Mar 01, 2018: A Malayalam magazine -- Grihalakshmi -- decided to put the image of a breastfeeding woman on its March 1 issue cover.
Since open breastfeeding is still a taboo in India, and since Kerala is not exactly the most progressive state, many social media users are seeing this magazine cover as a welcome step towards initiating a conversation about a women’s right to breastfeed in public.
The headline on the magazine says, "Mothers tell Kerala, "please don’t stare, we need to breastfeed"," clearly a message to both men and women in Kerala who frown at seeing a woman breastfeeding her baby in the open.
The conversation should be about making open breastfeeding normal. The cover is a part of the Mathrubhumi group’s campaign to make this possible.
Being a mother, they say, is what could complete the purpose of a woman’s life. Those who do not get carried away by the romanticisation of motherhood may realise the above statement is untrue, but to each his own.
While opinions and perspectives on whether it’s only motherhood that can ensure paramount happiness to women could differ, whether or not mothers can breastfeed babies wherever they please should not be a matter of debate.
If motherhood is divine, so is breastfeeding. Again, those who loathe sentimentalisation will know that breastfeeding is a natural process like menstruation in women - nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be embarrassed about and certainly nothing to be secretive about.
But in many parts of the world, and especially in India, breastfeeding is considered an act that is most private, may be as private as having sex; something that should not be done in front of other human beings.
At the core of this idea that open breastfeeding is condemnable is perversion - the (justifiable) fear in women of being reduced to an object for sexual gratification, and the patronising notion in men that he owns his wife and her body.
RESPONSE FROM SOCIAL MEDIA USERS
If a magazine takes such a bold step, response to it cannot only be positive. Precisely why it is considered a bold step. The cover, since the time it was released by the verified Facebook account of the magazine, has been the matter of debate and discussion.
Many social media users loved the idea, have been congratulating those behind the idea, and have been sharing the cover.
There are some who salute the team behind the cover for its decision but think that they could have avoided playing it safe by not having a "typically good-looking, fair-skinned, sindoor-sporting, gold chain-wearing" woman. This critique is being fiercely debated on social media.
Then comes the lot with the usual question - "Will the magazine dare to put a woman wearing burqa in place of this Hindu woman?"
The woman on the cover is a Dubai-based Malayali - Gilu Joseph. In a video put out by the verified account of the magazine, Gilu said, "I am a part of Grihalakshmi’s campaign about open breastfeeding. It’s a genuine issue. Th society doesn’t provide an environment for women to breastfeed in public, feeling safe. It’s a privilege mothers have - feeding their kid. You don’t have to be afraid or ashamed about it."
Gilu also said, "I had no second thoughts about doing this shoot despite being a woman who is not married and is not a mother. I am so sure it is for a good cause."
Gilu hopes that this campaign would encourage all mothers to celebrate their motherhood.