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Not an ‘Angel’, not a ‘Whore’Surrogates as ‘Dirty’ Workers in India

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In this study of surrogate mothers in Gujarat, India, I introduce the concept of ‘sexualised care work’ to describe a new type of care work—commercial surrogacy—that is similar to existing forms of care work but is stigmatised in the public imagination, among other reasons, because of its parallels with sex work. I use the oral histories of the surrogates to examine the accounts they give, justifying their work and resisting stigma. I argue that while the narratives can be seen as a form of resistance, they reinforce the primary identity of these women as dependent mothers rather than independent workers.
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Indian Journal of Gender Studies
DOI: 10.1177/097152150901600201
2009; 16; 141 Indian Journal of Gender Studies
Amrita Pande Not an ‘Angel’, not a ‘Whore’: Surrogates as ‘Dirty’ Workers in India
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Articles
Not an ‘Angel’, not a
‘Whore’: Surrogates
as ‘Dirty’ Workers in India
AMRITA PANDE
In this study of surrogate mothers in Gujarat, India, I introduce the concept of
‘sexualised care work’ to describe a new type of care work—commercial surrogacy—
that is similar to existing forms of care work but is stigmatised in the public imagina-
tion, among other reasons, because of its parallels with sex work. I use the oral histories
of the surrogates to examine the accounts they give, justifying their work and resisting
stigma. I argue that while the narratives can be seen as a form of resistance, they re-
inforce the primary identity of these women as dependent mothers rather than inde-
pendent workers.
In 1776, Adam Smith observed that there are ‘some very agreeable
and beautiful talents’, that are admirable so long as no pay is taken
for them, ‘but for which the exercise for the sake of gain is con-
sidered, whether from reason or prejudice, as a sort of publick
prostitution’ (1985: 103). Smith was talking about opera singers.
Martha Nussbaum adds her contemporary examples to Smith’s
contention,
Professors, factory workers, lawyers, opera singers, prostitutes,
doctors, legislators—we all do things with parts of our bodies,
Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 16:2 (2009): 141–173
SAGE Publications Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore/Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/097152150901600201
Amrita Pande is with the Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts,
Amherst, MA 01003. USA. E-mail: amrita@soc.umass.edu.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my dissertation committee: Millie Thayer,
Robert Zussman and Joya Misra at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst,
and Elizabeth Hartmann at Hampshire College.
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142 • Amrita Pande
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for which we receive a wage in return. Some people get good
wages and some do not; some have a relatively high degree
of control over their working conditions and some have little
control; some have many employment options and some have
very few. And some are socially stigmatized and some are not.
(1998: 693)
In this study of surrogate mothers in India, I introduce the
concept of ‘sexualised care work’ to describe a new type of repro-
ductive labour—commercial surrogacy—that is similar to existing
forms of care work but is stigmatised in the public imagination,
among other reasons, because of its parallels with sex work. At
one level, the significance of this study of commercial surrogates
in India is that it is the first attempt to analyse surrogacy in a
developing country context. There are relatively few studies on
responses to reproductive technologies in non-Euro-American
settings (Strathern 1992; Sunder Rajan 2000; Unnithan Kumar
2004). This study aims to move beyond this dominant setting and
get a broader view of the cultural response to new reproductive
technologies like surrogacy.
My aim in this project, however, is not just to extend the study
of surrogacy to a new country. By arguing that surrogacy is another
form of labour, I want to open up conversations on new ways of
analysing surrogacy—beyond the Euro-centred and ethics-
oriented frame. But as importantly, I want to use commercial sur-
rogacy in a developing country context as a launching pad for
discussions on new forms of informal, gendered and stigmatised
work. Commercial surrogacy is an unusual kind of work that has
characteristics of both sex work and care work and, thus, becomes
an exciting way to extend the literature on gender and work. How
do the curious features of this new kind of work affect the
surrogates? Using the case of commercial surrogacy, a new form
of women’s work lying somewhere at the cusp of care work and
dirty work, I explore how the language of stigma, especially in
conjunction with women’s work, suppresses the development of
a worker’s identity.
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What Is Surrogacy?
Surrogacy refers to an arrangement whereby a woman agrees to
become pregnant for the purpose of gestating and giving birth to
a child for others to raise. She may be the child’s genetic mother
(traditional surrogacy) or she may be implanted with someone
else’s fertilised egg (gestational surrogacy). All the cases in Anand,
the Indian city in which I studied surrogacy, fall under the category
of ‘gestational surrogacy’, where the surrogate has no genetic con-
nection with the baby.
As an alternative means of producing children, surrogacy is an
ancient practice. Throughout history, in several cultures, women
have used other women to bear the children they could not con-
ceive. The surrogate was often a second wife, a concubine, or a
maid. Another form of surrogacy was seen in the Middle Ages in
Europe, when wealthy women regularly turned their newborn
babies over to wet nurses, with the natural mother making only
occasional visits—very similar to modern-day commercial sur-
rogacy (Spar 2006).
With artificial insemination, conception was removed from sex,
making it possible for a man to impregnate a surrogate without
even meeting her. But in traditional surrogacy, the surrogate was
also the genetic mother of the child she bore. This made surrogacy
a legal and ethical nightmare—the surrogate had a greater claim
on the child than the intended mother. The next step in assisted
reproduction—the development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF)—
solved this problem.1 Now the genetic mother (the woman who
provided the eggs) could be separated from the surrogate mother.
