All mothers should have access to the comfort of breastfeeding rooms in public spaces so that they do not face embarrassment. This is what lawyer-couple Neha and Animesh Rastogi are fighting for.
By Amrita Gracias
There’s a certain stigma to breastfeeding in public. But what choice does a mother have when she isn’t within the confines of her home? How must she feed her baby? Shouldn't something as fundamental as breastfeeding require the provision of basic facilities?
Well, nine-month-old Avyan certainly thinks so! ParentCircle spoke to his parents Neha and Animesh Rastogi, lawyers in the Delhi High Court, who talk about their campaign demanding facilities for breastfeeding mothers — something largely lacking in our country.
Tell us a bit about this crusade regarding breastfeeding in public. We don’t usually see men support such a cause.
Animesh: Lack of proper facilities to breastfeed your child in a public space is a common problem faced by women in our country. Although most people are aware of the importance of breastfeeding, it is almost impossible to nurse a child in privacy outside your home. We faced this problem when our son was born and we realised that no one had addressed the issue. And, in our country unfortunately, the government doesn’t act on any representations. So, we felt that filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court was an appropriate step for vindication of this basic constitutional right.
What are the difficulties women face as breastfeeding mothers?
Neha: A few months after my son was born, we were urged to take up the matter and do something about it. As lawyers, we strongly believe in enforcing our fundamental rights and a PIL seemed the best choice for this cause. These are basic facilities that the government should provide us with. Since they have failed to fulfil their responsibility, we decided to move the court rather than run from pillar to post to fight for this necessity.
Animesh: As a father, I realised the difficulties that women must endure as breastfeeding mothers. A woman is denied the right to feed her infant as there are no assigned spaces if a woman wants to breastfeed her child in a public area. She is literally forced to disrobe herself in public and this itself amounts to her basic rights being infringed upon. Women are often subjected to harassment, as the breast is seen as a sexual organ instead of something that involves a very natural process.
Why do you think this issue hasn’t been addressed before?
N: No representation has been made about this issue in India. We were pleased to see facilities for breastfeeding when we travelled overseas. Unfortunately, during our travels in India, we have only witnessed women and infants in discomfort due to the lack of these basic facilities.
A: People are aware of the difficulties related to this and there have been several discussions and debates about it on various platforms. But unfortunately, no one has taken this up. People have focused on the importance of breastfeeding, but how can a mother feed her child if there are no proper facilities that allow her to?
Your son is the primary petitioner in this litigation. Tell us why. Have you faced any negativity in this regard?
A: Our son is the sole reason for this crusade. In his infancy, to be breastfed was his fundamental right. The idea was conceived when he came into our lives. And what’s more encouraging is that many have appreciated the fact that a nine-month-old baby boy is the petitioner of something so significant. We have been appreciated for taking this bold step in supporting this cause.
N: Our son was and is our driving force. As a mother, I realised that his constitutional rights were being violated owing to the inaction of the state machinery. Therefore, we decided that he would be the main petitioner. And, he will continue to campaign for the cause even though he is now on solid foods!
What happens next? What are the changes that you expect to see?
A: On August 28, the central and state governments have to file an ‘action-taken’ report in court in response to the PIL. As this is a direct order from the court, they must comply. So, we are optimistic that we will see proper policy changes all over the country. The response that we have received has been very positive and supportive.
Breastfeeding rooms in government institutions across India are a distant dream. Do you feel that the government needs to take more initiative in this regard?
A: Since this is a court order, the government will have to provide the necessary facilities. We are hopeful that this won’t be a distant dream. In fact, recently, the government has ordered that space for feeding rooms be allocated on the bullet train project in India. Also, after this PIL was filed, we have been informed that the Pune Corporation has installed feeding rooms on M.G Road in Pune. We are happy to see these steps being taken and are sure that we will see more such changes in the future. We will continue to fight for this cause.
What can people do to help this cause?
A: The world over, people are aware of the importance of breastfeeding. But, in India, people still aren’t comfortable talking about it. Perhaps many are not even aware of their rights. People must not have any inhibitions when it comes to something as basic and natural as breastfeeding. This way they can contribute to the cause and insist that mothers have access to feeding rooms — be it in malls, trains, waiting rooms, bus stations, etc.
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