My issue is not complicated; neither is it a ‘family issue’. It’s simple, and all I ask of you all is to follow the truth.
Have you ever wondered what happens if Indians, despite possessing legal documents issued and apostilled by the government, are snubbed by an international ‘buyer’ who refuses accountability for the order placements and steps back from contractual obligations? In other words, what recourse do Indians have for the ‘unwanted’ goods and services, made in good faith, for a foreign nation or a national?
It may offend many to equate a human life with goods and services. However, this is the reality that I have had to face almost daily.
While the issue may be unpleasant to me, I am forced to discuss it as it concerns my life and my rights.What is being done to protect India’s mothers, daughters and sisters? Am I being ‘deleted’ because of my race? Or is it because I am an Indian girl? Is it because I was born through surrogacy?
Does this inconsistency divide us? Or is it just a few privileged adults in positions of power who exploit and abuse innocent children – while hiding, unknowingly, behind the powerful institutions that employ them?
I want to know why there are no changes in the status of a ‘deleted’ girl-child. I was born through both in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and surrogacy in India in 2009 to two Indian citizens working and living in the US.
‘At the time of birth’ (very relevant according to US laws), one of the adults showed up, while the other did not show up in India. In fact, the absconding adult sent me a letter via a sworn affidavit in court which said: “I never wanted child custody of her, Medhavi“.
This proves their clear intent. Besides, they also exposed the name of a minor Indian girl-child in the public records, without her consent. These actions (not wanting me and not showing up at the time of my birth) resulted in a chain of events due to which I could not obtain documents like my birth certificate, passport and visa. Besides I could not approach any legal figure to fight for my legal rights, let alone fighting for basic human dignity or respect. Besides, a travel ban was also imposed upon me (due to lack of a passport and inability to travel). All this, due to that one adult who didn’t ‘want’ me but did ‘consent’ to give birth to me via IVF.
Effectively, I am living as a ‘deleted’ girl-child in India. In fact, I was treated like an ‘order’, which could be ‘cancelled’ anytime without suffering any consequences. Similarly, my status quo is of no consequence to anyone.
My brother was also born by means of IVF. Ideally, therefore, he should have been subject to the same laws as me. However, he was allowed to ‘lie’ about his birth records, which helped him to obtain his passport. However, I am not allowed to ‘lie’ in a similar manner to get my passport and other documents.
Our (my brother and me) biological parents are Indian. In such a case, even an apostilled birth record of my brother (a legal document issued by Indian government) should not be entertained by the US government. But his false birth record enables him to stay in the USA, apart from his biological family.
In most cases, the discovery of false or fabricated documents results in swift corrective action. Alas, this wasn’t so in our case. The inconsistent application of the laws makes my brother and me stateless (a travel ban with no passport). This keeps us apart from one another, and also violates our rights as humans and children.
The last time I checked my status – I am a girl, a child and a human. But where are the rights?
Is this status quo of inaction a tacit endorsement of the plan to attack Indian families in the US by keeping their biological children apart from one another? The topics of IVF and surrogacy has been controversial in India from day one. But is it ‘costing’ India, while other nations are profiting from it?
Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay created the world’s second and India’s first child (Durga) using in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Durga was born only 67 days after the first IVF baby in United Kingdom. Unfortunately, Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay was harassed by the state government and not allowed to share his achievements with the international scientific community. Dejected, he committed suicide on June 19, 1981.
His life and death has been the subject of many newspaper articles, besides inspiring the Hindi movie, “Ek Doctor Ki Maut” (Death of a doctor). It’s a matter worth speculating whether Dr Mukhopadhay have created the world’s first test tube baby with the government’s support, instead of creating it a mere 67 days down the line and then being harassed thereafter.
Instead, now we have two siblings born through IVF and surrogacy who are divided (across nations), dehumanised and forced into silence. Again, will it take someone’s suicide to spur the government into action? We would do well to pay heed to the fact that Britain’s ‘divide and rule’ strategy ultimately failed. Now that Britain seems to be suffering from a ‘historical amnesia‘, are we also bent on reflect this amnesia in our attitudes towards children, especially in cases like mine?
One of our biological parents, who is an Indian immigrant to the US, had to make choices that parents generally shouldn’t have to face:
1. Abandon me in India and live happily in US forever, with no legal consequences, just as the other adult did. In this case, I would have faced orphanage (a concern also voiced by Sushma Swaraj), or,
2. Show up in India, save and rescue me and also demand for my rights. This is something that a lot of parents (similar to mine) have done in situations like these – including Indian, US, Israeli, Canadian and British parents. Such an action would also mean being separated from my brother kept in the US using false documents. Clearly, an individual of limited means cannot be on two continents, at the same time.
