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CBSE Removes From Textbook A Section On Nadar Women's Struggle For The Right To Cover Their Breasts

Objections were raised about 'derogatory' references to women from the Nadar community.

20/12/2016 12:23 PM IST | Updated 20/12/2016 1:16 PM IST
Ramalekshmi / Alamy

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has removed from a social science textbook a section on the fight for the right of the so-called lower caste Nadar women of Travancore to cover their breasts, after objections were raised about certain 'derogatory' references to them.

The 'Upper Cloth Movement' or the Channar Revolt took place in 19th century Travancore -- an erstwhile state which covered parts of present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala -- where Nadar women started covering the upper part of their bodies, like the upper-caste Nair women did, thus breaking social hierarchies and rules of caste identity.

The textbook by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) which contained the section was being followed by the CBSE and 15 other state boards since 2006-07.

The section -- "Caste Conflict and Dress Change" -- touched upon the strict social codes regarding food and dress in India in the past.

According to a report in the Telegraph, the CBSE issued a circular to all its 19,000 affiliated schools saying that the section "stands omitted from the curriculum and no questions from this section should be asked in 2017".

In Travancore, lower-class women were not allowed to wear clothes that covered their breasts and shoulders. Baring their chests was meant to be a sign of respect to the higher-classes. Many from the Nadar community embraced Christianity and started to wear long cloths and eventually started emulating the kind of clothes that higher-class women wore.

These were seen as attempts to obliterate caste differences and led to widespread disturbances and culminated in violent riots in the 1820s and 1859.

The textbook says: "In May 1822, women of the Shanar caste were attacked by Nairs in public places in the southern princely state of Travancore, for wearing a cloth across their upper bodies. Over subsequent decades, a violent conflict over dress codes ensued."

The Shanars, later known as Nadars, were considered a "subordinate caste". Its men and women were expected to follow the local custom of not covering their upper bodies before the dominant castes.

Under the influence of Christian missionaries, however, Shanar women converts had started wearing tailored blouses. In 1829, the government of Travancore directed the Shanar women "to abstain in future from covering the upper parts of the body."

In October 1859, some Shanar women were attacked at a marketplace and their upper clothes stripped off. The government then issued an order permitting Shanar women, irrespective of their religion, to wear a jacket, or cover their upper bodies "in any manner whatever, but not like the women of high caste".

The coordinator of the book, Professor Kiran Devendra, reaffirmed that the section is factually correct and there have been no complaints from any child or school teacher regarding the contents.

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