Breastfeeling, not Breastfeeding

The raging controversy over the cover of a breastfeeding woman looking up with no shame about her exposed breast has, quite expectedly, sent conservative fools in Kerala into a raving frenzy. The case against the model and the conservative breast-beating going on now must be dismissed summarily as useless bullshit.
However, I must say that I had very mixed feelings about the cover and the defense offered for it by many. For many arguing in its defense seem to be saying that all one needs is gratefulness for the effort to open up the issue and the space gained, and all else raised isn’t really worth the trouble. Even this intelligent piece in the Ladies Finger slides into such complacency.

If you ask me, this cover is not of a woman breastfeeding, but of one who is declaring her determination to be comfortable while breastfeeding, thereby reinforcing her commitment to breastfeed her baby. I think this difference is important. Breastfeeding is a very intimate act; it is highly physical. If the mother and child are well, happy, and don’t have issues that may make this feel like a chore or hard to do, then it is very highly pleasurable too. As a woman who has breastfed continuously for 9 years with just a short break of a few months during my second pregnancy, I can say this: breastfeeding is also ‘breastfeeling’, so your attention is on the act, and you really don’t want to focus on anything else, especially irritating stares. It is as pleasurable as lovemaking. Many years later (my daughters are 25 and 20 this year), when I remember the act, my nipples rise, tingling. Breastfeeding was also play time, when the little one played with her mum’s breast with her tiny fingers feeling and squeezing it; and my younger one was especially playful, twisting her tiny body in sheer pleasure, and sometimes, remaining still and then naughtily sinking her little tooth into the nipple, rolling her eyes up to check the reaction from her mum! So when we traveled, I always carried a big, opaque duppatta with which I made a ‘tent’ over our heads that covered us completely. We would be sitting in a corner seat in the train, and having fun, she sitting on my lap (and later the tent would be big enough for the three of us, myself, my six-year-old, and one-year-old, the former listening to a story, and the latter happily suckling). We would sing, tickle, do what not. Demanding the freedom to breastfeed without being too bothered about modesty and in public without anyone staring, for me, then, is demanding the right to such intimate pleasure in public. In that sense, this should have been one of the afterlives of Kerala’s Kiss of Love protests.

I don’t have the image of me breastfeeling happily, but here is the picture of my little one after one of our sessions. Does anyone doubt anymore, that it is indeed breastfeeling, not just breatfeeding. Here is she, looking ecstatic, the milk still in her little mouth!
However, the sartorial codes of the model make me feel very disconcerted. Sharanya Gopinathan, in the above piece, argues that Grihalakshmi caters to largely savarna women probably. But no, savarna women are not the demographic majority, and they are possibly not the dominant section in the magazine’s readership. But savarna culture is pervasive in Kerala, cutting across caste and faith, and the cover clearly panders to it. The model’s huge sindoor — mark you, wearing the sindoor is a very recent import from the north to Kerala, the demure-looking sari, and the girl-next-door look was probably calculated to make up for the exposure of the breast. So we have a young woman who announces through her sindoor that she is married — legally and customarily penetrated, to adopt a Foucaldian way with words — and modestly dressed, that she belongs to the elite, evident in her professionally-groomed looks, and also tells the world that she is determined to breastfeed no matter how much the lechs stare. Intended or not, it brings to the mind too readily the dream-girl of the Hindutva modernist vanguard: the educated woman, maybe even a corporate professional, with looks that fit that environment, who is determined to mother well and indeed stay close to her biological ‘essence’, and of course whose maternity has not been allowed to affect her slim body and maidenly-looking breasts. The idea, I think, was to say that such a woman can and should be brave enough to fend off irritating stares — but it backfired with the conservatives, apparently, who are not ready to concede any quarter. Breastfeed she must, remember her womanhood, she must, look pretty and stay slim she must — and demand no open breastfeeding.
When will we see the image of a woman you see in the bus stops every day in Kerala, harried, sweaty, with her budget-beauty parlour looks and less-than-chic sartorial choices sitting in a bus shelter perhaps and immersed in feeding her infant, her not-perfect breasts bulging out un-prettily, caring nothing at all for what the world thinks? She can of course be imagined as staring back defiantly, but the glow of pleasure is what should animate her being and fill her with courage. Normination to be a good biological woman and mother. Not the developmentalist commitment to produce healthy babies. What ultimately counts is the space of intimacy between a mother and her child, which is physical, which involves pleasure — and we need to demand that women should be able to create it everywhere.
And why on earth are we waiting for Grihalakshmi to lead? Thankfully, third wave feminism in Kerala is devoid of prudishness and values pleasure — and among our third gen we have a great many artists — poets, painters, photographers, of many genders! We should be able to assert that what is at stake is breastfeeling, not just breastfeeding. Let us reduce ourselves to neither those who sneak in a litany to biological motherhood through their seemingly radical cover, nor with those who want to see nothing but physical nourishment in breastfeeding.

