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‘Obscenity Lies In The Eyes Of The Beholder’, Kerala High Court Dismisses Regressive Petition Over A Mother-Baby Cover

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In March the cover of Malayalam women’s magazine Grihalakshmi featured the photograph of a woman breastfeeding an infant. “Mothers tell Kerala, ‘please don’t stare, we need to breastfeed,” said the headline. The cover story was the part of the magazine’s “breastfeed freely” campaign to mark International Women’s Day. It aimed to encourage a public acceptance of women tend to breastfeed their newborns openly. It prompted heated discussions. Also, the magazine, published by the Mathrubhumi group, became the subject of a court case as well. And after 3 months, 22 June was a historic day, it was a tight slap on the faces of those, whose definitions of obscenity have stopped Indian women from stepping out of their zone and explore the contemporary world for many years. The two judge bench of Antony Dominic and Dama Seshadri Naidu said, 

“We looked at the picture with the same eyes we look at the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. As beauty lies in the beholder’s eye , so does, obscenity perhaps.May we observe, Indian psyche has been so mature for ages that it could see the sensuous even in yen sacred. The paintings in Ajanta and the temple architecture are cases in point,” they said. Further they added  “Going by the contemporary community standards- and without troubling ourselves with patent offensiveness – we may observe that given the picture’s particular posture and its background setting (mother feeding the baby), as depicted in the magazine, it is not prurient or obscene; nor even suggestive of it.”

The two judges also noted that even the sections charged by the petitioner failed to convince them that the publication committed any offense that affected the “society’s moral fabric.”

According to LiveLaw, a two-judge bench  further noted that “shocking one’s morals” is an “elusive concept”, and that “one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric”, dismissing a writ petition filed by Felix M.A. 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.

When the magazine released its March edition, Social media was unsurprisingly at the forefront of outrage and all sorts of reactions. There were also reasonable critiques who put forth their opinions about having a model instead of a real mother to breastfeed was harmful to the baby. There were also people who opposed the commercial use of the natural process.

But in this case even the orthodox people of our country, who sadly are a lot in number, shouldn’t have had problems with the picture of a mother breastfeeding an infant, after all, it wasn’t depicting any sexual act or an act that could’ve triggered, disturbed somebody, it represented a simple action which is a part of every mammalian mother’s life if she has an offspring.

Let’s just put the court case and the verdict aside and concentrate on the kind of outrage the cover received.

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What I fail to understand is the mindset of the people who found that picture ‘obscene’.  It’s not only about the cover story of that particular magazine. Mothers, all over India face such problems on regular basis. There are many cases of crimes and sexual assaults against the breast-feeding mothers in India. Breastfeeding is considered taboo in India, especially at public places. Even in family gatherings, the mother has to breast-feed the baby in an isolation or in a room where there are only women. Many times, when the mother is out of her home, infants are generally hungry, and at that tender age, proper breast milk at proper time is crucial for the growth of the baby, but breastfeeding creates an awkward situation for people, making it difficult for the mother to breastfeed her child. Behind this awkwardness stands the degrading mentality of our society.

It’s ‘Us’ who, in our minds have sexualized this process. Sexualization has made this natural process provoking and it’s not the fault of women that it got sexual. Anything related to women private part gets sexual by men because of mainstream media, movies and the internet.

Kerala high court bench has set an example for all of us. It shows us the way to look at women in general. In a country where rapes happen every other minute, the bench has led the way for everyone to think in the right direction.

The line  “As the beauty lies in the beholder’s eye, so does obscenity, perhaps.” of the Kerala High Court bench has a lot to say about our society, which doesn’t leave any chance to oppress women, whether it is breastfeeding or when it comes to wearing clothes. People have also criticized, trolled women who wrote progressive poems, who expressed their voice of dissent against the patriarchy.

It’s a very strong message against the male chauvinists of this country, who are still aren’t ready to give women, what is rightfully theirs. We hear you Kerala High Court and I hope millions of Indians will hear you too.

By Hrushikesh Patil.

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