Legally, this split meant that the connection between the surrogate
and the baby would be far less powerful than under traditional
surrogacy arrangements. Commercially, it increased the supply
of both components—the surrogates and the egg donors. Women
were more willing to donate eggs if they did not also have to under-
go the pregnancy, and they were more interested in serving as
surrogates if the child they were carrying was not genetically theirs
(Ragone 1994; Spar 2006).
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The separation of eggs and wombs not only allowed the market
to thrive but also changed the market. In traditional surrogacy,
the surrogate provides the genetic material as well as the womb.
The adoptive parents, therefore, were more likely to emphasise
the ‘right’ genetic make-up (race, physical characteristics, intel-
ligence, and so on). In gestational surrogacy, however, the parents
no longer care about the surrogate’s genes (Spar 2006). Not sur-
prisingly, gestational surrogacy also allowed the surrogacy market
to go global. It was now possible for a South Korean couple sitting
in Los Angeles to hire a surrogate from a little village in western
India to have a child for them.
Theoretical Framework
In the existing Western literature, surrogacy has primarily been
framed as a problem of white middle-class heterosexual women
(Roberts 1997; Wajcman 1994). While defenders of surrogacy ad-
vocate this service as a manifestation of women’s freedom of
choice, concerns and debates have revolved around the legalities
of pregnancy contracts and the ethics of this practice (Anderson
1990; Andrews 1987; Baker 1996; Markens 2007). Debates around
the ethics of surrogacy are rampant in this literature and range
from the view that contractual pregnancy is symptomatic of the
dissolution of the American family (Ragone 1994) to the charge
that it reduces women to a new breeder class (Corea 1985;
Raymond 1993; Rothman 1988), one structurally akin to prosti-
tution (Dworkin 1978), or to another form of baby selling (Neuhaus
1988).
These (Eurocentric) portrayals of surrogacy cannot incorporate
the reality of a developing-country setting—where commercial
surrogacy has become a survival strategy and a temporary occupa-
tion for some poor rural women, where women are recruited sys-
tematically by a fertility clinic and matched with clients from India
and abroad. In such a setting, surrogacy cannot merely be seen
through the lenses of ethics or morality but is a structural reality,
with real actors and real consequences.
I make a case for commercial surrogacy in India as a new kind
of ‘sexualised care work’ (Pande 2008). By identifying commercial
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surrogacy as a new form of labour, it is possible to arrive at a much
more nuanced analysis than one based solely on morality. If we
are able to understand how surrogates experience and define their
act in this new form of labour, it will be possible to move beyond
a universalistic moralising position and to develop some know-
ledge of the complex realities of women’s experience of commercial
surrogacy.2
Feminist scholarship on reproductive labour and the care work
of nannies and domestic workers provides a lens to understand
commercial surrogacy in India. Reproductive labour typically in-
cludes activities such as purchasing household goods, preparing
and serving food, laundering and repairing clothing, socialising
children and providing care and emotional support (Glenn 1992).
Evelyn Nakano Glenn observed that white privileged women in
the United States have historically freed themselves of reproduct-
ive labour by purchasing the services of women of colour. I have
previously argued that with globalisation and ever-expanding
reproductive technology, ‘gestational services’ need to be added
to the list of care work (Pande 2008). Surrogates in India, who are
renting out their wombs on a routine basis for couples from India
and abroad, are also involved in care work—they are nurturing
someone else’s baby in exchange for money. But what makes their
work experience atypical is the high degree of sexualised stigma
attached to it—making surrogacy a special kind of stigmatised and
sexualised care work.
Context: Anand, Gujarat, India
Anand is a city of about 100,000 people in the western Indian state
of Gujarat. Anand is an unlikely place to have become a centre for
transnational and national surrogacy—it is a remote and relatively
small town by Indian standards. A curious fact about the demo-
graphy of the state of Gujarat is that a large percentage of Gujaratis
have settled in different parts of the world. Out of the 20 million
Indians spread across the globe, 6 million are from the state of
Gujarat, that is, nearly 30 per cent of the total non-resident Indian
population is from this one state. Non-resident Gujaratis (NRG)
coming to India for personal and medical visits are making Gujarat
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one of the most popular sites of medical tourism in India—the
majority are cardiac patients, but an increasing number are coming
for joint replacement, plastic surgery and, now, for IVF (Bhargav
2006).
Currently, there are no laws governing surrogacy in India, and
the fertility clinics, like the ones in Anand, are merely ‘guided’ by
the Guidelines for ‘Accreditation, Supervision and Regulation of
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) clinics in India’ issued
by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) in 2005.3 The
birth certificate is issued in the name of the genetic parent (ICMR
Guidelines 2005). However, in the absence of any formal laws re-
garding the status of the baby delivered by a surrogate in India,
the nationality status of the baby is determined by the laws in the
home countries of the intended parents. For example, in the case
of American couples, no adoption procedures are required and
the consulate readily adds the child’s name to the passport of the
intended parents. For couples from the United Kingdom, formal
adoption procedures are required.
In November 2007, the Indian Ministry of Women and Child
Development declared its plan to pass a law to regulate the ‘busi-
ness of surrogate motherhood and sperm banks on the lines of
similar laws in other countries’ (Singh 2007). But till a law is passed,
the clinics that provide ART facilities can follow their own rules.
