In yet another case of pressure tactics of organised caste and religious groups, CBSE last week struck down an entire section on the Nadar community of South India. The board announced that the topic has been dropped from the curriculum of the class IX social science textbook on ‘Caste conflict and dress change’.

“No questions from the section should be asked in 2017 Summative Assessment,” a Board circular addressed to teachers and students read.

This move came after the Madras High Court, while hearing a PIL, directed the CBSE and NCERT to examine a complaint on the “incorrect information” about the Nadar community in the textbook.

The topic features in ‘India and the contemporary world-I’, one of the social science textbooks published by the National Council of Education and Research Training which is used across all CBSE schools in India.

The Nadar community women and men weren’t allowed to wear an upper cloth as it was a privilege that only the upper castes enjoyed. The women who chose or dared to wear an upper cloth would have to pay a mulakkaram or a ‘breast tax’. What was even worse was the tax was calculated according to the size of the breasts: larger the breasts, higher the taxes.

In 1822, the conditions were met with a revolt from the Nadar and Ezhava communities. The revolt, often mentioned as the Channar revolt or the Maru Marakkal Samaram, did not change the situation for the community. One instance where the affected women revolted was when Nangeli, an Ezhava woman from Cherthala in Kerala, cut off her breasts and handed them to the tax collector on a plantain leaf.

This issue made news in 2012 when all major parties in Tamil Nadu protested the ‘wrong’ depiction of the Nadar community. Then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Late J. Jayalalithaa, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding the removal of the section about the Nadar community. DMK chief M Karunanidhi pitched in by saying it was ‘historically incorrect’ to call Nadars as migrants in southern Tamil Nadu.

In an interview with The Ladies Finger, J. Devika, a historian at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, said, “Taking this lesson out of the curriculum is a ridiculous move aimed at perverting education and erasing the anti-caste struggle,” she said. “There is a section amongst Hindu Nadars who do not want their past to be discussed while attempting to create for themselves a pristine past because it will give upward mobility to the community. It is particularly regrettable because in the so-called ‘breast-cloth rebellion’, it was women who challenged both the British and local caste authorities: it was the culmination of an insistent discourse in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is sad that they want to erase an instance of a community with dignity and construct one of servitude to Brahminical-Victorian morality.”