A woman and her breasts are always talked about. Even if she wears a bra or decides to not wear it. The piece of cloth covering the chunk of mass has become an identity of a woman. The size, the exposure of breasts or a no-show, nothing matters as she is judged anyway. But can you imagine a situation where you have to pay money to cover your breasts? Believe it or not, but there was a time in the early 19th century when women in Kerala had to pay a Mula karam or breast tax to be able to cover their chest with a cloth.
This makes me wonder about the weird social norms and how they have changed. That was a time when it was not advised to cover the breasts and now it is a taboo to show even a part of your breast. How weird is that? But there was a casteist factor related to this specific norm in the 19th century. This was a time when the caste system in Kerala was at its oppressive peak.
In his book, ‘Native Life In Travancore’, Samuel Mateer talks about the tax that only the members of the lower caste were burdened with. Back in the early 1800s, clothing was considered a sign of wealth and the poor and the lower-castes, mainly Nadar and Ezhava communities were simply weren’t allowed to cover their chests in front of members of the upper caste.
This silly rule faced rebellion. There is a famous story of a woman named Nangeli who belonged to the lower caste in Kerala and decided to not pay the breast tax or the Mula Karam.
In the year 1803, Nangeli was brave enough to go against the orders of the state. When news of her defiance spread, the parvathiyar or the tax collector arrived at her house to collect money. It is said that in protest, she cut off her breasts with a sickle knife and presented it to him.
Due to the excessive bleeding, she died on the spot, but what was born was the courage. Today, women are questioned and judged on the basis of how much skin they show. The boobs have become a controversial term and their visibility is a big no.
What happened was very sad! It was wrong for the elites to collect breast tax, don’t you think so?