While infertility clinics from several Indian cities like New Delhi,
Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Kolkata have reported cases
of surrogacy, most clinics provide just the technology and require
the patients to arrange for their own surrogates. Anand is the only
place where the doctors, nurses and middle women play an active
role in the recruitment of women from neighbouring villages. The
clinic has a constant supply of surrogates, and some of these
women are going in for surrogacy for the second time in just two
years. As Dr Khanderia, the doctor responsible for bringing the
surrogates together in Anand, proudly proclaims, ‘There may be
surrogacy clinics all over the state, the country and the world, but
these people do sporadic surrogacy. No one in the world can match
our numbers—55 surrogates successfully pregnant at the same
time’ (personal interviews 2007).
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The surrogates have to sign a consent form that talks about their
rights in the surrogacy contract but the form is in English, a lan-
guage almost none of the surrogates can read. Some essential
points of the contract, however, are translated for them. So what
they do understand is that they have to hand over the baby right
after it is born, they have no claims over the baby, the doctor or
the couple is not responsible for any death resulting from the pro-
cess, they will receive payments in instalments and the last pay-
ment will be made after the delivery.
Once a woman agrees to become a surrogate, a surrogacy coun-
sellor informs her about the procedures involved. Gestational sur-
rogacy is a much more complex medical process than traditional
surrogacy, since the surrogate is not genetically related to the baby
and her body has to be ‘prepared’ for artificial pregnancy. The
transfer of the embryo itself is not very difficult but the process of
getting the surrogate ready for that transfer and the weeks after
that require heavy medical intervention. First, birth-control pills
and shots of hormones are required to control and suppress the
surrogate’s own ovulatory cycle and then injections of oestrogen
are given to build her uterine lining. After the transfer, daily injec-
tions of progesterone are administered until her body understands
that it is pregnant and can sustain the pregnancy on its own. The
side effects of these medications can include hot flashes, mood
swings, headaches, bloating, vaginal spotting, uterine cramping,
breast fullness, light headedness and vaginal irritation. The sur-
rogates in Anand, however, are aware of only some of the pro-
cedures involved. In the words of surrogate Gauri:
The only thing they told me when I came in was that this thing
is not immoral, I will not have to sleep with anyone and that
the seed will be transferred into me with an injection. They also
said that I have to keep the child inside me, rest for the whole
time, have medicines on time, and give up the child.
We are not really told much about the medicines and in-
jections. In the beginning I used to get ten-ten injections that
hurt so much, along with the pills required to make me strong
for the pregnancy. We [her husband and she] are not as educated
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as you are, you know. I won’t really understand much else! And
I trust Doctor Madam, so I don’t ask.
The clinic is unremarkable looking: one among the many mush-
rooming sonography centres, ultrasound clinics, medical stores
and hospitals lining the crowded market street. There is a big gar-
bage dump right outside the clinic’s courtyard but in the courtyard
there are two gleaming luxury cars evidently belonging to the
doctors. The clinic offers infertility and assisted reproductive tech-
nologies like IVF, test tube babies, intrauterine insemination,
embryo freezing, endoscopic surgery and sonography. The main
clinic consists of a big waiting room, an inner room with one iron
bed for women who need to rest after getting their injections and
another room hidden behind curtains where women recover from
embryo transfers or the effects of anaesthesia given to them when
they come to donate eggs.
The two floors above have rooms where the surrogates stay for
varying lengths of time—in late stages of pregnancy, recovering
from injections or to keep the knowledge of their pregnancies from
their neighbours and communities.
The rooms are lined with 8–10 single iron beds with barely
enough space to walk in between. One end of each bed is kept
raised with a wooden block so that the surrogates have their legs
up after the embryo transfer. Most rooms have pictures of happy
babies and the infant Lord Krishna, clothes hanging from makeshift
clotheslines and a few extra chairs for visitors. The women have
nothing to do the whole day except pace up and down on the
same floor (they are not allowed to climb the stairs and must wait
for the nurses to operate the elevator), share their woes and experi-
ences with the other surrogates and wait for the next injection.
Dr Khanderia had her first successful case of surrogacy in 2004,
when a woman gave birth to her own grandchildren on behalf of
her United Kingdom-based daughter. For this case, the doctor did
not supply the surrogate. For her second case, Dr Khanderia per-
suaded an employee at her clinic to be a surrogate. Since then she
has ‘matched’ seventy surrogates with couples from India and from
as far away as the United States, Taiwan, South Korea, South Africa,
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the United Kingdom and Spain. Although the ICMR Guidelines
indicate that the ART centre should not be involved in the monetary
dealings between the surrogate and the couple or with the recruit-
ment of surrogates (1995: 14), Dr Khanderia not only recruits the
surrogates, she checks their medical histories, handles the legal
paperwork (signing of the consent forms and the contract regard-
ing payment), monitors the surrogates during pregnancy, delivers
the babies and even sets up bank accounts for the surrogates
(personal interviews 2006). Dr Khanderia follows some ‘informal
rules’ for selecting surrogates: the woman should not be above
the age of 40, she should be medically fit and have a healthy uterus,
she should be married and should have borne at least one healthy
child and finally she and her husband should be psychologically
prepared for this event (personal interviews 2007).
For foreign couples hiring surrogates in Anand, there are sub-
stantial cost savings. While those pursuing surrogacy in Canada
or the United States can spend between $30,000 and $50,000, in
Anand the whole process can be accomplished for one-tenth the
cost. The added attraction for clients hiring surrogates in Anand
is that the clinic runs several hostels where the surrogates can be
kept under constant surveillance during their pregnancies.
