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Surrogacy can be a knotty problem, but only deeply patriarchal societies like India would come up with a ban solution, instead of a freedom of choice bolstered by strong governance and prosecution solution.
The Kirti Shannon Pankaj Tripathi starrer Mimi (released last month on Netflix), from the trailers, had looked to be a humorous yet sensitive flick with a talented cast, tackling the rather thorny matter of commercial surrogacy.
And all of that – whether it is indeed that or not – has been well debated by now.
The movie has been praised for strong performances and criticized for inept (or, well intended yet ‘missed the opportunity’) handling of the subject matter.
The later seems to be often the case these days.
The 2019 emergence (post Badhai Ho and Article 15) of new era Bollywood where no storyline, mega budget, star studded slapsticks were to be replaced by ‘content’ films that were entertaining too, hasn’t completely reversed. But has been definitely marred. From Haseen Dillruba to Ayushmann’s Subha Mangal Zyada Sabhdan and Bala).
The inept handling, in case of Mimi, comes from touching way too many issues, and therefore, not fully tackling any. From commercial surrogacy, exploitation of the poor, motherhood vs. career, adoption vs. biological conceiving, abortion and the ethicality of the same, and so on.
But this post is not about Mimi, the movie. This post is a ‘beyond Mimi’ exploration of matters worth debating right now and forever – taking advantage of the chat room that Bollywood creates for India like no other means can. Nothing has been successful in delivering the Bollywood kind of outreach (remember corruption, Gandhibad, and Munnabhai?) in a Bollywood obsessed country. So, such opportunities shouldn’t be wasted.
Mimi brings forward the revival of an opportunity of debate on India’s policy on commercial surrogacy is women, their decision making, and their right to make decisions that concern them. Or as one article puts it: needs based vs. rights based approach, when it comes to a women’s choice.
As I have written before, surrogacy and its pros and cons is not a subject I feel I have the right to write on. But I don’t believe I am writing on surrogacy. I am writing on stripping women of their right in the name of protecting them – a symptom and effect of the disease called patriarchy.
Lone women are banned from using cabs at night if sexual assaults increase. Women shouldn’t wear jeans or have cell phones or should be banned from online chats and such (because crimes on them might happen otherwise), and of course, there should be curfews on them. All for the sake of ‘their own protection’. So, they shouldn’t be allowed to carry other’s children (surrogacy) as a purely financial step. It must be altruistic. Selling viable eggs is a means that India might consider banning too. How else do we prevent exploitation? end sarcasm
In technical terms, surrogacy involves the process of implanting an embryo in a women’s womb, naturally or otherwise, using or not using eggs and sperms from the intended parents, in 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 resources (albeit human) available who in turn, is in dire need of monetary compensation?
Or is it an act of extraordinary philanthropy – expected off course from women for a ‘noble cause’? Is it a mean of exploitation when it happens between unequal parties (nations, humans, organizations)?
Or is it a brilliant and much needed economic solution?
What will be the answer 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 – but are bread earners, entrepreneurs, deal makers, negotiators and solution providers who have ambitions?
The ban of commercial (and International) surrogacy in India is discriminatory. It takes away a choice a woman should be able to make for herself, and another ‘Indian’ example of tackling problems the easy and ‘condescending to women’ way. The modifications, and the proposed modification which might or might not be passed, won’t solve the core problem either. Because it doesn’t address the problematic thought that causes this kind of laws to be passed in India in the first place.
The debate here is not on the morality of surrogacy. It’s better to clear that out upfront. Because the other route for protecting women is guilt tripping them on righteous moral code around love, sex, and motherhood.
I personally believe that consensual surrogacy is a beautiful thing and there’s nothing wrong with a woman doing it for just money. That, with the side effect of providing a child to the childless, in the spectrum of all the things done for money, falls far into the right side of things.
But there’s no denying that commercial surrogacy is a thorny topic mired in controversy because of complications in implementation. It leads to exploitation and extremely complicated, heartbreaking litigations affecting human lives. There’s no denying that. But this is not just India’s problem. Every nation struggles with this, however, only deeply patriarchal societies would come up with a ban solution, instead of a freedom of choice bolstered by strong governance and prosecution solution.
Supporters and activists in favor of this law (as yielded by my research on this topic when I first wrote on this topic years back when I was struggling to make sense of why India would ban commercial and International surrogacy) say that this ban on commercial surrogacy is to prevent the exploitation of women. To keep them from turning into womb factories. To ensure that the surrogate mother and child post birth are not abandoned – keeping in mind visa problems the newborn might face.
