Delhi High Court Hears Plea For Public Breastfeeding Spaces
Yesterday, the Delhi High Court issued notices asking the Delhi government, the Centre, and civic authorities to weigh in on the possibility of instituting breastfeeding facilities in public places.
The Delhi HC was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed on behalf of a mother who sought facilities to feed her newborn in public without being subjected to “censuring and dishonourable looks,” reports The Indian Express. The plea contended that the lack of public breastfeeding facilities in India “hampered” a woman’s right to privacy.
The bench observed that such facilities are provided for women around the world, and also pointed out that there even aren’t breastfeeding facilities in Indian airports. It should be noted the bench was led by Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal, the same judge who, while hearing a case against criminalizing marital rape on Tuesday, observed that a rape is a rape, even if the victim and perpetrator are bound by marriage — evidently, good things can happen for women when a woman is in a position of legal agency.
Justice Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said the matter must be considered by all land owning agencies and civic bodies. They directed authorities to revert back to them with reports within four weeks.
Earlier this year, the Kerala High Court refused to classify a magazine cover depicting a breastfeeding model as obscene. “One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric,” the Kerala HC noted.
In that case, most of the magazine cover’s critics were men. And the cover was not an isolated incident: Women are routinely shamed for breastfeeding in public. If authorities do not support the motion to provide public facilities for women to breastfeed in public, they will essentially perpetuate the Catch-22 that is the reality for most Indian mothers. Women cannot breastfeed in public, but there are no facilities where they can do so privately, either. The message to mothers, then, whether subliminal or intentional, is that there is no place for them in public life; they are only valuable at home.
Hopefully, the Delhi High Court will continue on the progressive track it has indicated it’s on this week, and when hearing the case again on August 28th, will rule in favor of instituting public breastfeeding facilities. Indeed, doing so will protect the individual’s constitutional right to privacy. But ultimately, India must normalize and desexualize breastfeeding in public spaces. When that happens, new mothers will have in practice, not just in theory, the right to exist in public.