Data and Method
This study is based on participant observation for nine months at
a surrogacy clinic and a surrogacy hostel, and oral histories of 42
surrogates, their husbands and in-laws, eight intending parents,
two doctors and two surrogacy brokers. I visited the clinic in Anand
in 2006 and collected the oral histories of five surrogate mothers
who had already delivered babies and 14 others who were under-
going treatment to be surrogates. In some cases, I travelled to the
surrogates’ villages and talked to their husbands and in-laws. The
oral history interviews of the surrogates were mostly conducted
in Hindi and Gujarati, they ranged from one to five hours, and
were conducted either in the rooms above the clinic where some
of the surrogates lived or at their homes. I revisited Anand in 2007
and collected the oral histories of 23 new surrogates and six sur-
rogates I had interviewed earlier. I conducted more structured
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interviews with Dr Khanderia, her nurses and the surrogacy
brokers. Additionally, I interviewed several couples from India
and abroad who have hired surrogates and are waiting for their
children to be delivered in Anand.4
I got the consent of all the participants in this study. Most agreed
to share their life stories as long as I protected their identities.
I recognised the discomfort some participants felt in sharing infor-
mation, especially since some of them had kept their decision to
become surrogates a secret from their communities. To minimise
any discomfort, I avoided structured questions, and all the data
come from the life stories they shared with me during our conver-
sations or from participant observation at the clinic. Some surro-
gates refused to give me their real names, some did not want me
to use a tape recorder and a few refused to give their consent.
I tape recorded interviews when consent was given, but in others,
I took extensive handwritten notes that I typed immediately after-
wards. I have used pseudonyms except in cases where the sur-
rogates asked me to use their real names.
All the surrogates in my study are married, with children. Their
ages range between 20 and 45 years. Except for one, all are from
nearby villages. Fourteen of the 42 women said that they were
‘housewives’, two said they ‘worked at home’ and another said
she worked informally as a tailor for her neighbours. The others
worked in schools, clinics, farms and stores. Their education
ranged from illiterate to high school, with the average around the
beginning of middle school, with just one interviewee having a
professional law degree.5 The median family income was about
Rs 2,500 per month (see Table 1). If we compare that to the official
poverty line in India, 34 of my 42 interviewees reported family
incomes below or around the poverty line. For most of the sur-
rogates’ families, the money earned through surrogacy was equi-
valent to almost five years of total family income especially since
many of the surrogates had husbands who were either in informal
contract work or unemployed.
Ten of my interviewees were surrogates for couples from the
United States, Spain, Britain and Turkey. Twenty were hired by
non-resident Indians settled in the United States, United Kingdom,
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Table 1
Characteristics of Surrogates and Their Families
Age Husband’s Income per Own Hiring
Name (Years) Religion Work work month (Rs) education Children couple from
Sudha 27 Hindu Farmer Truck driver 2,500 Primary school 1 Mumbai
Raveena 30 Hindu Bank teller Bank teller 10,000 College 2 South Korea
Meena 26 Hindu Housewife Hair salon 3,000 Middle school 3 Mumbai
Pushpa 27 Hindu Works in a store Painter 4,000 High school 2 Bangalore and
United States
(NRI)
Salma 25 Muslim Housewife Driver 2,500 Middle school 2 NRI
(South Africa)
Dipali 25 Hindu Insurance agent Divorced 1,500 High school 2 NRI
(South Africa)
Vaneeta 36 Christian Staff nurse Tailor 8,000 Primary 3 NRI
school (United States)
Vidya 30 Christian Housewife Daily labourer 2,000 High school 3 Madras
Daksha 20 Hindu Housewife Farmer 1,000 Illiterate 3 Hyderabad
Anjali 25 Christian Housewife No fixed job 1,000 Primary 2 NRI (United
school Kingdom)
Parvati 36 Hindu Nurse Factory worker 4,500 Primary 1 NRI
school
Gauri 28 Hindu Housewife Salesman 1,500 Illiterate 2 NRI
(United States)
Jagruti 35 Hindu Works in a school Barber 2,500 Middle school 3 Delhi
(Table 1 continued)
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Age Husband’s Income per Own Hiring
Name (Years) Religion Work work month (Rs) education Children couple from
Rita 23 Hindu Housewife Vendor 2000 Middle school 2 NRI
(United States)
Tejal 27 Hindu Housewife Painter 1,500 Middle school 2 Mumbai
Sapna 27 Hindu Housewife Factory worker 6,000 Primary 2 NRI
school (United States)
Savita 45 Hindu Cleans the clinic Separated 2,000 Primary 2 Singapore
school
Hetal 35 Hindu Floor Supervisor Contractor 8,000 High school 2 Jaipur
Jyoti 26 Hindu Housewife Auto rickshaw 2,500 High school 3 NRI
and tailor driver (United States)
Regina 42 Christian Maid Rickshaw 1,500 Illiterate 2 NRI
puller (United States)
Varsha 38 Hindu Waitress Unemployed 750 Middle school 2 UP
Rita 29 Hindu Housewife Plastic collector 3,000 Primary 2 NRI
school (United States)
Munni 35 Hindu Nanny Unemployed 2,000 Middle school 3 NRI
(United States)
Nisha 36 Christian Nurse Auto driver 5,000 Middle school 1 United States
Yashoda 38 Christian Maid at clinic Widow 1,200 Illiterate 2 Spain
Tejal 30 Hindu Teacher Painter 2,000 High school 1 NRI (Dubai)
Tina 26 Christian Housewife Auto driver 3,000 Middle school 3 NRI (Dubai)
Rina 26 Hindu Works in store Auto driver 4,500 High school 2 United States
(Table 1 continued)
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Mansi 29 Hindu Tailor Tailor 2,500 High school 2 Sri Lanka
Diksha 24 Hindu Housewife Factory worker 3,500 High school 2 NRI
(United States)
Vaishali 24 Hindu Cook Factory worker 3,500 High school 1 United States
Shanta 33 Hindu Works in a parlour Auto driver 5,000 Middle school 3 NRI
(United States)
Naseem 30 Muslim Housewife Daily Labourer 2,000 Middle school 1 UP
Panna 27 Hindu Housewife Vendor 3,000 Middle school 3 Turkey
Naina 36 Christian Nurse Factory worker 3,000 High school 2 United States
Sharda 38 Christian Housewife Mill worker 2,000 Middle school 3 Mumbai
Geeta 35 Hindu Housewife Farmer 8,000 Illiterate 2 Does not
know
Razia 25 Muslim Sorts plastic Unemployed 750 Middle school 2 United States
Ramya 29 Hindu Bank teller Factory worker 3,500 High school 1 NRI
(United States)
Sangeeta 33 Hindu Housewife Watchman 1,500 Illiterate 2 Bangalore
Hasomati 30 Hindu Housewife Mill worker 2,000 Middle school 2 NRI (Dubai)
Sarod 30 Hindu Mill worker Mill worker 3,500 Middle school 3 NRI (United
Kingdom)
Source: Author’s own data based on field work in Anand, Gujarat, 2006–2008.
