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Why are we averse to breast-feeding in public?

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Alia Joy Waters is just a few weeks old. But she has already made political history in Australia by becoming the first baby to be breast fed in the Australian Parliament recently. And her mother Senator Larissa Waters tweeted proudly saying: “So proud that my daughter Alia is the first baby to be breastfed in the federal Parliament.” Luckily, none of Waters’ colleagues in Parliament slammed or shamed her for doing so. To them, work is important and so are the needs of a working mother. Even to Larissa it was, hence, she came to Parliament to vote within a few weeks of giving birth to her second daughter. And when the baby needed to be fed, she did it while the Parliament was in session.

Same was done by a female member of Iceland’s parliament, though she was criticized by some for ‘exhibiting’ her motherhood and her milk-laden breasts! In India, no woman has dared to breastfeed in the Parliament or even in a board-room meeting, and even if women wish to breast-feed their babies within the four corners of a feeding room in a shopping mall, restaurant or public places, she faces rude remarks. At times she becomes the object of male gaze, snide remarks or even crude smiles. But even a decade back, one often encountered females on public buses in Kolkata using the churni or pallu of her saree to cover a breast-feeding child. None shamed her, some however looked the other way.

Then why did a young mother Abhilasha Das Adhikari at Kolkata’s South City Mall asked to breast-feed her seven-month old baby inside the toilet? Why was she given a written reply on behalf of the mall authorities (who later apologized for the same), asking her not to violate the privacy of the other people around and to complete her household chores at home! Is it then that the Indian society’s hypocrisy finds a woman’s breasts and breast-feeding too much to digest? 

But didn’t ancient India display voluptuous women with naked breasts on their temple walls? A visit to any World Heritage temple of India, be it Khajuraho, be it Konarak, is an eye-opener to how ancient India celebrated a woman’s body in all its splendor instead of shaming it. Abhilasha never imagined she would be literally thrown out of a mall because her child felt hungry and needed her milk. A child is also a human and it is his or her birth right to be fed by the mother. For women who have to go out on work, for buying things for the house and can hardly leave a baby back home in big cities like Kolkata, where getting full-time maids is also difficult, it is all the more likely that new mothers will need to breast-feed their child in public places.

The double-standards become more obvious when titillating scenes of gyrating women including celebrated Bollywood actresses perform on silver screen and those scenes are lapped up by the audience. Unfortunately, when those very breasts go on to feed a child, women are body-shamed.

Shall we ever change our attitude and stance?