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Why Are Breasts Seen As ‘Ripe Fruits’ And ‘Hills’, And Not Just An Organ?

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“His mother’s breasts had become a serious problem for him.”

This is how Perumal Murugan opens his stirring short story, “The Blouse” , describing the fundamental problem faced by one of his protagonists. A grown man is ashamed of his “amma’s breasts” and his mother’s “dugs”, because all her life, she has chosen to not cover her breasts. His prospective in-laws are coming to visit, and this ‘blouseless’ problem has blown up in his village.

Translated from Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman, the story presents itself as a mirror to a society obsessed with a woman’s breasts. A society that thinks it has a fundamental right over how a woman chooses to clothe (or not clothe) herself, and more importantly, cover herself. So much so that one woman’s breasts become an entire village’s concern.

Think about it – we are used to seeing (and feeling) breasts for two key purposes: pleasure and nurturing. And even then, when breasts are shown in a way that makes us uncomfortable, we’re quick to label it as shameful or indecent. Case in point: Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi is currently facing a legal case for featuring a breastfeeding model on its cover. It has been alleged that the picture is “lascivious in nature, appealing to prurient interests and tends to degrade the dignity of womanhood”.

The disgust- and shock-filled reactions to this cover prove how it shakes the very foundation of what we understand and define as ‘motherly’ and ‘pure’. Ergo, the uncovered breast and the model staring confidently into the camera is “lascivious”. But would it have been labelled so if the cover showed a woman looking away, feeding a baby with her breast covered? Maybe not.

The reactions to the cover also manifest in real-life situations. “Breastfeeding is a natural act, but there is so much stigma attached to it that the mother is automatically put on a guilt trip. ‘How can you flash it in public?’” writes Pooja Kochar on Youth Ki Awaaz, a millennial parent, who says she does not have “the confidence to fight the stares” if she decides to breastfeed in open.

Similar stares meet the ‘bigdi hui ladkis’ (spoilt young women) with exposed cleavages or exposed bra straps. Thousands of women are and have been members of the ‘your bra strap if showing’ club. All it takes are the familiar stares in metros and local trains, and in crowded streets – and we’re rightfully put in our place.

A woman’s breasts in India carry the weight of having to be sensual, to be nurturers, to be ‘decent’, and well, to be covered, all at once. There is no space for a woman’s breasts to just… exist. Books and cinema too have made this burden heavier, with analogies and metaphors that depict breasts in a certain way — as mangoes (succulent/suckable) heaving tight blouses underneath; as ‘hills and mountains’ to be ‘conquered’; as small fruits and big fruits; as ‘luscious’ and ‘ripe’ and ‘tender’ – all words and feelings that depict a sense of consumption, pleasure, and satisfaction. For far too long, the breast has been so sexualised that a depiction of the same as just an organ is something beyond imagination for most of us today.

“The Blouse”, Murugan’s short story, delivers a perfect example of this patriarchal discomfort by depicting a woman just going about her daily life and chores with her breasts uncovered. It’s a provocative 12- to 15-minute read that’s perfect for the society that’s grown up around the male gaze, wondering “Choli ke peeche kya hai? (What’s underneath the blouse?)”

Read it today (it’s published on the Juggernaut Books website and app) and I’d love to know what you thought. Let’s challenge our conditioning and take on the patriarchy, one read at a time.

PS: It would be interesting to know how you’ve read about women’s bodies and breasts in books and magazines. I am crowdsourcing excerpts. Email me your picks at, or Tweet to me @lipi_meh. I’ll be sure to circle back with the complete list.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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