Conspiracy Theories, Russell’s teapot, and Breast Tax

Conspiracy theories. They always get frowned upon. They receive instant and hostile condemnations from established academies, intellectuals and scholars. These Theories recognized as wild imaginations of individuals or groups, who probably promote every silly epiphany as a serious hypothesis. Why should any entity spend their valuable time and resource to validate a wild thought, probably occurred to you during your bathroom break? How can you believe something which has zilch of evidence and who has the burden of proof? Can absence evidence for otherwise being true can itself be proof?

Unsure who the creator is , happy to credit him/her if shown right source.

BTW There is a term for this, it is called “Russell’s teapot theory”. Russell argued that there is a teacup orbiting between Earth and Mars! He argues that he does not have to prove it to me, as long as I can not disprove an orbiting pot. Does that mean there is an actual teapot orbiting the sun? The burden of proof should be the responsibility of one who claims.

These theorists, however, blame it on the very establishments who are trying to cover it up on behest of certain ideologies and vested interests. For example, there is a theory claiming Americans never went to the moon, and they did it to win the space race. They argument discounts the magnitude of effort involved in covering up something as big as a moon landing. Also, there is a mob load of YouTubers crediting aliens on all excellent stuff humans built such as Pyramids, Stone Henge and Ellora caves and so on. My job is not to debunk them, but I would not congratulate a distant alien race for having built a few crazy pieces of stuff on earth.

Conspiracy theories, however, should never be discounted for 100%. In my opinion, there is a teeny tiny possibility that they may be right. As a matter of fact, most of the ground-breaking scientific ideas were once conspiracy theories. Hope you remember Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and so many more who questioned monopoly of knowledge, faced state-sponsored inquisition and persecution. Few more scientists were burned at stake, pulled by a horse, and even thrown down from a building. At that point of history, they all were conspiracy theorists.

Historically Indians gave a better treatment to Theorists as compared to their European counterparts. When Shankaracharya and Madhvaacharyas disputed on the singularity of the duality of God, we accepted and celebrated it. Charaka claimed that “There is no God and all you have heard before are conspiracy”. Therefore, “please sell all your property to take a loan and eat Ghee and enjoy your life”. We Indian celebrate his theory him as well. This was probably unimaginable in another part of the world.

My incantation to giving them the benefit of the doubt has a reason. I have seen many such theories turning into a truth, just in my lifetime.

  • Jagadish Chandra Bose (link) invented radio waves, not Marconi was a Conspiracy theory in the 90s. It’s not any longer.
  • Coconut was called as pure poison and named the main culprit for cardiovascular diseases. We Indians called this out in the 90s as conspiracy theories. Now it is a superfood.
  • Similarly, a lot of sane minded people challenged the exclusion of dietary Fat in American prescribed diet. It was called an FDA conspiracy on behest of a few large companies? In 2015. After an obesity pandemic later, FDA not only includes Fat in the prescribed diet, it even removes the % limit of it!

Finally, I wanted to inspect one conspiracy theory making rounds nowadays. Take it with a pinch of salt and let me know what do you think.

During days of a princely state of Travancore (present-day Kerala) lower caste women had a tax on “upper cloth”. In other words, only either of uppercase women or women practicing Abrahamic religions can cover their torso, no one else can. Noncompliance to this will lead to severe consequences to a varied extent. This indeed sounds very terrible, demeaning and gruesome. The tax was allegedly called Moolakaaranam in the native language of Malayalam. Legend is, Nangeli – a woman of Ezhava community, cut off her Brest and offered it to Tax collectors. This eventually caused an uprising and riots etc. There is even a movie about it on YouTube

Humans are known for being inhumane, and this seems rock-bottom of human decency. But I did not doubt this story, till the BBC picked up for circulation. As you are aware, BBC notoriously gives stepmother treatment to India while hailing Paki land as utopia. I can give you a few more examples where BBC blamed Indians/Asians for the crimes did not have anything to do with Indians. For these reasons, I am very sceptical about anything they publish. This is what I found during my research :

Painting of 19th Century Queen of Kerala by Raja Ravivarma
  1. There are loads of photographs of upper cast women, including the queen, bare-chested. Evidently, it was part of Kerala culture, and it did not look like it was limited to a class and caste. “ custom has in it nothing indecent when it is universal,”
  2. Alarmingly, Brest tax does not find any reference and literature beyond 2001. If the alleged tax were correct, it should have appeared in a lot of literature of previous centuries.
  3. There were many contemporary brutal dictators in and around Asia who were big fans of subjugating Women. All of them traded in the coast of Malabar. If such a subjugating practice were to exists‌ in Kerala, that would have caught on and propagated to other like-minded kingdoms.
  4. British were ruling India during then, and they had a habit of recording anything and everything, including their bathroom schedules. There are several British reports of that time which covers the life in Kerala. And surprise, surprise, no Moolakaaranam!

I do not know the truth, it is too ambiguous as of now. If the tax were to be accurate, it is a big black mark on our history, not just Kerala. And if this is work for fiction, then this essentially means that a group is manufacturing a Legend just to malign Kerala. This is unacceptable.

Let me know your thoughts.