“The light of modern consciousness is not gentle or reverent;it lacks graciousness in the presence of mystery, it wants to unriddle and control the unknown.Modern consciousness is similar to the harsh and brilliant white light of an operating theatre.This neon light is too direct and clear to befriend the shadowed world of the soul.
It is not hospitable to what is reserved and hidden.We desperately need a new and gentle light where the soul can shelter and reveal its ancient belonging."
Irish poet - John O'Donahue
Nangeli's Sacrifice by artist Murali (Murali T)
Nangeli’s story is one of sacrifice and standing against Brahmanical patriarchy and caste-based oppressive social order which is believed to be part of the folklore that has been passed down through oral history in Kerala, my home state.
Nangeli was an ezhava (lower caste) woman who lived in the 19th century in the southern Indian state of Kerala. During this time, there existed a tax system in Kerala called the Breast Tax (Mulakaram). Under this system, lower caste women could not cover their breasts if they didn’t pay the Breast Tax.
Legend has it that Nangeli refused to uncover her breasts or pay the Breast tax. Instead, to register her protest against the oppressive tax regime, she cut off her breast and offered it to the tax collectors on a plantain leaf. She subsequently died from loss of blood.
Nangeli’s sacrifice for preservation of a woman’s dignity is said to have triggered women’s liberation and paved ways for social and political changes in Southern India, including the annulment of Breast Tax. Her story of ultimate protest is still missing in the historical texts in Kerala caught in dominant social systems.
Why Nangeli? Why here? Why now?
We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and have benefitted from the trailblazing gestures of women like Nangeli. As Laura Northrup says “The path toward liberation is a collective struggle that we engage in for the freedom of all, for the freedom of generations to come, freedoms that we may not experience in our own lifetimes." Women like Nangeli have paved the way for women like me to have the privileges that we have now.
Counselling is inherently about the excavation and telling of stories of personal and social injustice, oppression, neglect, violations and deep pain. All stories benefit from the light of awareness. May your stories be heard. May you heal from the light of awareness.