Kerala HC Rubbishes Moral Outrage Over Magazine’s Breastfeeding Cover
The Kerala High Court has refused to categorize the controversial breastfeeding cover image of Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi as obscene, ruling “one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.”
The cover of the magazine’s March 2018 issue featured model Gilu Joseph portraying a mother breastfeeding a child, and quickly became a topic of debate. The magazine had released the issue in celebration of World’s Women’s Day to promote breastfeeding, per Hindustan Times. The cover image was accompanied with text that roughly translates to: “Mothers tell Kerala: Please stop staring, we need to breastfeed.”
According to legal news site Live Law, a petitioner claimed the magazine cover contravened the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and Rules, Section 45 of the Juvenile Justice Act, parts of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, and Article 39(e) and (f) of the Constitution of India.
However, “we do not see, despite our best efforts, obscenity in the picture, nor do we find anything objectionable in the caption, for men,” ruled Chief Justice Antony Dominic and Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu. “We looked at the picture with the same eyes we look at the paintings of artists like Raja Ravi Varma. As beauty lies in the beholder’s eye, so does obscenity, perhaps.”
Notably, most of the cover’s critics (judging by the petitioner as well as social media comments) seem to have been men, many of whom claimed they were bothered most that the image used a model instead of showing a real mother and child. Model Gilu Joseph has said she faced personal attacks for her participation and was “slut shamed” after the issue’s release.
In response, the court contextualized the cover within India’s rich history of art, specifically calling out paintings in Ajanta as well as illustrations in the Kamasutra to emphasize public ability to maturely appreciate the naked human form.
The magazine hailed the court’s decision as a victory toward normalizing breastfeeding in public.
“We wanted to give a message on breastfeeding on the eve of the Women’s Day,” the magazine’s editor Moncy Joesph told Hindustan Times. “We succeeded in our endeavor. We hope it will help initiate a healthy discussion on women’s right to breastfeed in public.”