Do The Recent Changes In Indian Surrogacy Laws Really Help Women?

Surrogacy is not a subject I would have ever dared to have an opinion on, let alone write about. Blessed with a child at our first year of attempting to conceive, I don’t think I can even begin to understand what couples go through as they aspire to become parents and are unable to conceive without assistance. Neither can I come close to feeling the grit of the women who choose to be surrogates, especially when the decision is driven by compulsion and lack of choice.

My full term pregnancy was not a time I enjoyed much, although I desperately tried to. Troubling nausea in the early months and severe PUPPPs (Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy) in the last days contributed to my struggle – but I will be dishonest if I assign my inability to rejoice in my pregnancy glory to health concerns. I was tremendously inconvenienced by the changes pregnancy forced me to accept. I couldn’t wait to get my body and my freedom back. The struggles every morning to figure out how to outfit myself for my job and long factory floor hours holding pee didn’t help either.

Child-birth, on the other hand, was a completely different story. Unlike pregnancy, it was a journey I rejoice in every day (four years and counting). And that is why I considered myself even more incompetent to comment on the subject of surrogacy – the journey that takes women through pregnancy and is designed to end for her – instead of beginning – at the birth of the child.

But a talk on couples abruptly affected by India’s change in surrogacy laws (banning of commercial and international surrogacy) where both sides of the issue were debated, and some thought-provoking works of fiction I read on the same, forced me to dare voice some thoughts. For I may not understand surrogacy, but I do understand poverty, economics, and choice.

In technical terms, surrogacy involves the process of implanting an embryo in a woman’s womb, naturally or otherwise, using or not using eggs and sperms from the intended parents, after which the woman is expected to carry the embryo to full term with the understanding or agreement of not being a parent to the baby post birth.

But in human terms, what does it involve? A fulfilment of an otherwise impossible, heart-wrenching wish to become parents by using a resource (albeit human) who in-turn is in dire need of monetary compensation.

Or is it an act of extraordinary philanthropy – expected from women – for a noble cause?

Is it exploitation when it happens between unequal parties (nations, humans, organizations)? Or is it a brilliant and much needed economic solution?

What is the motivation, if any, to choose to be a surrogate for a woman if we for a moment choose to believe the impossible – that women are not the ‘all pain bearing’, selfless, altruists irrespective of their occupation and socio-economic status that the society would rather have them be. Instead, we seem them as bread earners, entrepreneurs, deal makers, negotiators and solution providers?

None in my opinion. That is why I find the sudden ban on commercial surrogacy in India disappointing. Discriminatory and limiting to choices a woman should be able to make for herself. Another example of tackling problems the easy and ‘condescending to women’ way.

Re-phrasing the supporters and activists in favour of this law (as yielded by my research on this topic when as I was struggling to make sense of why India (or any country) would ban commercial and international surrogacy): this is to prevent the exploitation of women – turning of them into womb factories. To ensure that the surrogate mother and child post birth are not abandoned – keeping in mind visa problems some newborns have faced in cases of international surrogacies.

And I still don’t understand from what I read of the law how this helps achieve the very first goal: preventing exploitation of women. In an effort to find an easy fix to some valid problems and to safeguard some abstract and fictitious moral concept, it takes away from the women who choose to do this – who need to do this – any mean of getting compensated.

Instead of improving our infrastructure, policing, and administrative processes to ensure we provide both the couples and the women who go through this incredibly difficult process with an improved system, our solution is our faithful ‘go to’ – ban. In cases where payments haven’t been made, abandonment or exploitation has occurred, or with nationality issues to resolve, instead of properly, efficiently and quickly and making sure corrupt organizations and practices don’t mushroom – we force elimination of surrogacy.

Why am I calling this a ‘ban’? Because the new amendments to the law make it almost impossible for an Indian couple to find a surrogate unless they can exploit the ‘goodness of heart’ or guilt trip relatives/acquaintances into doing this. And international couples are not allowed to pursue this in India anyway – thank god for us protecting ourselves from the big black foreign money. We speak for our poor from our air-conditioned offices and with our intellectual and educated lips – they don’t need or want this money. They are better off without it, as they will choose to surrogate only if they want to without the expectation of any compensation, only for their country mates.

To paraphrase several surrogates and want-to-be surrogates interviewed by NPR: our poor or not so educated minds fail to understand if I want to do this for my family, if this money can help the future of my children, and I am OK, I am not complaining, why would the government not allow me? Why are they taking away my occupation? Why do people who have never broken their backs in a construction site in Delhi heat, or washed utensils in 5 households in one afternoon, suddenly want to protect me so bad that I will have to go back doing that instead? If they really want to protect women, why wouldn’t they find and punish the guilty if there really have been cases of exploitation or abandonment?

Well, in a country where molestation might get us banned from stepping out or have liberties, it’s a question that might have to wait a long time for an answer.

In the meantime, surrogacy and medical tourism industries will shift into countries with more rationale and fewer morals. And any Indian woman who chooses to be a surrogate will have to do so to further uphold our virtues, role modelling the supreme and sacred Indian sacrifice.


For discussions/more www.thoughtsandrights.com or Twitter @thoughtsnrights

Tanushree Ghosh works as an engineering manager at Intel Corporation and has a PhD in Chemistry from The Cornell University. She is also a social activist (founder and director: Her Rights Inc.,) and writer. Her blog posts and stories are in effort to provoke thoughts towards social issues, especially issues concerning women. She has been The Huff Post US regular contributor and has written for The Logical Indian, The Women’s Web, Café Dissensus and more. She has published in several literary magazines and e-zines in the US, UK and India including Words, Pauses and Noises and The Tuck Magazine. She is a contributing author in five published anthologies including Defiant Dreams (Oprah 2.0 placeholder) and The Best Asian Short Stories (by Kitaab Singapore).

Similar Posts

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below