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

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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 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).

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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.

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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.

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