The Breast Tax: Imposed On Ladies Who Selected To Cowl Their Breasts

1800s | April 15, 2021

Lithograph from L’Inde Français, 1828. From the gathering of Jean Claude Carriere. (Artwork Media/Print Collector/Getty Pictures)

The breast tax, or the mulakkaram, was an Indian follow designed to maintain the centuries-old caste system intact. If a lower-class girl needed to cowl her breasts, she needed to pay a tax, the quantity of which was assessed in an … uncommon approach.

Castes And Breasts

For greater than 1,000 years, Hindu legislation outlined a system of social hierarchy referred to as a caste system. The different classes outlined an individual’s lot in life and the algorithm and legal guidelines that utilized to them, which usually turned extra strict at each degree down. On the high was the Brahmins, the ruling elite who had been topic to the fewest restrictions, and on the backside, the Vaishyas and the Shudras, or the “untouchables.”

A number of the most uncommon restrictions of the Kerala state involved a girl’s breasts. These of decrease castes bared their breasts to honor their “betters,” whereas women of the Brahmin caste bared their breasts solely to photographs of Hindu deities. The “untouchables” weren’t permitted to cowl their breasts in any respect, to honor any girl of a better caste who may stroll by. It additionally served as a helpful identifier of an “untouchable.”

An 1860s {photograph} of Rajputs, the very best secular Hindu caste. (Charles Shepherd and Arthur Robertson/Wikimedia Commons)

The Breast Tax

When Christianity was launched to components of India in the midst of the nineteenth century, many individuals transformed to the brand new faith, whose modesty requirements had been fairly completely different from the nation’s conventional customs. “Untouchable” Christian ladies insisted on overlaying their breasts, which outraged those that seen bared breasts as a logo of respect and valued the seen caste indicator. In different phrases, not terribly good individuals.

The not good individuals within the Kingdom of Tranvancore got here up with what they definitely believed was a good resolution: imposing a tax on those that wished to cowl up. That approach, it was technically allowed, but it surely was closely disincentivized, particularly among the many lowest castes who lived effectively beneath the poverty line. From the mid-1800s till 1924, the “breast tax” was collected from ladies of the decrease castes who refused to go wild.

The Parliament of India in New Delhi in 2010. (The White Home/Wikimedia Commons)

Amazingly, There Had been Controversies

These topic to the breast tax had been clearly not pleased about it, however not only for the rationale you suppose. The quantity assorted from girl to girl primarily based not on her earnings and even her caste however the size of her breastsTax collectors went door to door, demanding to examine each girl residing in every home, and decided the quantity of her tax. Even younger teenagers who had been simply starting to blossom needed to pay the breast tax, albeit in smaller quantities.

A lot of the affected ladies had been too downtrodden and afraid to voice their objections, however in 1803, Nangeli of Cherthala supposedly bought fed up. When the tax collector confirmed up at her door, Nangeli is claimed to have sliced off her breasts and introduced them to him in lieu of cost, after which she promptly died of blood loss and her husband turned so distraught that he jumped into her funeral pyre to observe her in dying. Whether or not or not the legend is true, it made little distinction to lawmakers. The breast tax wasn’t completely abolished till 1924.

Tags: 1800s | India | law

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of educational, quitting her job as a school professor to write down full-time. She spends her days together with her firefighter husband and 4 daughters on a interest farm with an assortment of animals, together with a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a rooster named Chickaletta.

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