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“Mimi” Raises An Important Question: Is Surrogacy A Way To Control Women’s Bodies?

Kriti Sanon and Pankaj Tripathi starrer film, “Mimi” is the latest attempt by Bollywood to bring the taboo topic of surrogacy back in the mainstream, the last being “Chori Chori Chupke Chupke”. The film showcases the story of Mimi, played by Kriti giving her career best performance, who wishes to become a heroine in Mumbai and for which she is saving money.

It is through a typical dance number (“Bikaner ki chokri, Santre ki tokri”) when an American couple wandering in India for over a year, John and Summer, the intended parents, see in “Mimi” a potential surrogate mother. Bhanu played by the enigmatic Pankaj Tripathi, plays the broker in here and convinces Mimi to be a surrogate and get compensated in return.

Considering the huge financial prospects involved, she agrees to it without much delay. The film is set in a small town of Rajasthan in the year 2013. The twist comes when the American couple abandons Mimi and the baby in the middle of the pregnancy and our surrogate Mimi is left all by herself. This tragic turn of events has been the harsh reality for many in India.

surrogacy india
Legalised in 2002, India has become a hub of commercial surrogacy, so much that it has been called ababy factory’. Representational image.

Legalised in 2002, India has become a hub of commercial surrogacy, so much that it has been called ababy factory’. Commercial surrogacy is legal in Russia, Ukraine and some States of the USA, but considering the cheaper costs, India becomes a preferable destination. A report estimates it to be worth more than $400, but the ethics of the practice has been largely questioned.

As in “Mimi”, the reference of “khet, ganna, beej” to the commercial surrogacy, the practice has led to the commodification of reproductive labour and women’s body. It is accused of treating the child as a good, reproduction as a service to be traded and establishing control over women’s bodies. Commercial surrogacy is likened to organ sale rackets.

There is also power dynamics involved where the rich try to rent the womb for themselves, the surrogates coming from the lowest economic rungs of society. Coming out of dire property, their consent to be surrogates can hardly be called informed. It is coercive since refusal is mostly difficult. Also, in majority of the cases, they are illiterate and barely get a copy of the contract signed. The broker keeps a major chunk of the compensation.

The commercial surrogacy in India has largely flourished because of absence of regulations and red-tapism. Come 2014 and the NDA government comes up with Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill which intended to ban commercial surrogacies over night. It allowed only altruistic surrogacy from close family members which would cover medical expenses and insurance and will be limited to Indian heterosexual and infertile couples, having completed five years of marriage.

This bill was passed by Lok Sabha in 2015 but could not steer through the upper house of parliament and was therefore, referred to a select committee. The Select Committee headed by Bhupendra Yadav, after consulting various stakeholders suggested that widows and divorced women be included, the five year marriage and infertility clause be removed from the bill. The bill accepting the recommendations is still pending in the Parliament.

But the bill has its share of shortcomings even now. It falls short of taking into account the rights of live-in couples and LGBTQ community who wish to start a family beyond the traditional nation of parents. The community has started to get legal recognition in India and their rights need to be protected.

Further the interests of surrogates have also been ignored as banning surrogacy straight away leaves them out of economic opportunities and their chance to improve their lot. As Dr Patel of Akanksha Hospital, Anand, Gujarat says, “Banning is never the solution”. The ban will give rise to an underground market for surrogacy which will only worsen the situation for poor women.

The movie in the end strikes the right chords by focusing on adoption as a viable option. As it is conveyed, “If the orphaned children were to be a country, it would be the 7th largest in the world.” You can watch “Mimi” on Netflix and Jio Cinemas.

By: Anuj Dahiya, a student of Political Science.

Instagram: @anuj__dahiya  Twitter: @unujdahiya

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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.

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