Today in "Why are men allowed to make decisions about women's bodies?" news, a judge in India wants to make breastfeeding mandatory, and if that's not bad enough (it really should be bad enough, though), the reasoning behind his argument and the case leading up to it will leave your head spinning. According to the Times of India, Justice N. Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court was inspired by a case in which a government doctor's six-month maternity leave wasn't counted towards the total time served in her mandatory two-year residency. Kirubakaran ruled in the woman's favor, saying that "government officials are acting contrary to rules, prejudicing the rights of women government servants, like the petitioner. It is nothing but an incidence of woman harassment." Great!
Kirubakaran went on to pose query to the Central Government on a host of issues relating to maternity leave, asking that the government increase the maternity leave from six to nine months (awesome), punish employers who don't provide medical insurance coverage for maternity (sweet), and require breastfeeding rooms in places of employment and public places (fantastic). Oh, and to make it obligatory for women to breastfeed infants. Um, no. All the nopes in the world, good sir. Breastfeed them yourself, if you're that into it.
Kirubakaran argued, "Why not this court declare right of newborn to mother's feeding up to six months exclusively and up to 2 years along with substitutions as fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and as human right as per international treaties?," according to Indian media website The News Minute. Part III of the Constitution of India pertains to "Fundamental Rights" of citizens, and Article 21 reads, "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law," similar to the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which states that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
Breastfeeding isn't necessary to survival, and personal liberty is defined as the freedom from oppressive government authority, not the use of it against others. Does India's Article 21 apply to infants, but not to grown women? Kirubakaran also cited the United Arab Emirates in his argument, which passed a law in 2014 requiring women to breastfeed for two years, according to The Guardian. Federal National Council member Sultan al-Sammahi said at the time that "This is the right of every child for two years. If they do not have a mother or have been neglected, then they should get this right from someone else." Council member Ahmad al-Shamsi, agreed that breastfeeding is "a duty and not an option."
This isn't the first time that Kirubakaran has taken a weird left turn after first making completely rational arguments; according to The Hindu, in 2016, he granted a 24-year-old-woman's petition for annulment after she discovered that her new husband has concealed his serious health conditions from her (the husband, in turn, had filed for "restitution of conjugal rights," a legal way to force her to live with him against her will). But Kirubakaran used the case to underscore the importance of premarital counseling, lamenting women's loss of dignity amid the "haste" to get married. A-plus concern trolling, bro.
Breastfeeding is indisputably beneficial for babies, but it's not the only option, nor is it possible in every circumstance. Millions of healthy, happy children are raised on formula, because their biological mothers were unavailable, unable to express milk, or simply chose not to breastfeed. The "right" of a baby to drink breast milk cannot supersede the right of an adult woman to have full autonomy over her own body, any more than the "rights" of a fetus can. "Everyone has a right over her/his body and no one has the right to infringe upon the same, without the consent of the person," Kirubakaran stated during a bail hearing for a recent rape case. Perhaps he should be reminded that a breast is part of a woman's body, too, and not the property of her child.
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