Since Wednesday evening, the photograph of a model breastfeeding a baby has generated a storm of reactions on social media. The photograph appears on the cover of the latest issue of Grihalakshmi, a popular Malayalam weekly magazine for women brought out by Mathrubhumi Publications, with the headline (roughly translated to English as): “Mothers tell Kerala: Don’t stare, we need to breastfeed.”
In an interview to The Indian Express, Gilu Joseph, the model who features on the controversial cover, said that a query for cover shoot had come to her like any other assignment and as soon as she found out what the issue being addressed was, she decided to do it. Joseph defended the concept of the photoshoot saying, “It is a problem to interpret this (breastfeeding) sexually. Isn’t it a beautiful thing? Why would you think it’s wrong? Which god will you offend by feeding your child?”
The 27-year-old, who has acted in movies such as Thrissivaperoor Kliptham and Jacobinte Swargarajyam and also written lyrics for Adam Joan, Malayalam drama C/O Saira Banu and Ottamuri Velicham, is unmarried and has no children. But she says she didn’t have any apprehensions before doing the cover, “because it’s a cause she believes in”.
Her family, which lives in Kumily in Kerala’s Idukki district, did not support her decision to do the assignment, and her older sister, who is a nun, raised strong objections. She said she understood why they had a problem with the idea and respected their opinions, but she needed to do what she felt is right. Moreover, she didn’t feel there was any stigma or discomfort in posing for the photos.
“I am extremely proud of my body and only I can have rights over it,” she said. The debate sparked by Joseph’s photos is not new. A similar debate had ensued last year when Australian senator Larissa Waters breastfed her daughter inside the country’s parliament. Support came in from women around the world, including working mothers such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. A similar wave of support has also come in for Grihalakshmi’s cover.
For many, the very fact that a magazine — which has traditionally focussed on teaching women to be good homemakers — is now taking a bold, progressive stand on the breastfeeding debate, is heartening. This is where the magazine too wants to keep the focus.
This, says MV Shreyams Kumar, Joint Managing Director of Mathrubhumi Publications, is part of a campaign to encourage women to breastfeed and remove the social stigmas attached to it. “So many women have told us that they can’t breastfeed their children in public without inviting stares. It’s a natural, beautiful thing that a mother does with her child. If some people see something objectionable in this, then they are the one with the problem,” he says.