Earlier this year, Australian Senator Larissa Waters became the first politician in that country to breastfeed on the Senate floor since new rules came into force last year that allowed for babies to be breast-fed in parliament. Assam BJP legislator Angoorlata Deka doesn’t hope to get that far, but she wants at least a dedicated mother-and-baby room within the Assembly building so that her month-old daughter doesn’t go hungry while she is legislating.
“I am not asking for a new law as they have in Australia, but I am sure we can have a special room as in the Tanzanian parliament where lactating members like me can nurse our babies,” Deka, 31, a first-time MLA who gave birth to her daughter Namami on August 3, told The Sunday Express.
Deka, till recently a popular Assamese actor and theatre artiste, says she has been shunting between the Assembly and her Quarter No 48 within the House complex since the Monsoon session began on September 4. “Every hour or so, I have to leave the Assembly and rush home to feed Namami. In the process, I miss a lot of debates and discussions,” she said.
After three days of “shunting three to four times”, on September 7, Deka made a formal request to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary for a lactation room. “I met the parliamentary affairs minister on Thursday and told him about my problem. I also requested him to organise a room for my baby within the Assembly building,” she said, adding she would meet the Speaker soon.
“Under law, women get six months of maternity leave. But then, that is not applicable to women MLAs and MPs. Anyway, being in public life, I cannot afford to take leave for six months and keep away from the people who elected me,” she said.
Deka also wants the government to provide lactation rooms for working women in government and non-government workplaces. “There should be special rooms at the workplace so that babies are not deprived of mother’s milk at least till the time they turn 1. The amended Maternity Benefit Act provides for crèches in workplaces, which I am sure are not yet in place,” she said.
Deka’s request has already run into a hurdle — Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami, who said he was not aware of Deka’s problem. “I am not aware of it. She has not approached me yet. But then, I don’t think her MLA quarter is far away. It is hardly 300 metres from the Assembly chamber, and she can easily see her baby whenever she wants,” he said.
Goswami also said there was “little scope” for a separate baby room within the Assembly. “Anyway, children are not permitted to enter the Assembly building, except for school students on excursions. I understand her problem, but then, as I said, her quarter is very close,” said Goswami.
The Speaker then suggested that Deka was free to ask for a room in the Assembly guest house. “The guest house is just across the road, less than 100 metres from the Assembly chamber,” he said. The Assam Assembly has eight women MLAs in the 126-member House. The ruling NDA has five women MLAs — two of the BJP, two of Bodo People’s Front and one Asom Gana Parishad MLA. The Opposition Congress has three.