Should nudity be legalised in India? The obvious answer will be ‘duh, no!’ This question arises from the topic of public breastfeeding, which I came across while reading about a campaign on the other side of the globe that got me thinking about India.
The straight negative answer emerges from the Indian context – how we exist in the current day and age vis-a-vis the biological form, how we look at the human body, how we shame or worship the flesh. If you visit a credible travel site or an embassy advisory page for foreign travellers to India, wearing skin-revealing clothes falls under the ‘DON’Ts’ section.
Currently nudity comes under Section 294 (drafted in the year 1860) of the IPC but is not clearly defined as illegal. Although it is presumed to fall under “obscene act” and is punishable by law with three months or fine or both, depending on the act. The law is vaguely worded but according to this entry, ” Temple art or nakedness of sadhus are traditionally outside the purview of this section .” Nudity at the Kumbh Mela with hundreds of naked Naga sadhus doesn’t fall under either ‘obscenity’ or ‘nudity’. Odd isn’t it?
Agreed that women’s bodies are beautiful and have for a long time been a muse for men and women alike. However, is beauty in the same category as obscenity? I should rather ask why. Women wearing short or ‘revealing’ clothes are stared at, groped, touched, stripped publicly and raped because of the widely understood notion among our people that ‘she was asking for it’.
Is a mother who needs to feed her baby also then ‘asking for it’? What is this thing a woman seems to be asking for that the men oblige? It isn’t sex. A woman doesn’t want random people lusting over her for sure. I can say that assuredly as a woman. A voyeur might, however she isn’t ‘asking for it’ either.
Public breastfeeding isn’t something that should fall under the purview of nudity.
Women in rural stretches across India breastfeed and have done so for ages. In the villages no one stares or looks at it strangely. It then happens to be an urban thought process seeped in through years of colonialism, when upper castes or the rich covered up their women and lower castes were forced to stay blouseless or barely covered.
Why do people stare if a woman breastfeeds in a public space? Weren’t you fed too when you were born, dear starers? (Unless you’re one of those born with lactose intolerance and never had maa ka doodh ). Imagine someone lusting over your mother while you suckled at her breast as a baby. Unpleasant?
Free The Nipple
However far removed this conversation remains from India, a campaign called Free The Nipple has been gaining ground in the US. Breastfeeding isn’t just about being topless or baring your chest in public, it is rather a mother’s right to be able to nurse as and when she needs to. There have been increasing cases of intolerance of women who have been asked to leave public establishments while nursing. Free The Nipple campaign has taken this issue up and gone topless to protest and bring attention to the topic.
The issues this campaign addresses are equal rights for men and women, a more balanced system of censorship, and most importantly legal rights for all women to breastfeed in public .
In New York, male and female topless activists walked through midtown Manhattan on August 24 to advocate for women having the same right as do men to go bare-chested in public. The day coincided with Go Topless Day.
One of the participants, Jessica Wardell said she took part to help make toplessness, and especially breast-feeding, more socially acceptable.
“The main problem people have with breast-feeding is they sexualize breasts, so it offends them,” said Wardell, 28. “If we could make them less taboo, breast-feeding would be much more acceptable in society.”
Most spectators were men, many with cellphone cameras, while some female onlookers said the demonstration was not appropriate given the families and children on the boardwalk.
Breasts Are Organs Too
The issue is one that needs to be talked about to get rid of the sexual tag attached to breasts. They are, after all, organs. It can be argued whether going topless is the best way to campaign. But isn’t it? It is not about being ‘naked’, it is about understanding that a woman feeding a child in public is not a sight to be stared, ogled and lusted at.
It will be many years before we can move on to a healthy debate over whether India should legalise nudity. Or create nude zones. But if a naked sadhu is overlooked because he is considered holy, and worship-worthy then can there be any being more respected as a specie across all beings that creates and nurtures – a mother, a female form.