Documentary Do you know commercial surrogate mothers are fast becoming a reality? Sutapa Deb who has made a film on the subject shares her experiences about her work

Some years back when Meghna Gulzar introduced the Bollywood audience to the concept of surrogate motherhood through her film Filhaal, the critics said what a novel idea: lending the womb to a friend. Few know that though the film failed commercially, the idea has really become commercial. Noted documentary filmmaker Sutapa Deb has now tracked some surrogate mothers who are renting out their wombs for money. To be telecast this Thursday on NDTV 24X7, Was That My Baby Crying shows how Punjab is becoming a surrogacy destination. “The surrogacy business here is gradually becoming bigger than the one in Anand in Gujarat. NRIs and foreign couples are attracted by the low costs, the quality of medical care and the absence of regulations,” says Sutapa. She says that she has concentrated on Punjab but the practice is quietly spreading across the country. Though commercial surrogacy has been legalised by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Sutapa says it should look into whether the guidelines are being followed.

All for money

In the film, she has zeroed in on three such mothers in Jalandhar and Chandigarh. “Two of them are Dalits and one is a Dalit Christian. This is no coincidence. These are historically backward castes and still being exploited.” She says the publicity spreads through word of mouth. “Usually it is through sweepers who work in the fertility clinics. Mostly these are ladies whose husbands are not earning well.” One of the mothers, Sutapa says, told her she was doing it for the sake of her children’s education. “She said if she had money she would not have done it. There is no fixed rate, but it is around Rs.80,000.”

The women don’t know whom they are lending their womb to.

A contract

“The doctors don’t explain anything to them except for the fact that they can charge for renting out their womb. They have to sign a contract in which they don’t have any say. I believe they could be lured into donating eggs as well.” Sutapa says the foreigners are attracted because it is cheap and the women are by and large healthy. “The NRIs want to keep it hush-hush.”

In the absence of safeguards for a surrogate mom’s rights, Sutapa says surrogacy is surrounded by a moral, legal and ethical debate.

“There are no NGOs working in this area. ICMR should look into the issue of post partum health of a surrogate mother. There are so many hormonal changes in a woman when she becomes a mother. If you take the baby away from the mother just after the birth, it has its emotional impact, and the surrogate mother could go into depression. Secondly there are no well defined rules in case a miscarriage happens or a couple refuses to accept the baby on grounds of colour or any health problem.”