Julie Bindel interviews Dr Sheela Sarvanan, academic researching surrogacy in India.
Julie Bindel- Tell me about your work and please introduce yourself.
Dr Sheela Sarvanan-My name is Sheila Sarvanan and I am originally from India. I worked on commercial surrogacy between Asia and Europe. I’m now working on different projects to do with new reproductive technologies.
JB- Why are you against surrogacy?
SS- Global injustice and global inequalities are the main issues I am concerned with. I have written a paper on exploitation and objectification of mothers, women and children, which is one of my main concerns.
-JB- You have visited clinics in Gujarat. Why is Gujarat such an important city when looking at the realities of surrogacy?
SS- Initially when I went to India to do my fieldwork in 2009, Gujarat was already very popular at that time and there were already many surrogate homes there. One clinic had about three surrogate homes in different parts of Gujarat. I didn’t only want to look at that clinic as there were many people who had gone there. I went to one clinic that didn’t have a surrogate home and made a comparison.
JB- By surrogate home you mean a house where the surrogate women sleep, live, eat and are monitored 24 hours a day?
SS-Yes, they are detained there for the entire process of surrogacy, and many of them are there after birth depending on what the intended parents want them to do.
JB- What might the intended parents want them to do?
SS- They want them to look after the child, some of the parents arrived late, in one case the parents arrived 20 days after the child was born and this woman was looking after this child. She was breastfeeding the child, she had named the child, she was doing everything that a mother would do. She had named the child after her daughter so you can imagine the attachment she had to that baby. After 20 days, these parents came from abroad, they just took the baby and walked out, they didn’t even want to meet her, even the money was handed over through something else. Another couple that I met, a Canadian couple, she was unable to look after the twins, so she had a hotel room booked and booked another room for the surrogate mother and the babies, so they were looked after by the surrogate mother not the intended mother.
The third couple I met were from Australia, they wanted the surrogate mother to provide breast milk, but not directly, so they wanted her to collect it through a breast pump. These are the kind of things they want them to do and the justification is that they are paid extra money for it.
JB- Why should our campaign against surrogacy be important for feminists?
SS- One of the reasons is that these women are detained in these homes, overfed, restricted in movements, they aren’t even allowed to go up an down the stairs and they don’t have the codes for the elevators. They aren’t supposed to do normal household work and they are just supposed to lie around watching TV for those ten months, and they are not allowed to meet their family or children. It’s a total violation of human rights and it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. If it happened anywhere else there would have been a hue and cry, but this is happening in India and no one seems to be bothered about the atrocious things that are happening. It is poverty that is motivating them to do it, and it is inhuman.