Dr. Sheela Suryanarayanan, Associate Professor, Centre for Women’s Studies (CWS), School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, spoke as an expert on surrogacy at a symposium at ‘MATASUD – Mothers and maternal figures in the religious traditions of South Asia’, co-organized by the Laval University (Quebec City, Canada) and the University of Quebec (UQAM, Montreal, Canada) on 3rd March 2022.
The session began with the screening of the film Womb On Rent, followed by a talk by the Director of the film, Ishani K Dutta. Dr. Sheela spoke against legalising surrogacy. She spoke about the discrimination in surrogacy markets, and the exploitation of women in surrogate homes.
Relating her study to the film; she pointed out the discrimination and ‘interchangeability`’ of surrogate mothers when intended parents transfer embryos into two women simultaneously, or transfer more than two embryos into her womb, and when, because of the survival of a larger number of embryos, she is forced to have an abortion. This sort of practice is illegal, unethical and inhuman.
The higher payment made to surrogate mothers who are of a particular caste or religion or because they have a fairer skin makes surrogacy racist, casteist and imperialist. Dr. Sheela Suryanarayanan made reference to her study in Gujarat where Muslim women were moved to Kerala to have babies for parents coming from the Middle East. Most of the surrogate mothers in Anand and Ahmedabad were Christians.
She refuted the argument that surrogacy will go underground post the prohibition of commercial surrogacy. Almost 60% of the surrogacies were commissioned from abroad. The Indian intended parents from within India or NRIs were not paying as much money. The surrogate mothers themselves realised that the money was not worth the risks they faced during the surrogacy and the emotional and physical impacts post-surrogacy. Secondly, the free surrogacy market was attracting extreme forms of exploitation, violence such as rape and trafficking of women for surrogacy. That will be curbed with the new Surrogacy Bill 2022 in India.
Finally, she said surrogacy does not provide a sustainable source of livelihood, and that the Indian Government has rightly taken appropriate steps in this direction.