By Akhila Nagar:
This government is well known for its inability to respect, whether officially or unofficially, the private lives of its citizens. This interference seems to have become a compulsion, and this time, it comes under the guise of the Surrogacy Bill that has recently been passed by the Union Cabinet.
According to the Indian Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill of 2016, only heterosexual Indian couples, who have been legally married for at least five years are eligible for obtaining surrogacy. Unmarried men and women, live-in couples, and same-sex couples are some of the people who are not eligible. Not only are there restrictions on those who can opt for surrogacy, but also for the potential surrogate mother- she must be married and have borne a child already, must be a ‘close’ relative of the couple, and can be a surrogate only once in her lifetime.
The starkest of realities that this proposition depicts is the imposition of morality and ethics of a conservative government onto each and every citizen under the cloak of the law and ‘public good’. The two sides of this story, the medical and the moral, have been selectively used to justify the Bill’s existence.
Is it really the government’s prerogative to dictate the personal choices that someone makes? The government is effectively granting institutional legitimacy to only one kind of a relationship – the one between a heterosexual man and woman – who are not only together, but also married. Is a heterosexual marriage- which is, in this country, often a forced one- the only way to ensure the protection and safety of children now? The patriarchal undertones – if one can even call them only “undertones”- are glaring.
A single man or woman is unfit to be a parent. A divorced man or woman is unfit to be a parent. A widow is unfit to be a parent. A homosexual person is unfit to be a parent. A man or woman who has only recently married is unfit to be a parent.
Essentially, everyone who does not fit into the society’s conventional portrait of a “couple” is unfit to raise children. In fact, why is it only a couple that can raise a child, and not a single man or woman?
Sushma Swaraj makes her ‘moral’ biases very clear when she says, “We don’t recognise live-in and homosexual relationships…This is against our ethos.”
Since when did she, or any other public official, become the sole decider of “our” morality – if such a collective ethic does even exist?
Let us not forget that morality and infringement of our personal life is not the only issue at stake here. It will not be surprising if the regulation of surrogacy actually pushes the industry underground, thus making it harder for surrogate mothers to acquire access to necessary healthcare, and making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Furthermore, the women who become surrogate mothers often do so because their very livelihood is at stake. Is it right for the government to take away this livelihood?
It is highly patriarchal to understand the use of a woman’s body as a surrogate mother as something that is distinct from anyone else’s labour being used for private gain. People across genders use their labour – be it intellectual or physical labour – to survive and to thrive.
One can only hope that the government realises that they do not hold a monopoly over a person’s private preferences and that the good of the public cannot be achieved through the policing of the private.