, and Christians, who were the only ones who enjoyed wearing blouses, their choice of attire has come as an unpleasant shock.
According to the anthropologist Fred Fawcett, no native of Malabar preferred to conceal their breasts or wear a blouse, but as individuals were more exposed to the outside world, their customs altered. The native Tiyya women initially refused to cover their breasts with a piece of cloth when the English nurses requested it because they were not prostitutes!
Similar to this, C. Keshvan’s autobiography mentions the story of a little girl defying her mother by refusing to wear a blouse. (Exactly like how modern girls react when given frank feedback).
With all these statements criticizing the presence of the alleged degrading “Breast Tax,” which is still practiced in Kerala, it was critical to determine where these stories came from.
In 1957, N R Krishna wrote about the “brave woman” in his book “Ezhava: Than and Today,” but he made no mention of Nangeli or her husband by name. In his 1976 biography, “S. Padmanabhan Pannikar,” C. Vasava Pannikar wrote more extensively using the two-line narrative of N R Krishna while still being certain of the situation.
Then, in the year 2000 CE, S N Sadasivan wrote extensively about the subject in “Social History of India,” focusing on the time frame of about 1840 CE.
The account of the husband’s suicide was eventually added by the journalist C. Radhakrishnan, who gave the characters the names Nangeli and Kadappan. On March 8, 2007, Pioneer published the article for the first time. Both Mathrubhumi and Malayala Manorama published their Malayalam translation on the same day. It was published in the SBD Kaviyoor bulletin and then the Murali T. canvas later in 2012.
It also appeared in the Times of India, BBC, and Vagabond at the same time.
Let’s now consider what Mullakaram and Thallakaram signify.
In Malayalam, the word “mula” means breast. The poll tax, head tax, or capitation tax is known as thallakaram. Per-head polling suggests that tax is bestowed on a person, whether a male or a woman, as is customary around the world. Generally speaking, women paid less tax than males. The Thallakaram (tax in Malayalam) was referred to as Mullakaram (tax on women, and she is depicted as the one with Mula) to highlight the varied tax structure based on gender (breast).
The Cock and the Bull fable illustrates how a false narrative can become an accepted fact if it is repeated frequently. Strangely, the sad false anecdote has expanded caste divisions and been accepted as the doctrine around the globe.
Stan Tax is a recent painting by Murali T. on the subject that was followed by a film by Yogesh Pagare and a few other films on the subject. These films have highlighted the Dalit-Adivasi and Pichda section of society being targeted, and unquestionably the Hindu priest has been the villain among them. The simplest target.
As I stated at the outset of this article, the Western idea of authority has been to impose every ethical idealist idea.
The very natural standard was used as a tactic to increase the difference between Upper castes and Lower castes, and eventually, to poison the minds of Dalits and chase them into religious conversion. In earlier times, the ‘uncovered bosom’ was an infuriating blow to Victorian morality.
Similar to this, it is also thought that Tipu Sultan, the monarch of Mysore, fought the ruler of Travancore to show support for the lower castes who were victims of the heinous “Breast Tax.”
This is yet another false tale, as Tipu Sultan’s raid was intended to destroy one of the few Hindu kingdoms that had resisted Islamic domination and remained independent.
In addition, the enormous wealth of Padmanabh Temple was a source of envy for other kingdoms. Insulting Hindus and causing a breach between the castes would encourage conversion.
India’s largest nation, Bharat, has endured centuries of caste-based societal destruction in addition to political imprisonment.
I don’t claim that there were no caste distinctions, but sadly, the stories about them have been made up with the scantest historical support, irreparably harming society.
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