ECR Devoid of Orange is Still a Deterring Passport: V J Varghese

This is a guest post by V J VARGHESE

The aborted move of giving the Emigration Check Required (ECR) passports a distinct look by orange-jacketing them was arguably driven by reasons of administrative expediency. Though unexplained officially, the aim was to ensure discreet and dedicated handling of the large number of ECR passport-holders emigrating from India for overseas work. Had the colour code been carried through, the orange passport holders would have been relegated practically to an inferior citizenship not just at overseas but also through the multiple stages of emigration at home and in transit. The ill-thought colour-bracketing would also have nearly stigmatized the most vulnerable section of Indian passport-holders through contravening ‘special’ treatment at multifarious levels. Continue reading “ECR Devoid of Orange is Still a Deterring Passport: V J Varghese”

PadMan, Patriarchy and the Poor Man’s Innovation: Tannistha Samantha and Mukta Gundi

This is a guest post by TANNISTHA SAMAMTHA and MUKTA GUNDI


With the success of “PadMan”, Akshay Kumar has established himself to be a bleeding-heart ‘feminist’. News channels are pouring praises for a film that introduces a ‘bold’ topic while regurgitating the crucial link between safe menstrual practices and women’s health. While the message is old (and important), the euphoria around it is new. Continue reading “PadMan, Patriarchy and the Poor Man’s Innovation: Tannistha Samantha and Mukta Gundi”

The Festering Sore of the Caste-Wall at Vadayambady: T T Sreekumar

T T Sreekumar, an important commentator on contemporary politics in Kerala — a public intellectual who now qualifies to be an irritant in the eyes of the Kerala police, now that he has openly declared his allegiance to the dalit people fighting injustice and Vadayambady and inaugurated a protest-event there — writes about the issue and its historical origins:

When I visited Vadayambady the other day to express my solidarity with the cause of the agitation, what I witnessed there was an atmosphere of utmost fear and police terror. A big task force of police was stationed at the location. The team that included the special branch officers, had created a situation of terror at the peaceful site. Activists mentioned that a particular police officer continuously hurled abuses, including caste abuses, at the protesters that included Dalit women and children. When the protest began to draw national attention, the ruling dispensation of CPIM that had hitherto remained unconcerned has started to take up some damage control measures. However, when they finally arrived at the site of the agitation almost after a year since the agitation began, the CPIM leaders allegedly refused to address the caste question involved. Dalit activists, including women activists, surrounded them and raised several objections to this attitude pointing to their sheer hypocrisy and lack of integrity.

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Malayali Feminism 2018: In the Light of Vadayambady and Hadiya’s Struggle

The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of others, not our own powerlessness, stupefy us.


As frightening spectres of untouchability and unseeability hover around the festering sore of the ‘caste-wall’ at Vadayambady in Kerala, as the so-called mainstream left-led government here continues to pour its energy and resources into aiding and abetting caste devils there, as most mainstream media turns a blind eye, as the Kerala police continues its mad-dog-left-loose act, many friends ask me: why have you not yet written about the struggle there of dalit people fighting of the demon of caste now completely, shamelessly ,in the public once more? Continue reading “Malayali Feminism 2018: In the Light of Vadayambady and Hadiya’s Struggle”

സ്‌ത്രീകൾ അഗസ്ത്യാർകൂടം ട്രക്കിംഗിന് അപേക്ഷിക്കേണ്ടതില്ല — വനിത സംഘടന നേതാക്കൾക്ക് ഒരു തുറന്ന കത്ത് : എം സുൽഫത്ത്.

ജൈവ വൈവിധ്യ സംരക്ഷണത്തിന്റെയും വനസംരക്ഷണത്തിന്റെയും ഭാഗമായി വനം വകുപ്പ് ട്രക്കിംഗുകളും പരിസ്ഥിതി ക്യാമ്പുകളും ലോകത്താകമാനം സംഘടിപ്പിക്കാറുണ്ട്. എന്നാൽ അവിടെയൊന്നുമില്ലാത്ത വിലക്കാണ് കേരള സർക്കാരും വനം വകുപ്പും അഗസ്ത്യാർ കൂടം ട്രക്കിംഗിൽ സ്‌ത്രീകൾക്ക് ഏർപ്പെടുത്തിയിരിക്കുന്നത്.

Continue reading “സ്‌ത്രീകൾ അഗസ്ത്യാർകൂടം ട്രക്കിംഗിന് അപേക്ഷിക്കേണ്ടതില്ല — വനിത സംഘടന നേതാക്കൾക്ക് ഒരു തുറന്ന കത്ത് : എം സുൽഫത്ത്.”

From Nangeli to Rima Kallingal: Who are fit to claim Nangeli’s Legacy?


The recent reference to how the distribution of food in Malayali homes is often skewed against women by the actor Rima Kallingal in a recent talk has sparked off yet another round of attacks against feminists in Kerala. It is interesting to see how this seems to have brought together men of all political stripes and colours (may I say, from pro- and anti-Hadiya camps!). The attacks range from mild smirking to outright abuse, but are equally revealing of the fear of women’s feminist self-assertion. So even those men who supported Hadiya’s decision to choose her faith and community find it hard to swallow when women start laying bare the injustices of the ubiquitous patriarchal family, fearing that there may be an implicit choice in this criticism, to move away from the patriarchal family, and indeed, craft other non-patriarchal forms of intimate connection and commitment. After all, whatever be the community, the patriarchal family is acknowledged by patriarchal authorities everywhere as the foundation Continue reading “From Nangeli to Rima Kallingal: Who are fit to claim Nangeli’s Legacy?”