Let’s face it. The practice of surrogacy in India has had many things wrong with it. Ever since it was recognised as a trade and legalised in India, the practice has been mired in controversies. There have been scandals, stories of abuse and exploitation and courts have constantly had to intervene.
As early as 2008, the infamous Baby Manji Yamada case became a global shame for India. Just four years later, an Australian couple conveniently abandoned their surrogate child, leaving India shocked, but helpless, at the blatant disregard for human life.
That at the heart of commercial surrogacy lies a total commodification of motherhood and life is evident from these and many similar cases. It allows anyone with the money to decide to have a child, order one and have it delivered. In the absence of regularisation, he or she could even disown ‘the product’ once it was ready.
Not anymore. Joining a handful of countries such as UK, Denmark, Ireland and Belgium, India has banned commercial surrogacy – paying a woman to bear someone else’s child. Now, unless you are a legally wedded husband and wife, with proven medical records of infertility, you can’t simply outsource it. Yes, you can still have a child of your own blood, but you must find a close relative, not necessarily related by blood, willing to do it for you for free. No money changes hands.
The truth is, that behind all the notions of a modern, evolving society, the debate on choice and the supply-demand argument, is an industry that is buying and selling human life. An industry that exploits a woman’s power to carry a baby and give birth. An industry that fulfils the fancies – and not just needs – of the rich. Where the surrogate mother is just a means, a vessel, and the customer is everything.
And in many cases, the owner of the womb matters little. In 2012, Premila Vaghela, a poor 30-year-old surrogate mother, died soon after delivering the baby. It was barely covered in the media, and didn’t spark any protest.
There is ample evidence to show that the practice has largely been all about making a quick buck. Within seven years of becoming the world’s first country to allow commercial surrogacy, the industry was estimated at being worth Rs 25,000 crore in 2009.
It is estimated that around 12,000 foreigners were coming to India every year for a cheaper deal until India banned it. Foreigners formed about half of the total number of clients for surrogacy in India. Which roughly meant that every second Indian womb rented out was serving an overseas customer who was out baby shopping in India.
Banning it for foreigners was a great step, because India shouldn’t become the baby factory of the world. The new ban is welcome because it shouldn’t become one even for the rich within India.
A detailed report called “Surrogacy Motherhood: ethical or commercial?” based on a study done by NGO Centre for Social Research (CSR) in 2013 reveals startling facts about the exploitation of women in the unregulated industry.
It concluded that the work was mostly undertaken by domestic help and housemaids. The women are paid a pittance, often not more than 1-2% of what clinics make. Touts thrive and, in blatant violations of guidelines, decide matters for surrogate mothers. In many cases the women were impregnated in procedures where they didn’t know what they were there for and spontaneous abortions with pills were common. Women, mostly illiterate, were even trafficked and caught unawares as they were totally oblivious about what medical procedures their bodies would be subjected to.
It’s thanks to these practices that the industry has earned the dubious title of being ‘prostitution’s little sister’. It’s great that India has curbed the practice before it became a big monster than it already is.