In 1996, Eve Ensler wrote a play “The Vagina Monologues”   which is a collection of monologues each dealing with an aspect of the feminine experience, touching on matters such as sex, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation.  The play seeks to position the  vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality.  I have not read the play or seen it being performed though I have read a lot about it. Each year, Eve supposedly adds on a new monologue to highlight a current issue affecting women.

As I was reading an article in THE HINDU  today, I was reminded about this play.

The article was about wombs on hire  (which I am sure many of you have read).  It mentions about a fertility clinic in Anand (yes the same place which was the epicenter  of India’s white revolution) where women who have agreed to carry a child in their womb for a cost are housed. The article mentions about how the  entire operation goes on unregulated – costing anything between Rs 8-  Rs 10 lakhs with the mother in question getting less than Rs 3 lakhs in the entire deal. While the Anand clinic was probably the biggest one there are supposedly many other such places in our country where surrogacy in child bearing goes on.

I think back to a Thai film that I saw long ago at a film festival. It was about the same issue- surrogacy! Apparently there used to exist in Thailand a custom where aristocratic men who could not have a heir used the services of women belonging to a certain community to produce one. These women had to live in the estate of the man and produce an heir for him. If it was male, then the child had to handed over to the family commissioning her services and she would be sent back with some gifts and property to her village. However, if she was “unfortunate” enough to have a daughter both mother and daughter would be sent back – empty handed! The daughter in turn when she grew up  had no option but to continue to keep up the tradition of her community – surrogacy!

Many of us may remember Indian movies made on similar themes – the childless couple where the wife forces the husband to have sex with another woman so that they can have a child- desire to perpetuate one’s   genetic heritage being carried to a ridiculous extent…!I had often wondered why the reverse was never shown – where the wife had physical relations with another man ( may probably have been the best option in cases where the man’s sperm count was low).It is actually not alien to the great “Indian culture” that we hold in such high regard. How do you think Kunti and Madri in the Mahabharat conceived the Pandavas?  If you think that it is through the blessings of Indra, Surya,  Vayu etc then you are probably very naive!

However, it appears that now surrogacy is taking on new dimensions –where the woman in question is nothing but a chamber in which the baby grows. There was a very shallow movie made by none other than Gulzar’s daughter which shows a woman  carrying her friend’s  baby and giving birth to it.  The doctor in the film explains it exactly the way I have written –“ It is as simple as borrowing a vessel for  cooking food if your vessel is not good enough”! I think it is the most disrespectful way of describing this! Does not do any woman justice!

But it looks like surrogacy is here to stay.  A country which already has a large number of children without parents is  now getting ready to produce “ made to order” children for couples who are unable to have children. This obsession with genetics is becoming just becoming too much!

There are unfortunately no laws that govern  surrogacy – unlike in the west where it is forbidden. So what happens is that many foreign couples come to India to hire one. In the absence of any law, the woman involved in surrogacy is therefore left open to a lot of risks . For example, there is no provision of health insurance for the woman who has agreed to go through this and so in case of any complication her health is the one which would be in danger with no options for paying for the treatment.

While there are entire ethical and moral questions around such practices, what concerns me is something that is more basic- this renting out of a part of a woman’s body! It used to  happen in sex work and now in birth.

At the cost of sounding clichéd, I must say that I find this commoditisation of a woman’s body very disgusting! Now, many may say that it is women themselves who sell their services as carriers of fetuses or providers of sex for a sum. But tell me friends, can something be sold in the market if there is no demand for it? The economics of that would just  not work out!

And what is probably most unfair is that the seller in this case is not the woman herself – the woman’s  body part is being sold or rented  by a market in which she herself is often just a pawn! The entire fertility industry thrives on the services of many of these poor women who are nothing but instruments for them to earn money out of! Similarly the sex trade – where the women themselves earn very little with much of the money going to those in the middle- pimps, police, brothel owners and what not!!

In terms of rights they enjoy very few. For example one of the women interviewed in the Anand fertility clinic stated that she was found to be carrying quadruplets and since the couple commissioning did not want four children she underwent an abortion of two fetuses. She was not informed about the medical consequences of having a procedure such as this performed on her in the condition.

