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'Grihalakshmi' challenged the society by depicting model-poet-actress Gilu Joseph breastfeeding on its cover
It is a new kind of women-empowerment when a Malayalam fortnightly magazine 'Grihalakshmi' is challenging the patriarchal and social norms and with its March 1 issue cover depicting model-poet-actress Gilu Joseph breastfeeding a baby.

The cover – in line with the magazine's 'Breastfeed freely' campaign, a part of its International Women's Day theme. The caption of the picture says: 'Mothers tell Kerala, 'please don't stare, we need to breastfeed'. It is interesting to note that the model, air hostess and poet Gilu Joseph, is not a real mother.

The magazine's editor Moncy Joseph said, "We want to give a message on breastfeeding on the eve of the Women's Day. The cover will help initiate a discussion on a woman's right to breastfeed in public."

However, the critics feel that if the magazine, "Grihalakshmi", really wanted to take up the cause of breastfeeding it should have carried a real mother and baby. The known blogger Anjana Nayar wrote in her blog:  "You decided to push a real mother actually breastfeeding her child to inner pages and portray a model holding a baby to her bare breast on your cover is where you delved into cheap sensationalism and exploitation."

Reacting to the criticism, the model says, "When I was approached with the work I did not think twice. It is the privilege of any woman/mother. I want to convey a message that there is nothing to be ashamed of if one has to feed her baby," she said, adding that although her family did not support her doing the cover she enjoyed every bit of it.

A petition was filed against the Malayalam magazine by one Mr Felix MA, claiming that the picture is obscene. The Kerala High Court refused to label a Malayalam magazine cover of a woman breastfeeding as 'obscene' saying that 'what may be obscene to some may be artistic to other; one man's vulgarity is another man's lyric.' The court further noted that "shocking one's morals" is an "elusive concept".

The court ruled in its order that it does not see anything obscene in the image. Nor does it find anything objectionable in the caption for men. Nothing that the court "looked at the picture with the same eyes we look at the paintings of artists like Raja Ravi Varma," the bench stated, "As the beauty lies in the beholder's eye, so does obscenity, perhaps."

According to Shaheda Yashmin, Clapham, Great Britain, an important aspect of breastfeeding in Muslim cultures is the mother's concern about her privacy and modesty when breastfeeding. Muslim mothers may worry about how they will feed in front of others without exposing their skin/breast. They may also have added pressure from relatives and husbands to cover up. In some cultures mothers generally feel uncomfortable while breastfeeding in front of people even if no skin is showing.

Having big families and frequent visitors in the early days can lead to disruption of breastfeeding because latching and positioning may need a good deal of attention. It is almost impossible to feed without showing a little skin and unfortunately for many Muslims this can pose such a difficulty that bottle-feeding seems like the easier option.

Another problem arises if there are men around. Many mothers feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in the same room as men (and mahram men) even if nothing is showing and baby is well covered up. There may also be a taboo about saying the word "breastfeeding" in front of men, depending on the cultural traditions of the family. 

"Mothers may breastfeed their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period]. Upon the father is the mothers' provision and their clothing according to what is acceptable. No person is charged with more than his capacity. No mother should be harmed through her child, and no father through his child. And upon the [father's] heir is [a duty] like that [of the father]. And if they both desire weaning through mutual consent from both of them and consultation, there is no blame upon either of them. And if you wish to have your children nursed by a substitute, there is no blame upon you as long as you give payment according to what is acceptable. And fear Allah and know that Allah is Seeing of what you do."

 ……The Holy Quran, Surat Al- Baqarah: 233

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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