In a significant win for free expression, the Kerala High Court, earlier this week, refused to deem a Malayalam magazine’s cover of a woman breastfeeding a baby as “obscene”. Dismissing the petition against Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi, the court said that “shocking one’s morals” is an “elusive concept”, and that “one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric”, reported Live Law.
To the uninitiated, the case pertains to an image of model-actor Gilu Joseph breastfeeding a child on the magazine cover in February. The magazine claims it intended to normalise breastfeeding in public and break the shackles of conformity that some women are kept under. Many came out in support, but there were sections whose morals were seemingly outraged, while others on social media asked why it hired a model for the photo shoot with an infant who did not even belong to her.
The complaint to the State Child Rights Commission read:
“Using the child for commercial purposes is indeed a grave issue. Such incidents which attempt to commercialise motherhood and breastfeeding put the rights of newborn babies in danger. The cover, which tricked the baby into thinking that it the model is its mother and that it will get milk is an embarrassment to our society as a whole.”
It also alleged that the baby’s “health and rights had been exploited” since the “model’s breast which is bereft of milk is stuffed into the child’s mouth”.
The court, meanwhile, citing past Supreme Court judgements, contemporary literature and cultural heritage, shot down the petition against the magazine.
“We do not see, despite our best efforts, obscenity in the picture, nor do we find anything objectionable in the caption, for men. We looked at the picture with the same eyes we look at the paintings of artists like Raja Ravi Varma. As the beauty lies in the beholder’s eye, so does obscenity perhaps,” said a bench comprising of Chief Justice Antony Dominic and Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu.
The court said that the petitioner had failed to convince them of the charges against the magazine and that its cover had affected “society’s moral fabric”.
In his petition, Felix argued that the magazine cover violated provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, Section 45 of the Juvenile Justice Act, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 and Article 39(e) and (f) of the Constitution.
“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. We, therefore, dismiss the writ petition,” the court said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, the model Gilu Joseph said she had no regrets over the magazine cover.
“I have only done things that I have believed is right for me. I must have failed, but I have no regrets. Women should breastfeed freely, without any sense of fear or inhibition and that is my message in the article too, but people began criticising even without reading what I had to say,” she said.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)