ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Disrupting Boundaries of Politics in Kerala

By invoking the controversy around the March 2018 cover of the conservative Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi, it is argued that there are certain paradigmatic shifts in how the imagined extents and limits of politics seem to be at the centre of a set of transformations in the dominant practices of media today. These practices have come to be shaped by a mode of imagining politics and politicisation as incessant and boundless, and as desirably so. 

An earlier draft of this article was presented at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, in September 2017, where I got very useful suggestions for which I am indebted to the respondents. I also thank India Foundation for the Arts, Bengaluru, for a generous fund without which it would not have been possible for me to take up part of the research that has gone into this article.

No one in Kerala would have expected the popular conservative Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi to deviate from its staple business of catering to its constituency of homebound readers. Yet, it created a storm with its March 2018 cover featuring a model posing as breastfeeding a baby, not bothering to cover her breasts, instead throwing a loaded look straight at the reader, as the accompanying caption read, “Mothers tell Kerala: don’t stare; we need to breastfeed.”1 The dust settled on the controversy only months later, when the Kerala High Court, in June 2018, rejected a charge of obscenity against the magazine, saying “obscenity lies in the eyes of the beholder.”

What was the magazine’s gamble when it decided to let go of the long-standing marketing mantra—“we are a home magazine; we don’t do politics”—that sustained its niche readership so successfully until then? In fact, Grihalakshmi’s March 2018 cover is historical in the sense that it joyously flung the diligent partitioning of readership territory—into “pro-political/public” and “non- political/domestic”—that Kerala’s commercial print media institutions had so far cultivated and monetised. After all, it is this split between the public and private that sustained the business logic of the magazine’s parent publishing company Mathrubhoomi Publications bringing out Grihalakshmi for women readers on the one hand, and Mathrubhoomi Weekly for literature and political debates on the other. This approach is similar to the business logic of the competing Malayala Manorama that maintains a similar demarcation of target readers by publishing the glossy Vanitha and Manorama Weekly for lighter reading, and Bhashaposhini for discussions of literature and public affairs. Seen in this light, one could say that the controversial cover is not about particular politics “sexual/gender/corporeal politics” or “media politics,” for example, as the ongoing discussions seem to have taken it to be), but about politics as such.

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Updated On : 30th Aug, 2019
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