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Sri Lanka and South Africa (see Table 1). The remaining had been
hired by upper class and middle class professionals and business
persons from different states in India.
Surrogacy and Stigma in India
Although surrogacy as a process is an ethical quagmire in almost
all countries, surrogates, as ‘persons’ involved in this process, are
usually not stigmatised. In India, however, surrogates face a high
amount of stigma. As a consequence, almost all the surrogates in
this study except one decided to keep their surrogacy a secret from
their communities, villages and, very often, from their parents.
They usually hid in the clinic or took temporary accommodation
away from their communities during the last months of pregnancy.
Some decided to tell their neighbours that the babies were their
own and later say that they had miscarried.
What explains the unusually high amount of stigma the surro-
gates have to face in this country? A couple of reasons seem pos-
sible, related to the culturally anomalous aspects of surrogacy.
First, commercial surrogacy is a work that involves the bodies
of poor women. Feminist scholars writing about sex work, do-
mestic workers and women factory workers have pointed out that
moral rhetoric and stigma are often evoked whenever the bodies
of poor women are in focus. These scholars point out that the work
of domestic workers, nannies, nurses and maids is often associated
with a physical and moral taint (see, for example, Sheba George’s
study [2000] on the stigma attached to the work done by Indian
nurses). Additionally, surrogacy involves the stigma of getting
pregnant for money, which is associated with the ‘immoral’ com-
mercialisation of motherhood.
Commercial surrogacy in India, which entails giving away the
baby as soon as it is born, reiterates the disposability of these ‘des-
perate’ women and emphasises the ‘unnatural’ nature of their
motherhood. Another possible reason for the huge amount of stigma
surrounding surrogacy is that many Indians equate surrogacy with
sex work. This is partly due to a lack of information—people are
not aware of the reproductive technology which separates preg-
nancy from sexual intercourse. The popular media—television and
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movies—add to this misconception. Almost all portrayals of com-
mercial surrogacy in the media equate surrogacy with sex—an
infertile wife agrees to bring a sex worker home who is then im-
pregnated by her husband through normal intercourse. The alter-
native portrayal is of a sister or friend becoming a surrogate out
of pure altruism (and inevitably falling in love with the adoptive
father). Thus, all surrogates are portrayed as having some kind of
‘relation’ (sexual or emotional) with the adoptive father of the child
(see online forums on the television serial ‘Mamta’ and the movie
‘Filhaal’, Bollywoodgate 2007).
Surrogacy as Dirty Work
Everett Hughes (1951) invoked the term ‘dirty work’ to refer to
tasks and occupations that are likely to be perceived as degrading.
This was picked up by several scholars working on deviant occupa-
tions. Work can be ‘dirty’ because it seems to some as ‘simply phy-
sically disgusting’ (like janitorial work and butchering), because
it wounds one’s dignity by requiring servile behaviour (like
domestic work, shoe shining), or because in some way, it offends
our moral conceptions (sex work, topless dancing and surrogate
mothering). Ashforth and Kreiner (1999) add that although people
may applaud certain kinds of dirty work (like taking care of AIDS
patients), they generally remain psychologically and behaviourally
distanced from that work. Surrogacy seems to fit in well in this
sticky area—surrogates are described as ‘true angels’ who ‘make
dreams happen’ (Anleu 1992; Ragone 1994), but surrogacy is also
surrounded by controversies around the ethics of ‘selling mother-
hood’ and ‘renting wombs’.
The literature on dirty work and stigma indicates that when
individuals are engaged in a stigmatised occupation that threatens
to ‘spoil their identity’, it becomes necessary for them to do ‘re-
medial work’ to control, manage and neutralise the stigma asso-
ciated with their deviant occupations (Goffman 1963; Sykes and
Matza 1957). In the next few sections, I analyse the narratives of
women involved in this new kind of ‘dirty’ and ‘sexualised’ care
work in India.
