At Kolkata’s South City Mall, a mother’s wish to just shop with her newborn was apparently too much to ask for. When it was time to feed her baby, the woman asked the mall authorities to provide a space to breastfeed her child. But not only did the management refuse to help her, she was also asked to finish her “home chores at home”.
Abhilasha was made to go from floor to floor, looking for a place to feed her child. After requesting multiple stores to let her use a private space to breastfeed, a garment store let her feed in trial room. The humiliation continued even after the episode when she thought she should write a review, publicly shaming the mall’s management for being so disrespectful towards her.
“We’re basically upholding standards from the ancient past when breastfeeding was best done indoors because we attach a stigma to it. It’s apparent that the mall authorities believe that a woman nursing her child would apparently embarrass other people. It’s absolutely disgusting that we still keep going to back to these patriarchal standards and continue to devalue mothers in such a way,” social activist Urmi Basu, who runs a non-profit organisation New Light, in Kolkata told InUth.
The woman, Abhilasha DasAdhikari, took to social media to air her grievances and wrote a review on South City Mall’s Facebook page, following which the mall received widespread online backlash. As a response to Abhilasha’s poor review, a social media executive of the mall’s Facebook page responded saying, “Funny you found this to be an issue because breastfeeding is not allowed on the floor for a number of reasons….with all due respect please make sure you do home chores at home.”
The kind of reaction that South City Mall officials or those at the various stores displayed when Abhilasha approached them shows that the staff has barely had any sensitisation training. If Indian Museum in Kolkata is able to provide a nursing room for babies and their mothers, why can’t we expect malls, where the footfall frequency is higher, to provide the bare minimum necessities for a new mother?
Is a mother’s need to feed her child something that should be pushed into a toilet lest it affect the “privacy” of other people? “We continue to live in a society that checks a woman’s role and her place in society. Clearly, if you’re a breastfeeding mother you need to take care of your child when necessary. The mall officials can’t question why the child needs to be fed and it’s certainly ridiculous to suggest that she should do it in a toilet,” Urmi says.
In a statement that the mall authorities issued only after drawing a lot of flak on social media, Manmohan Bagree, vice-president of South City Projects said, “We clarify that South City tries to take care of the smallest requirement a patron would need at the mall at any time. It is our agent who without knowing the facts made such a comment in response to the feedback of our patron and we have taken the due required action.”
The review, which has since been deleted, has been widely shared on social media, sparking a boycott movement, especially among mothers. Abhilasha’s protests also riled up other women, who have been on the receiving end of similar harassment at the mall. In a Facebook post, Kolkata resident Trisha Ghosh Moitra said, “Like many mothers,I too did not do much when I was asked to feed the baby in the toilet. I ran around the floors, then gave up to a hungry child. I guilt-tripped myself, after the baby fell ill the next day, promising to her that I will not take her to places like that. I only got the courage to come out with the post after I saw Abhilasha commenting on the same.”
Another woman, Aditi Chakraborty, claimed she has never found this dedicated “provision for baby changing/feeding room, kids toilet”. “Have you provided us a baby room? I’ve always had to run to trial rooms to feed my baby disturbing other’s shopping time. But my question will always be- where is the dedicated baby room??? I’m sure a mall boasting of 1,555,000 sq ft area can surely allocate 1 small area for baby/diaper change room. If not, then deal with us new age mothers who are as vocal as we can be,” Aditi asked on Trisha’s comment thread.
Not long ago breastfeeding became a heated topic that was debated across the country after Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi was sued for featuring a model posing with a breastfeeding baby. While the complaint had claimed that the cover was ‘obscene’, the Kerala High Court had dismissed the case saying ‘obscenity lies in the eyes of the beholder’.