I was 12 when a cousin gave birth to her first child, making me a newly-minted aunt. All I wanted to do then, I remember distinctly, was spend all day with the shiny new baby. And that’s exactly what I did, except every few hours, I was asked to GTFO of the room to give my cousin some “alone time”, and I just couldn’t understand why. This was because she had to breastfeed and even though I was just a little kid with no proper understanding of my own anatomy, even I wasn’t deemed fit to be witness to this process. Every time she would step out of the house, she’d make sure she had a piece of opaque clothing to barricade the baby from the public gaze—no matter how stuffy it got for the both of them. This reality is common throughout the country, with most people associating breastfeeding to an act that is embarrassing or disgusting, one that definitely doesn’t deserve to be done in public.
In a country where exposing even your arms and knees can get you victim blamed, it shouldn’t come as a shock that breastfeeding isn’t seen as what it should be: an act of feeding a human, and something totally normal and natural. So, the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) recent announcement that the Taj Mahal—one of India’s most iconic places—would be getting its very own breastfeeding room means that at least there’s hope for such stigmatised sentiments to change.
The Taj Mahal in Agra, one of the seven modern wonders of the world and a UNESCO heritage site, will be the first out of 3,600 in the country to get its own specific space dedicated for mothers to nurse their infants. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a symbol of his love for his wife Mumtaz, who is said to have died in childbirth. But even as the Delhi pollution leaves its marks on the monument, it continues to be a symbol of everlasting love.
Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, an official at the ASI in Agra city said the room set aside for feeding babies would be set up by July to help the “millions of mothers who visit with their babies.” Swarnkar decided that taking such a step in the right direction was a pressing matter after he spotted a mother concealing herself behind a staircase and struggling to feed her baby, despite the husband covering her to protect her privacy.
“The situation turns even more embarrassing on days when there is a rush of tourists. Considering this, the ASI decided to provide some space for them,” said Swarnkar. We must admit though that we’re a bit miffed about the use of the word ‘embarrassing’ because the ultimate goal should really be normalising public breast-feeding—but having a dedicated space to do this in a monument thronged by 8 million annual visitors is definitely welcome.
This courtesy will also be extended to two more heritage sites: the Agra fort and Fatehpur Sikri. The spaces will have tables, chairs and fans to make it as comfortable for new mothers.
This is great news for a country where less than 55 per cent of Indian newborns are breastfed, especially those living in urban areas. This is possibly because of family pressure to stick to the bottle and infant feed formulations projected as being healthy substitutes for the real thing, but also a lack of specific spaces designated to breastfeeding. Just last year, women in Kolkata protested after a mall department store asked a woman who was breastfeeding at the store to do it in the bathroom, even saying she should "take of her home chores at home."
Such issues persist internationally as well. The director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum had to apologise in 2017 for asking a mother to cover up while breastfeeding. Another breastfeeding mum was expelled from Spain’s Corral del Carbon monument in 2015.
But even as old attitudes need as much of an update as old construction, at least some of us are keeping abreast with wanting to make spaces safer for women.
Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.