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Surrogacy Narratives
Narratives as Resistance
In his classic study of peasant resistance, Weapons of the Weak: Every-
day Forms of Peasant Resistance, James Scott (1985: 8) developed
the theory of ‘prosaic but constant struggle(s)’ by the dominated—
as a critique of theories on conflict which concentrate solely on
acts of ‘collective outright defiance’ and on ‘overt forms of sub-
altern politics’. Since then, scholarship on social movements and
feminist literature on gender and the work done by factory work-
ers, nannies and domestics (among others) have started analysing
unlikely forms of subversions: small and local resistances, often
remaining at the discursive level and not tied to the overthrow of
systems or even to ideologies of emancipation (see, for example,
Ngai Pun’s [2005] ethnography of women factory workers in
China, and Michele Gamburd’s [2000] ethnography of Sri Lankan
migrant housemaids).
The narratives of the surrogates in this study can also be viewed
as discursive resistance. The surrogates give their narratives within
a context where the family, community, media and medical profes-
sionals attach a variety of meanings to surrogacy and to the pos-
ition of surrogates as subjects within the process. Most of the
surrogates’ husbands and in-laws view surrogacy as a familial obli-
gation and not as labour performed by the women. The media
and community often equate surrogates to sex workers. A third
kind of meaning attached to the role of surrogates is in the medical
narratives where surrogacy is perceived as an impersonal contract
and surrogates are disposable women. Do the surrogates affirm
or resist these subject positions? In the following sections, I discuss
some patterns in the narratives of the surrogates in this study and
argue that while these narratives can be seen as resistances, they
are often counter productive to establishing surrogacy as work
and surrogates as wage-earning workers.
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‘We are Not Body Sellers or Baby Sellers’: Boundary Work
Scholarship on identity has contended that it is defined relationally.
For instance, British social historians and Birmingham School
sociologists have considered how the working class defines its
identity in opposition to those of other classes or what Lamont
(2000) calls ‘boundary work’—constructing a sense of self-worth
by interpreting differences between themselves and others.
Holding oneself to high moral standards is also a way of acquiring
or affirming one’s dignity at work. Often, this means defining the
‘others’ as ‘low moral types’ (Lamont 2000; Lamont and Fournier
1992). Literature on dirty work also indicates a similar pattern—
members of dirty work occupations draw comparisons with salient
occupational groups that they consider to be somewhat similar in
prestige but disadvantaged in some way. These groups are suf-
ficiently similar to justify the comparison, but are ‘inferior’ enough
to gratify the need for self-esteem (Ashforth and Kreiner 1999).
The surrogates in my study often emphasised the moral difference
between surrogacy and ‘prostitution’ and between surrogacy and
putting a baby up for adoption.
Meena is a 26-year-old surrogate, having a baby for a couple
from Mumbai, India. Her husband, Pragyesh, persuaded her to
become a surrogate. He needed the money to pay the mortgage
for his street corner barber shop. Meena accepts that she agreed to
be a surrogate because her husband needed the money desperately.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with surrogacy. We need
the money and they need the child. The important thing is that
I am not doing anything wrong for the money—not stealing or
killing anyone. And I am not sleeping with anyone.
Dipali is a 24-year old-surrogate, who is confident, speaks English
and is one of the few surrogates dressed in ‘Western clothes’—a
pair of tight-fitting jeans and T-shirt. She is a divorcee with three
children, separated from her husband for five years. She is also
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the only surrogate who has not kept surrogacy a secret from her
neighbours and parents. Dipali admits to being a broker who
brings in other women from her community to be egg donors and
surrogates at the clinic.
I told my parents that I am doing this. I told them if you can
help me, fine: but don’t be a hindrance in what I am doing. If
I was doing something wrong you could stop me, hit me, any-
thing: but this is not wrong. At least I am not like some other
women who have (sexual) relations for money, just because they
are so desperate. This is what I told them.
Another kind of moral boundary the surrogates and their family
often used was between surrogacy and adoption. Surrogate Meena
reasons that giving the child away right after birth will not be too
difficult:
You have to weigh the pain with the need of the hour. Life won’t
stop just because one person in the family is not there. We will
at most cry for a week or two. But it would have been different
if we had to give away our own child. No, we would never give
away any of our real children. Only we know how we have
raised them, taken care of them. I don’t understand how people
can do that.
Raveena, the only college educated surrogate in the Anand clinic,
has similar sentiments about adoption. She is carrying a baby for
a South Korean couple residing in California. Raveena and her
husband will use the money to pay for their elder son’s heart surgery.
I think they (the couple) chose us because of Shalin (their infant
son). He was very healthy then. They liked him so much that
they wanted to just take him home. Dr Khanderia also chose us
because of Shalin. She kept saying someone will definitely want
to adopt him instead. But we were sure about one thing, no one
and nothing can make us give away our own child. We are not
like that. We won’t sell our baby.
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Apart from morally distancing themselves from other groups of
needy people, the surrogates sometimes used traditional standards
of morality to affirm their husbands’ dignity. They vigorously de-
fended their husbands’ moral worth by comparing them to other
men and other husbands—perhaps an attempt to balance the moral
stigma presumably attached to husbands who are not ‘man enough’
to feed the family and who allow their wives to be pregnant for
other men.
Vidyaben is a 30-year-old surrogate and mother of three chil-
dren. She was persuaded by her sister-in-law to donate eggs at
the clinic and then convinced by the nurses to become a surrogate.
