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A forgotten history- Nangeli

Laws  in theory are put into place to protect people, but they can also be used to oppress. I think it is important to remember the truth of how brutally the law has been used in the past so that we don’t fall into the trap of minimizing the degree of that oppression. While many of us are aware of laws that prevented women from voting and the associated women’s suffrage movement or the fact that married women were considered chattel of their husband under English common law, many are not aware of all types of taxes and rules that existed. The detail in which these laws dehumanized categories of people based on gender, race, or religion is a reminder of a very dark history we should be conscious. We should appreciate the brave acts and sacrifices that many individuals made to give us the freedoms we have today, so we do not take those freedoms for granted or stop fighting against the vestiges of oppression that still exist today. For example, when we talk about the objectification of women’s bodies the topic may to many be considered cliche or melodramatic, but that is to minimize the almost forgotten stories of heroes like Nangeli, Nangeli’s husband, and the practice of breast tax that was used to suppress women of certain classes in Travancore. The tax was said to be based on the size and attractiveness of the breasts and used to suppress lower class women, who had to pay the tax, while upper class women did not. Women that did not pay the tax were not allowed to cover their breasts in public and, therefore, often stayed at home further reinforcing the idea that these women were inferior and shaming their families. According to wikipedia:

Nangeli was a dalit woman, who lived in the early 19th century at Cherthala in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in India. She questioned the breast tax system existed during that time, by which women of lower caste required to pay tax to cover their bosom in public. She refused to uncover her bosom and pay tax. When the pravathiyar(village officer) of Travancore asked her to pay tax, she chopped off her breasts and presented them in a plantain leaf to him.[1]She died the same day evening due to loss of blood. Her husband jumped into her pyre and committed suicide. Following the death of Nangeli, the breast tax system was annulled in Travancore. The place she lived came to be known later as Mulachiparambu (meaning land of the breasted woman). #story #kerala #history #throwbacktuesday
 Her husband’s sacrifice was the first historical recording of a man jumping into a funeral pyre and sacrificing himself, a practice which was expected of widows at the death of their husband’s at that time. It was considered that the widow upon her death became a burden upon her husband’s family, so the honorable thing to do was to jump into his funeral pyre and follow his spirit into the next life. If you know of other forgotten stories of rules and laws of oppression and the brave men and women that fought against them please share them with us in the comments below.

This blog is not intended to give legal advice. We at law girl 101 always recommend getting legal advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction before taking any legal action or making any legally binding decisions.