The way markets have taken over lives is amazing! Anything seems to be available for a price! And the saddest thing is that like everything else in our country, the person at the end of the supply chain remains the most exploited. Whether it is a womb or her sexual services that a woman sells, she gets paid almost next to nothing- she is just a “ vessel” ( to quote the doctor in that infamous movie)! Her health and her rights are not protected by any law and often her very existence is treated as a dirty secret!

Coming back to  Eve I wonder what she would have to say about this? I think she should now call this “ the machine monologues” where a woman’s womb is turned into a  machine!!! But the problem is, that unlike a vagina which is a living part, machines are inanimate and therefore cannot speak of their “production” experience!


  1. A very relevant post, Meera. I think it should get wider and wider readers' coverage. I read about 17year olf 'egg-donor' who mysteriously died after donating her eggs. While biologically, one has to be atleast 25 to do so (as the article said), this girl was forced to do so at the age of 17. Thanks to the enormous livelihood opportunities available to people (more so, women).

    Anand is an NRI belt and they just go about HIRING WOMBS and it is painful to hear about such women who are forced to drop 2 foetusses out of four, like picking and throwing two unwanted apples from a basket of four!

    And most of the women are from poor background with their husband and the entire family actually thriving on this source of livelihhood. It is sad how couples long for their biological children and go to any extreme when they could adopt a child (ofcourse that is my personal view).

    And Bollywood movies are nothing but shallow tear-jerkers and they do not touch the actual issue---ever!

  2. Meera, the problem is that it is the market forces which work even here as you have mentioned. Commodity is what every thing unfortunately has become, with law makers in slumber:(

  3. a very hard hitting post Meera.. sad that there are no laws covering the surrogates only guidelines from the ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research). Having ur own genetic offspring is such a mental affair, or else it would be so much better to adopt a homeless kid and give it a home...but no the genes seem to be more important... tweeting this article, it certainly requires more and more coverage...

  4. it helps to keep in mind that the great civilizations of asia, africa and south america are nothing but markets, and human lives are nothing but consumers. is it surprising that they are commodified as well...

    at the cost of trivializing a comment thread that will be addressing this serious issue, let me tag you. i wrote a post about the good in me and the good in you in response to a blogging tag from aarathi selvan of between life's doings. it was a pretty interesting experience to pull together what i considered was good in me. i would like to see what you consider the good in you, meera, so i tagged you too. see this post for details.

  5. You have presented one side of the issue and taken some extreme case of a quadruplet to buttress your case.There is always another perspective to the matter.
    Safeguards are necessary so that women are not deceived.If an eye or kidney can be donated willingly where there is a permanent loss to the donator ,what harm is there for a woman who is ready to lend her womb for a couple to raise their own biological child.Unqualified willingness without any trace of compulsion is a must.Medical insurance for any mishap should be stipulated.There can even be an agency through which such arrangements are entered into to avoid any manipulation.
    Adoption is not always a preferred method for childless couple.If surrogacy can help them why should it be stopped where both sides are willing and compensated and the procedure is gone after proper verification
    There cannot be only one solution to this ticklish problem.Thgere is no violation of any right if something is done knowingly,willingly and properly

  6. @ Ani, it is interesting that yours is the first comment- you and your husband are one of the few special ones who have transcended genetics and interesting that you should do this living as you do in Anand!

    @ Sukupedia- thanks for tweeting the article. Yes, I felt very strongly and so I guess it shows.

    @ Rahul, sad that we allow markets to take over our lives like this.

  7. Meera,

    Very thought provoking post. Why can those who can not have own children opt for adoption? If at all it becomes inescapable to go for surrogate birth, then woman who offers her service needs to be protected in every way. Taking of demand and supply is apt.

    Take care

  8. A law against surrogacy? Will it work? Even the unrealistic optimist in me says it will not work. There are laws against child marriage, child labour and a host of other social evils but they just don't work. We have a judicial system that takes such a long time to conclude a case that justice is essentially denied. Saying the law is an ass is an insult to the ass.

    Most of the women involved in this are from the poorer sections of society. I think the root cause is poverty and the consequent desperation to do anything for money. The health risks involved are far too great to justify the earning. Only long term steps for economic development with education can help. That's my two cents.

    There is an anger in your post that comes through with a punch. I share that anger. I am sure many of your friends share that anger. We need a political class and a bureaucracy who are sensitive to these issues and act appropriately. Even the optimist in me is not confident.

    These are issues that need to be highlighted and addressed. Keep writing Meera.

