BENGALURU: The Centre's move to ban commercial surrogacy and encourage only for altruistic purposes is ridiculous, says Sharmila Rudrappa, professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at the University of Texas. Sharmila, who has researched surrogacy in Benglauru extensively, told TOI that the move will only exacerbate the situation for surrogate mothers. Her book, Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy in India, will be published in December. Excerpts:
India has proposed to ban its women from being surrogates for NRI, PIO and foreign couples
This ban is certainly going to dent the earnings of surrogate mothers, but it's not going to be that large. But what's worse is the Centre is looking to ban commercial surrogacy altogether. It wants to institute only altruistic surrogacy , where no money will be exchanged. Look, the cat is out of the bag -the businesses are set, doctors have invested in equipment, networks are established. To think that you can turn the clock back and go back to altruistic surrogacy is downright ridiculous. The Centre has no interest in regulating surrogacy, and helping surrogate mothers achieve a life of dignity. Now, they are expected to gift their labour and hardship. There may be no contracts. Rich families can coerce or compel their poorer relatives, or maids to engage in "altruistic" surrogacy for them. Under these conditions, exploitation of surrogate mothers will deepen.
What led you to conduct research on surrogate mothers in India, Bengaluru specifically?
I still have a family in Bengaluru and during my visits, I was struck by the growing presence of fertility clinics all over the city. Why were there so many fertility clinics? It was right around then, in October 2007, that Oprah Winfrey had a show on surrogacy in Anand. I slowly realized that perhaps infertility and surrogacy were fascinating topics, especially given the amount of time, money and effort various governments in India had put in to control women's fertility .
Women in some rural pockets near Bengaluru are pushed into renting their wombs to earn money.
Please don't refer to surrogacy as a rental relationship. Such a perspective, i.e., that women "rent their wombs", discredits their efforts and sacrific es. Their bodies are pumped with synthetic hormones, they undergo invasive ultrasounds, they are separated from their families for months and stay in surrogacy dormitories, and finally, they are almost always cut open. The industry has a very high incidence of caesarian surgeries.
Given that these surrogate mothers have very poor postnatal care, the risks they put their bodies through are cause for worry . The women I met know that surrogacy is risky but still pursue surrogacy because life has become expensive in Bengaluru. None of the women I met was from rural areas. They were all Bengaluru residents, or came from the outskirts. And none of them was desperately poor; they came from multi-income families. They believed that the wages from surrogacy could pull them out of economic uncertainty .
Where exactly does a woman from Karnataka stand in the global reproductive labour market?
When I conducted fieldwork in Bengaluru in 2011, they received $4,000 for each pregnancy. By 2012-13, they were receiving $5,000. People might think this is very good money , but the city is expensive and it disappears very quickly.