From the recent uproar in the parliament about the Surrogacy (Regulation) bill 2016, it doesn’t take a genius to gauge that India is seen as an international hub for commercial surrogacy. The Surrogacy Regulation Bill was passed to address the exploitation of poor surrogate women. The legalization of surrogacy which is the primary agenda of this bill is a positive step to curb the stigma associated with it. The basic premise of this bill entails that, the intending parents should have a certificate which proves that infertility is the reason that compelled them to resort to surrogacy. It proposes the establishment of certified clinics to undertake surrogacy while recognizing the option of surrogate mothers to opt out of pregnancy. While the bill attempts to address these challenges, it also fails on multiple fronts. To begin with, what about the invasion of a couple’s privacy when asked to produce such a certificate?
The Bill defines intending parents as a ‘couple, legally married Indian man and woman above the age of 21 years and 18 years respectively’ and restricts the option of surrogacy to such couples only. This bars single parents, LGBTQ and the ‘live-in’ couples (live in couples have been recognized by earlier court judgments) from opting for surrogacy. It is noteworthy that there are cases where a woman is capable of conceiving but cannot carry the child and there are males who choose to stay single and yet want to have a child. How fair is the bill in such cases?
What used to be an issue needing much attention, has become a lucrative commercial business. In fact, when Bollywood celebrities started having kids through surrogacy, it also got glamorized. But how much of this womb renting has been for the right reasons? Or is carried out the right way? In fact, what is the right way? Is there any prescribed way? To answer much of these questions, the Surrogacy Regulation Bill came into existence after a long history which dates back to the Supreme Court hearing of 2008. As India awaits an answer, perhaps the question now is, whether the bill simplifies the situation or makes it even worse?
The Bill mentions altruistic surrogacy involving close relatives, overlooking the fact that much of the Indian society, still, is uncomfortable talking about fertility issues. Above everything, the definition of close relative is open-ended and vague. A lot of discussion amidst various stakeholders is focusing on promoting adoption and restricting surrogacy tourism through the proposed changes in the bill. Promotion of adoption is undoubtedly a human cause and acting as a watchdog to foreign surrogacy tourism is also extremely significant. However, if a woman prefers surrogacy over other options to earn some money; what’s wrong in allowing it with dignity? If the question here is about protecting the women from being exploited, then, why not improve her working conditions, legalize the process and refurbish the terms of her contract and working?
In an attempt to pitch altruistic surrogacy instead of commercial surrogacy, the bill ignores all the hardships which a surrogate endures during and after her pregnancy. Dismissing these hardships and trying to make this an act of female kindness indirectly perpetuates patriarchy. While the intending parents get their baby, the hospital gets its charges and the administrative stakeholders get their fees, the surrogate mother is expected to sit back with an act of selflessness and fulfillment.
As we wait for this bill to get through the Rajya Sabha, there is no denying that the bill needs to be revisited and reframed keeping the realities of modern society in mind. Otherwise, it will turn into yet another regressive act curbing the freedom of people in Indian society.