This roundup of the legal status of commercial surrogacy in India studies the effectiveness of bans, the responsive agility of surrogacy providers, and the ultimate impact on the human rights of gestational mothers.
Authored by Sharmila Rudrappa, a respected researcher and author in the field, it presents current arguments for and against criminalization. Exploring altruistic surrogacy, which is the only arrangement allowed in India at this time, the article ends with important questions on whether gestational mothers would be better protected if commercial transactions were toughly regulated rather than outlawed.
This long article is well worth the read. It follows a group of gestational mothers in India, providing unusually deep insights into their lives, the contexts that frame their decisions, and their experiences within surrogacy arrangements and after. It also features conversations with the clinics and intended parents that hire gestational mothers, and touches upon the controversial effort to ban the practice in India.
Critics say it is unlikely that banning foreign surrogacy clients will protect poor Indian women or end the practice. For one thing, surrogacy remains legal for heterosexual Indian couples. For another, transnational surrogacy is notorious for its elaborate work-arounds. When the Indian home ministry abruptly banned gay foreign surrogacy clients in 2012, Indian fertility clinics shipped Indian surrogates across the border to Nepal. When Nepal also banned transnational surrogacy in 2015, as did Thailand, industry insiders told me they believed that Indian surrogates were being rerouted to African countries instead. They also said that the ban will merely drive the practice underground.
Sharmila Rudrappa is a distinguished scholar in the field and her book, Discounted Life, is the winner, American Sociological Association Asia and Asian America Section Best Book on Asia/Transnational Asia.
From the publisher’s website:
Sharmila Rudrappa interrogates the creation and maintenance of reproductive labor markets, the function of agencies and surrogacy brokers, and how women become surrogate mothers. Is surrogacy solely a labor contract for which the surrogate mother receives wages, or do its meanings and import exceed the confines of the market? Rudrappa argues that this reproductive industry is organized to control and disempower women workers and yet her interviews reveal that, by and large, the surrogate mothers in Bangalore found the experience life affirming. Rudrappa explores this tension, and the lived realities of many surrogate mothers whose deepening bodily commodification is paradoxically experienced as a revitalizing life development.
A detailed and moving study, Discounted Life delineates how local labor markets intertwine with global reproduction industries, how Bangalore’s surrogate mothers make sense of their participation in reproductive assembly lines, and the remarkable ways in which they negotiate positions of power for themselves in progressively untenable socio-economic conditions.