When I came here (the clinic) the first time they didn’t really
ask too many questions. They didn’t have to check much either
because he (her husband) is such a good person—doesn’t drink,
smoke, anything. I am so lucky. Look everywhere, maybe not
where you come from, but here husbands are very (laughs), like
bulls. But my husband has never raised his hand against me.
Anjali is a skinny woman in her early twenties and has no idea
about the money involved in the contract or the exact medical
procedures. Her husband seems to be the one in control of the
finances. Like Vidyaben, she too was convinced by her sister-in-
law that she should donate eggs at the clinic and later was per-
suaded by the nurses to become a surrogate. Anjali accepts that
she is desperate for the money. During the interview she was
breastfeeding her baby. She had to convince Dr Khanderia to allow
her to be a surrogate even though she was still breast-feeding
because there was no money in the house to buy milk for the
baby—her husband has no fixed job and she is a housewife.
My husband is unemployed but he is a very good person. He
takes care of the children. He stays at home mostly so he knows
what to feed them. Most husbands would not agree to let
their wives do this (be a surrogate)—but he agreed. I am very
lucky. We had no issues (with getting the surrogacy contract)
because his history is so clean. He doesn’t smoke or drink. We
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are Christians. He converted (from Hinduism) and used to work
in a Mission earlier.
The surrogates in this study seem to be resisting the stigma of
surrogacy by seeing a difference between themselves and others
like body-sellers and baby-sellers whom they view as equally
needy but ‘less moral’. On the one hand, these narratives aim to
preserve their sense of self-worth. But on the other hand, the
emphasis on the ‘high morality’ of their husbands and their ‘gen-
erosity’ in giving permission to their wives to be surrogates indi-
cates that the women are overcompensating for their (temporary)
role as breadwinners.
‘Prestige Won’t Fill an Empty Stomach’:
Downplaying ‘Choice’
Another pattern observed in the narratives of the surrogates was
the emphasis on surrogacy as not work but a compulsion. Surrogate
Salma admits that she feels surrogacy is unethical.
Who would choose to do this? I have had a lifetime’s worth of
injections pumped into me. Some big ones in my hips hurt so
much. In the beginning I had about 20–25 pills almost every
day. I feel bloated all the time. But I know I have to do it for my
children’s future.
This is not work, this is majboori (a compulsion). Where we
are now, it can’t possibly get any worse. (She uses a local pro-
verb) In our village we don’t have a hut to live in or crops in
our farm. This work is not ethical—it’s just something we have
to do to survive. When we heard of this surrogacy business, we
didn’t have any clothes to wear after the rains—just one pair
that used to get wet—and our house had fallen down. What
were we to do? Let me tell you something, there are many fami-
lies like ours who want to do it, but either the husband doesn’t
approve or the wife doesn’t agree to do it. These people are
jealous. These are the kind of people who call it immoral. And
if everyone in the family agrees, society disapproves. But I say,
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if your family is starving what will you do with respect? Prestige
won’t fill an empty stomach.
Apart from emphasising their majboori in deciding to become sur-
rogates, the surrogates also appealed to ‘higher loyalties’. The
literature on deviant occupations like topless dancing indicates
that a ‘neutralisation technique’ routinely employed by topless
dancers was that of appealing to higher loyalties. Most of the
dancers had young children and almost all of them cited money
for children as their primary motivation for becoming topless
dancers (Thompson et al. 2003).
Surrogate Anjali defends her decision to become a surrogate:
I am doing this basically for my daughters. Both will be old
enough to be sent to school next year. I want them to be edu-
cated, maybe become teachers or air hostesses? I don’t want
them to grow up and be like me—illiterate and desperate. I don’t
think there is anything wrong with surrogacy. But of course
people talk. They don’t understand that we are doing this be-
cause we are compelled to do so. People who get enough to eat
interpret everything in the wrong way.
Vidyaben, another surrogate, echoes Anjali’s sentiment:
I am doing this basically for my children’s education and my
daughter’s marriage. We have lived our life, we have survived
it. But they should grow up happier. I want them to grow up
and be proud of their parents. I want them to be educated so
that in case anything happens to us they can take care of them-
selves. I am doing everything for them. I am not greedy for the
money.
Both Vidyaben and Anjali accept that they need the money, but
they underline the selfless use of this money for their children’s
welfare. A second perspective in the narratives, used by the sur-
rogates to downplay the ‘choice’ aspect of this ‘work’, was to dif-
ferentiate it from other kinds of chosen occupations. Surrogacy, it
was argued, was more like a ‘calling’. Pragyesh compares his wife’s
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surrogacy to tapasya—the Hindu principle and practice of physical
and spir-itual austerity and discipline to achieve a particular aim.
I don’t think this is work. When you became a teacher, you just
went ahead and took your exams and became a teacher. This is
not like that. It is like God helped her do this for our family. It is
like praying to God—like tapasya. This is her prayer to God and
ultimately she will get His blessings and her dreams will be
fulfilled. Like saints pray under austere conditions, she is living
here in the clinic, getting all those injections, going through all
this pain. But she will get the fruit of her labour.
In Pragyesh’s words, his wife Meena should feel blessed because
she is able to fulfil her familial obligations. Ironically, while sup-
porters of surrogacy emphasise the element of ‘choice’ in surro-
gacy, that a woman has the right to choose what to do with her
body, most of the surrogates’ narratives worked towards down-
playing the choice aspect in their decision to become surrogates,
as if they are saying, ‘It was not in my hands, so I cannot be held
responsible, and should not be stigmatised’. They do this by high-
lighting their economic desperation, by citing higher motivations
or by emphasising the role of a higher power (God) in making
decisions for them. As a consequence, these narratives downplay
the role of surrogates as independent wage workers and instead
reinforce their role as selfless mothers and wives.