As I was born after three years and five miscarriages, I don’t think that my parent would have ever left me.
However, I would like to know what you would have done if I were your daughter. I would also like to know the specific circumstances under which ‘deleting’ a girl-child becomes justifiable.
Less than a 100 years ago, Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian American, was denied US citizenship because the US laws considered him and all other Asian Indians as ‘others’. Today, are children born through IVF and surrogacy being treated as the ‘others’?
There are people who deem that whatever happened my brother and me was right. Some people even think that IVF or surrogacy is wrong – morally and ethically. Besides, it is now being legally banned in many countries.
Whatever may be the opinions or laws, the point I am trying to make is that we are not in control of our own lives. Moreover, the concept of consent hardly exists in our case. Instead, we are still dealing with the consequences that adults made in our name – ‘my’ life, ‘my’ birth certificate, ‘my’ passport, ‘my’ visa and ‘my’ statelessness.How can I even move forward if society permits this hypocrisy? The absconding parent knew the process intimately. The person in question turned up in India when my brother was born – but didn’t turn up during my birth well knowing that the consequences on me would be drastic.
Am I just to be used as bait and blackmail fodder to extort my brother from our biological family by an infertile but powerful person in the US? Ironically, the US laws are now stacked against these individuals, and not against my biological family. Do we children have any rights? Or is it because of our Indian identity that we are less valued as daughters and sisters?
Here, I would like to refer to this case in the US, where a party concerned was adjudged as a legal parent of a surrogate-born child (even though she didn’t want to). Furthermore, she also had to contribute to the expenses of the child’s upbringing. In this context, while the US court did treat my brother under the relevant laws, it didn’t do so in my case.
Incidentally, US laws consider children like us to be ‘born out of wedlock’. This begs the question how one of us (my brother) is considered to be ‘born out of marriage’ while the other (me) is considered to ‘be born out of wedlock’ – when we both were born the same way. What is this selective privilege? Is justice being ‘bought’ at the ‘cost’ of a defenseless girl in India?
In another case, the US annulled an already-issued passport to a surrogate-born child, when it was discovered that there was no genetic link between the parent (who was a US citizen) and the child. The child had been born to a surrogate mother from India.
The same should be applicable for my brother and me. Then why is he kept apart from me – that too, using falsified documents? Why is the US government unresponsive, despite repeated pleas?
This isn’t just about me and my brother, either. The inconsistency in the laws (and their application) affects all children born through IVF and/or surrogacy.
How then do we justify ‘truth, liberty and equality for all’? The US Supreme Court has already established that ‘separation is not equal’. Why is this not so in the case of my brother and me?
In international cases like these, even leaders at the topmost levels get directly involved:
1. In the baby Gammy case, between Thailand and Australia, then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott directly got involved, welcomed baby Gammy and ensured that the child got justice.
2. In a US-Israel IVF case, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, ensured that the twin children stayed united.
3. In a Indo-Canadian IVF/surrogacy case, the Canadian government ensured that the family was united with their children, even though it took six years.
4. In the Goldman child abduction case, the then US President, Barack Obama, and erstwhile US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, played major roles to ensure that the child was reunited with his father in the US, after the mother had taken him back to Brazil. Once in Brazil, the mother had divorced the child’s father.
5. In a case between India and the UK, Sushma Swaraj tweeted to ask UK government to help a surrogate-born child obtain the visa. Otherwise, the child would have to stay at an orphanage. She also offered to extend the time period of the visas of the child’s parents.
At the time of my birth in 2009, the government then was silent and inactive on issues such as these.
However, nowadays, I think the circumstances have changed. With the present ‘New India’ government taking a pro-active stance on issues like this, I do not feel hugely alienated. Moreover, unlike the laws, people in India no longer single me out as a surrogate-born child. Rather, I am recognised as an Indian.
I therefore hope that Indian or Indian-origin children like me all across the world are given the basic human dignity, wherever they are.
I also hope that the Indian and US governments uphold the democratic ideals of liberty, equality and justice and let truth prevail in cases such as ours.
If you feel concerned about cases such as mine, please sign this petition to have childhood statelessness declared as torture. Forced childhood statelessness is not something civilized societies should impose. We need help to combat such issues.
Lastly and most importantly, don’t wait till it happens to you!
Images used for representative purposes only.