Vishwadeep De: ‘That day is not far, the day when women will win together with men!’ Kazi Nazrul Islam had such a dream in his poem ‘Nari’. Welfare-seeking people have been seen in this way throughout the ages to establish the status of women in a male-dominated society. But the work is not easy, history is its witness. In the eyes of the ruler of the ancient era, women were royal possessions like ornaments, money and land. In the hands of the power, the woman will have the right. Also, women have to suffer discrimination in various ways. And if you sit down to say this, you will come to the breast tax in the state of Trivancore (Travancore).

Except Brahmins, no one was allowed to cover their breasts. Had to pay tax on cover. Nangeli was the woman for whom this abominable law was finally repealed. The name of this Dalit woman is bright in history. The way she established the dignity of women with her own life is a history as tragic as it is proud.

Travancore
The royal court of Trivandrum

[আরও পড়ুন: ‘ব্রহ্মাস্ত্র’কে টেক্কা! মাত্র ৭ দিনেই ১০০ কোটি পেরিয়ে গেল ‘দৃশ্যম ২’র ব্যবসা]

But before saying that, it is necessary to say how was the kingdom of Trivandrum at that time? Their fairs were burdened by taxation. Fishermen had to pay taxes to keep their nets. There was also a tax assessment for keeping a mustache. Even if you want to wear ornaments, you have to pay tax. All in all 110 types of taxes. An ‘unthinkable’ instance of exploitation of the poor. Talaqkaram is one of them. If you speak Bengali, you will be taxed for your head. And there was Mulakkaram. That is, breast tax. As already stated, what does it matter? No brahmin woman can cover her chest. This tax also had variations. The amount of tax was fixed according to the size of the breast. Those with large breasts had to pay more taxes than those with smaller breasts. This tax was applied from the time of infancy to the beginning of adolescence.

Needless to say, this was a blatant display of exploitation. Oppression by taking advantage of the helplessness of marginalized people of the society. This is how it went. Then one day one stood up… History has seen such moments time and time again. The same happened with the breast tax. In this case, the name of the face of the protest is Nangeli. A Dalit woman from the Ejava community.

[আরও পড়ুন: সৌদি যুবরাজকে ভিসায় ছাড়পত্র দেওয়ার প্রসঙ্গে মোদির উদাহরণ কেন, আমেরিকার প্রতি রুষ্ট ভারত]

Nangeli and her husband Chirukanandan lived in a small village on the coast of the state. The name of that village is Cherthala. They worked as farm laborers. Somehow the day was spent in Gujran. In this situation, one day, Nangeli suddenly caught fire. As if it exploded to deal with prolonged exploitation and deprivation.

What exactly happened that day? A local government worker used to go door to door of Parvaratiya Dalits to collect taxes. Outrage against the breast tax was building. Nangelio was seething with anger. Taxes had to be paid. The same income is nominal. The tyranny of taxes upon him. In such a situation, it was necessary to collect two handfuls of food. So it was probably only a matter of time before the fire of rebellion ignited in Nangeli’s heart like the lava of a volcano.

On the day of the incident, when Parvaratiya arrived at their home, Nangeli decided that he would not give Mulakkaram today. He asked Parvaratiya and his companions to wait at the door and went inside the room. Then he picked up a sharp weapon and cut his two breasts in two hands! And wrapped it in a banana leaf and handed it over to the tax collectors. The body is then in terrible pain. Parvaratiyars did not understand at first. Usually rice was given as tax. They thought that rice was being given wrapped in banana leaves. But soon they were stunned. Gradually their faces turned white with fear. They all quickly understood Begtik and ran away from there. Bloody Nangeli collapsed at the door of the house. He realized he could die. But no matter how much physical pain there was, he also had a mental peace. He understood that his self-sacrifice would not fail.

The news really spread like wildfire. Neighbors were gathering around Nangeli’s unconscious body. Someone quickly informed Chirukanandan. He immediately appeared there. As if he could not believe his eyes. It does not end here. Then Chirukanandan also gave his life by jumping on the pyre while Nangeli’s body was being cremated. He is probably the first man in this country to become a ‘Sati’. That is, he chose the path of cohabitation with his wife.

Nangeli
Nangeli in the artist’s imagination

Nangeli’s guess was not wrong. Panic quickly spread across the state. At the same time, the fire of rebellion also started to burn. It was as if the voices that had been suppressed so far became strong. And let me tell you, when the protest is awakened among the common people, the state power is afraid. This is also the case. The then king was forced to abolish the breast tax. In exchange for one’s life, the helpless Dalit people were freed from this torture.

But Nangeli’s protest is still neglected in our history. Like the rest of the country, Cherthala village has forgotten the great woman. No memorial has been erected in his memory. However, local leaders like C Keshavan or KR Gowri still highlight the history of Nangeli in front of everyone. And Leena, who is Nangeli’s successor, also proudly speaks of her predecessor’s bold protest. The new generation feels pride from that story. So, despite being neglected in history, Nangeli has remained bright in folklore. Even today, she is an indomitable inspiration in the struggle of helpless women. Nangeli will stay. He cannot be erased from the hearts of the people.

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