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4 Pertinent Questions To Ask About The Outrage Over Nayanthara And Vignesh’s Surrogate Twins

The outrage has put a spotlight on the blatantly discriminatory aspects of the Surrogacy Regulation Act, people's conceptions of who is a 'good' mother, and the prejudices against surrogacy.

Actor Nayanthara and her husband Vignesh Shiva shared the news of becoming parents to twin babies on social media last weekend to a wide-scale outrage in Tamil Nadu.

The controversy that has erupted demands answers from the couple whether they have followed the new surrogacy laws which came into effect in January this year.

A look at India’s surrogacy laws with reference to the controversy

In December 2021, the Parliament of India passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Act and The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Act, which came into effect on 25th January, 2022.

According to these two Acts,

  • only childless couples
  • of a certain age bracket,
  • with a medical condition which would necessitate surrogacy

are allowed to avail surrogacy. They have to obtain a recommendation certificate from a District Medical Board and a surrogate mother who is related to the couple by blood and is not charging the intended parents.

Given that these laws would not apply to surrogacy procedures undertaken before 25th January, 2022 and typically a period of gestation takes between 9 and 10 months, the people’s conviction that the couple have broken these laws is just conjecture.

Reportedly, the Tamil Nadu Health Minister has said that the Directorate of Medical Services will look into the controversy. So until they come out with their findings, we cannot know for sure what happened.

But this wide scale outrage has brought under the spotlight the blatantly discriminatory aspects of the Surrogacy Regulation Act, people’s conceptions of who is a ‘good’ mother, and the prejudices against surrogacy.

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This can be explored through a number of key points.

The philosophy behind the 25th Jan 2022 amendment

The bill was touted to be pro women as commercial surrogacy is seen by the central government as exploitative.

According to the government, the absence of legislation to regulate surrogacy, rates of “rampant commercial surrogacy and unethical practices” have been high in India. So banning commercial surrogacy would ensure legal practice of only altruistic surrogacy, wherein only the medical expenses of the surrogate mother is covered.

But what happens to women from lower income brackets who make a living out of lending their wombs in exchange for a sum of money?

What happens to the thousands of women whose livelihoods have been snatched away?

Entire towns in various parts of the country have grown into surrogacy hubs, like Anand in Gujarat. Bodily autonomy, agency, and the right to livelihood of these women is compromised. Which makes the law anything but pro-women.

Will banning commercial surrogacy make it go away?

As with abortion, as with recreational drugs, as with any number of other things, banning surrogacy will not put an end to the practice. Here it would only mean that the women who engage in commercial surrogacy would no longer be able to access the legal redressal system when they find themselves exploited by their clients. From payment and reimbursement to health questions, the Act aiming to ‘curb exploitation’ actually puts these working women at further risk of exploitation.

If indeed the actor and her husband in question have broken the law, so would thousands of others, and probes wouldn’t be launched in each and every one of those cases.

Why the outrage over ‘exploitation’ only in surrogacy?

The outrage should have been directed at the failure of the government in legalizing commercial surrogacy if they want to curb exploitation. But unfortunately, as Sowmya Rajendran, award winning author, film critic, and columnist at The News Minute puts it in her excellent Facebook post, “it would seem that we reserve our anger at the exploitation of a woman’s body only if the beneficiary is another woman.”

We watch exploitative porn, we ogle women and touch them inappropriately on the streets, we refuse to criminalise marital rape, but we draw the line at a woman safely making her livelihood through commercial surrogacy.

What about the discriminatory nature of the surrogacy laws?

The entire controversy brings another element under the spotlight. The requirement of marriage.

Unmarried couples would not fall under the purview of this law and thereby would not be able to avail surrogacy even if they want to raise a child.

Queer people are not even allowed to marry. Non-binary people are not even recognised by law. Single men, too, cannot have a child through surrogacy under this law.

Indian society’s obsession with marriage and motherhood translates into these laws that keep out anyone who doesn’t comply to every cis heteronormative casteist requirement it throws at the individual.

Why the outrage over Nayanthara’s choice?

Is it because she might have bypassed the laws put in place, of which we have no proof yet? Or is it because she does not fit India’s popular and traditional idea of what makes a ‘good mother’? As a society, we have romanticised motherhood to mean a number of things which are more often than not infinitely more exploitative and discriminatory than romantic. The pain of childbirth is one of them.

When Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jones announced the birth of their baby through surrogacy, she was subjected to a tirade of insensitive and defamatory remarks for having chosen this particular method of welcoming her baby into this world. A successful woman utilising her privileges, resources, and agency to make a decision for herself that does not align with society’s expectations from women, never sits well with the public.

In her Facebook post that I mentioned earlier, Sowmya Rajendran asks some pertinent questions, for us to sit and think about for everyone outraging on social media.

  • “Are you outraged because a privileged woman is using her privilege to get what she wants in a patriarchal society?
  • Are you outraged because your ideas about motherhood are being challenged?
  • Are you outraged because you don’t have a uterus but want to tell others what to do with theirs?”
  • Why exactly are you outraged?”

Images source: Instagram

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About the Author

Kamalika

A postgraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional feminist and an avid reader when she's not busy telling people about her cats. Adores walking around and exploring read more...

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