  9. In a few countries this is a profession for some .. Really .. I dont have anything against surrogacy as long as it is done in a good manner..

    but these days i would prefer to adopt a child then go for surrogacy wish peoiple do that ..

    Open letter to all -Bikram's

  10. Surrogacy is not forbidden in the west. It is common nowadays among Hollywood celebrities. I guess they have more laws governing the act. I am actually shocked to know this happens in India, I don't think I learnt enough about the country while there.

  11. Meera, I read that article too. I wanted to bring your attention to one more dimension of IVF - where the biological parents themselves go through all sorts of procedures. Someone known to me is going through this - willingly. By her own admission it is an intrusive process and if it fails results in all sorts of emotional upheaval and trauma. Not to mention the enormous costs associated with it. But she is in some sort of denial and does not realise how demeaning it all is. Apparently the maternal urge is so strong, she doesn't care about her own self esteem. I'm sounding judgmental I know. But that's how I feel.

  12. Should i blame poverty for this or what?
    A vessel??..which involves life and death??
    A VESSEL!!!!!!!!!!
    I just don't know,,,,,am so angry at right my thoughts are not coordinated.
    In Nigeria, there is surrogacy also, and the law is not protecting is the women that negotiate the price with the client, male children attract higher fees....there is a syndicate also that house teenage gals whose parents send out of the house when found pregnant....the doctor delivers the baby who is immediately bought by the client. It is question is; WILL IT EVER STOP???..Like you said, here is a demand for it, hence it thrives..with many women refusing to undergo the labour of pains and losing their body shape?...sighs!
    The human baby is now like a puppy sold in the market place?
    An enlighten post meera..weldone.

  13. Well, really thought provoking and very important commnents.

    Christopher so rightly said that "Only long term steps for economic development with education can help".

    For the need of food and shelter and a betetr life for the family, the women go for this. And thats why we had the 17 year old egg donor for IVF who lost her life before it could even begin.

    I want to end my comment here with an observation, though it may not be relevant for this post fully. It is not that 'childkless' couple or those who are not 'biologically able' to bear children go for adoption. Adoption is also a way of becoming a parent for coupels who can biologically bear their offspring. I have friends who have adopted children completely out of their own volition.

    We did it too. Infact Adoption was the main reason why Nikhil and I married, since we had the common mission. We had difficulty in convincing the authorities that even though tehre is no issue with biology, we still have decided to become parents by adopting. So, adoption is a choice, not a 'last resort for couples who cannot have biological children'

  14. @ Ibhade, I can understand your anger. Fortunately the adoption laws in India are more stringent than surrogacy laws.

    @ Deepa, maternal urge or biological proof of reproductive abilities is the question! To fulfil one's maternal urges one needs a child which can easily be adopted like Nikhil and Ani ( thanks Ani for coming back with a comment once again)

    @Christopher- you sound cynical! It is sad that is what laws in our land have become!

    @ KP - surrogate motherhood is not like organ donation. In the case of organ donation it is a life saving act and usually done by family members ( though there is also a black market that exploits the poor). Sorry but I am more for nurture than nature- you can make a child completely yours by bringing it up in a way that it shares your values - you do not have to give it your genes!

    @ Lara if there are laws in the west then they must be very stringent otherwise foreigners will not be look to India for renting wombs at a cheaper rate!

  15. first time here..this is an amazing blog...cheers Meera

  16. Sharp analysis, Meera. Read the article in Hindu. The magnanimity of the issue is yet in the dark. Unless there is a proper legal framework t regulate this sector, vessels will continue to be lent and hired...The min reason behind this is our out dated adoption law too, which makes it almost impossible to adopt:(

  17. Interesting post that is also disturbing.

  18. I know many childless couples who have failed all attempts to conceive.I asked a coupe once why they dont try adoption.And then I even started offering them ideas.They were convinced and started the process and spent a lot of time and efforts,and at the end of one year,still the paper works are going on! In a place like India,where hundreds of children are thrown over to the streets, the rules to adopt a child is so stringent ,that it is nearly impossible.
    We have all rules but every thing can be done only against the rules.
    Surrogacy is a difficult topic.When we look at couples who yearn to have a child,we cant blame the kind of extra mile they are willing to walk.But those who try to make money even out of those helpless situations should be branded ror life.


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