But I still, even after years, don’t understand from what I read of the law how this helps achieve the very first one – preventing exploitation of women. All this does – is in effort to find an easy fix to the rest and to safeguard some abstract and fictitious moral concept of nobility around motherhood and family – takes away from the women who choose to do this – who need to do this – any mean of getting compensated. For the law now allows surrogacy, only if the woman chooses to do so out of the nobility of her heart, for close family.
Instead of improving our infrastructure, policing, and administrative processes to ensure we provide the couples (national or international) in dire need of this, and the women who go through this with an improved system: medically, legally, and administratively, our solution is our faithful go to ‘ban’. Instead of ensuring cases where payments haven’t been made, abandonment or exploitation has occurred, or nationality related mis happenings happened get prosecuted properly, efficiently and quickly, instead of making sure corrupt organizations and practices don’t mushroom, we force elimination of surrogacy.
Think the movie Mimi and a few fictional but quite possible scenarios.
There could be a requirement and process for the Doctor in Jaipur ask to have the contract Mimi has signed looked at by a non-profit legal aid, or social working group that the clinic partners with, who then advise Mimi on the concerns and considerations, so that she can make a decision fully informed of the risk.
The clinics, which are rich in India thanks to families lining up for any means possible (from IVF to donors), could be asked by the government’s women and child development arms to monitor closely for increased risk of exploitation, and fined if they don’t report so.
Laws could be put in place for strict penalties and prosecution including jail time for abandonment of contract. Now, India has painfully slow legal system and the defendants are vulnerable, but that is where a lot of the responsibility could be shifted to enforcing bodies, including offering of pro-bono legal support – before and after such contracts are signed. Yes, all of these will be strain on resources. But they also would upgrade a woman’s choice and means.
Instead, the current law virtually makes it impossible for an Indian couple to find a surrogate, unless they can exploit the ‘goodness of heart’ or guilt trip relatives or acquaintances into doing this. International couples are not allowed to pursue this in India anyways – thank god for us protecting ourselves from the big black foreign money – we speak for our poor from our air-conditioned offices – they don’t need or want this money. They are better off without, as they choose to surrogate only if they want to without the expectation of any compensation, only for their country mates and only for the pure virtue of it.
What are the surrogate mothers or those who want to be surrogate mothers saying about the ban?
To paraphrase several surrogates and want to be surrogates interviewed in articles on the topic: our poor not so sophisticated 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 are 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 would they find and prosecute the guilty instead if there has been exploitation?
Well, in a country where getting molested gets you banned from getting out or having liberties, it’s a question that will 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 less moral. 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. This is why we should discuss this a key matter, for it’s a much bigger class and gender matter than it seems to be.
Coming back to the matter of Bollywood’s responsibility in portraying things a certain way, or not portraying at all for the sake of social justice, should the media have freedom of choice and creative license even if it risks role modelling the wrong message for an impressionable audience?
From slaps in Kabir Singh to deserving violence and death in the hands of the husband as a price to pay for sexual escapade? Should a movie on surrogacy project have a certain narrative vs. another? Should motherhood and leaving your ambitions for the same be glorified without a counter narrative? Should a movie made for ‘entertainment’ even if on a sensitive matter be expected to have a certain message? A certain level of accuracy in facts (say the adoption debacle)?
Well, I would bring this back to the point on surrogacy ban and skip the Bollywood question for now with this – exploitations happen in adoption too. Kids are promised but left behind, causing heartbreak and possibly much deeper trauma on young impressionable minds. Kids get adopted, and then abused.
Should we ban international adoption in India too? Deciding for the kids that they would rather be in orphanages and prevent the chance of even a single child being abused vs. everyone missing out a chance of hope? Expect that Indians will step up to provide a home for every kid, and if they can’t we are better off without a better life?
I will wait for a Mimi sequel with John and Summer leaving the girl they have adopted uncared for in India to discuss that. Maybe then we can have awareness and dialogue on the fact that Hindu married men can adopt with wife’s consent, but married women can’t. A woman can adopt only if she is single, widowed, or divorced.
Manages supply chain teams in Intel Corp. Blogger, writer and poet. Founder and Director Her Rights (www.herrights.website). Contributor Huffington Post US, The Logical Indian. Poetry and fiction published in several US, UK and read more...
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