Feminist scholars have argued that motherhood embeds women
in families and that their identities are derived from relationships
and duties to others (Jeffery 2001; Jeffery and Jeffery 1996). The
‘lack of choice’ and ‘higher loyalties’ narratives reinforce the image
of women as selfless dutiful mothers whose primary role is to serve
the family, their husbands and in-laws.
‘I am Special, They are Special’: Denying Disposability
Scholarship on globalisation and factory work has analysed how
Third World women workers are made to feel disposable, and this
is an integral part of the working of global capitalism (Chang 2000;
Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2003; Wright 2006). Although in
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economic parlance surrogates are not plentiful in supply, the pro-
cess of commercial gestational surrogacy in India, in general, and
the rules of the clinic, in particular, reiterate the disposability of
the surrogates. The surrogates are aware that their role in the entire
process is only as vessels, they have no genetic connections with
the children and in most cases the children will be taken away
from them immediately after birth. The surrogates are not allowed
even to breastfeed the babies. For each couple that comes in to
hire a surrogate, at least two surrogates are ‘prepared’ medically
and mentally for the procedure. In case one surrogate does not
‘match’ the adoptive mother biologically, the reserve surrogate is
brought in.
Although the experience and institutions surrounding surrogacy
stress the disposability of individual surrogates, the surrogates
have devised various ways of resisting these discourses of dispos-
ability. A variety of narratives were used by surrogates to minimise
this feeling of disposability and the stigma attached to being
disposable mothers. Some surrogates emphasised the ‘special’
quality they had which made couples choose them over all the
other ‘run-of-the- mill’ surrogates. Others stressed more the ‘spe-
cial’ quality of the adoptive couple and the exceptional bond they
shared with the couple.
Pushpa is a 27-year-old surrogate who has already delivered a
baby for an Indian couple and was pregnant for the second time
in two years—this time for an NRG couple from the United States.
A Gujarati NRI party came from America during the delivery
of my first baby. They said that they don’t care how long they
have to wait—I can rest for 1–2 years, as much as I want but
they want only me to carry their baby. Mrs. Shroff—the NRI
woman—she is also a Brahman (upper caste). Maybe that’s why
she liked me, because I am clean. But almost everyone who
comes here for a surrogate wants me. Doctor madam says to
me, ‘Why can’t you get me 10–15 more Pushpas?’
The ‘I am special’ narrative seems exceptionally powerful when
invoked by lower class women in India—a country where sex-
selective abortions, skewed sex ratios at birth, high female infanti-
cide and mortality and the use of ultrasound and amniocentesis
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during pregnancy present compelling evidence of the extensive
prevalence of son preference, particularly in the states of Gujarat,
Haryana and Punjab (Das Gupta 1987). The feeling of ‘being
special’, albeit transient, affects the surrogates’ perception of self-
worth.
Pushpa, the surrogate who believes that she is the ‘most wanted’,
adds:
You know, I had always dreamt of being an air hostess. But
when I saw the situation at home—with my father earning only
1,500, I knew I couldn’t study any more. I just wanted to see
America once, so badly. Once I got married I thought it would
never happen. But now that I am planning to do this (surrogacy)
for the second time, I feel ‘Why not’? If I can do this here, maybe
I can get some job there as well, no? Will you take me? I’ll pay
the expenses, you just have to take me with you!
Thus, for some surrogates like Pushpa the narrative of ‘being
special’ did more than just counter the stigma of being ‘disposable
mothers’, it encouraged them to take care of their health, to think
of their own needs and it raised their self-esteem. While for Pushpa,
surrogacy was a first step towards getting a ‘job’, the ‘I am special’
narrative did not produce the same results for everyone.
A complementary narrative used by the surrogates was that
their hiring couples were unique. Although most Indian couples
hiring surrogates tried to build some kind of a relationship with
the surrogate, the rules of commercial surrogacy meant that the
termination of that relationship was rather abrupt. Dr Khanderia
ensured that the baby was taken away right after delivery so that
the surrogate had no opportunity to change her mind. Several of
the surrogates, however, reiterated how the couple hiring them
were different and would not adhere to the clinic’s rules.
Parvati is 36 and one of the oldest surrogates at the clinic. Her
story reveals that she has undergone a lot of pain and trauma
during the surrogacy process. She was rejected the first time be-
cause of her age. Then, after months of treatment with hormones,
injections and pills, when she finally got accepted by a couple from
New Zealand, her husband backed out because his friends told
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him that surrogacy involved sex work. He soon realised that they
desperately needed the money and gave his consent for Parvati to
try once again. This time, however, Parvati was pregnant with her
own child. On her husband’s insistence she had the child aborted
and started the hormone treatment for surrogacy again. Parvati
talks wistfully about her relationship with the couple and seems
to be confusing what she hopes will happen in the future with
reality. Although she is yet to deliver the baby she speaks about
the important role she plays in the baby’s life as if it has already
happened:
My ‘couple’ keep such good relations with me. After delivery,
they brought him over to me and let me breastfeed him. They
invited me for his birthdays. They called me when he got mar-
ried. When he gets fever they call and say ‘Don’t worry, just
pray to God. If you want to see him we’ll come and show him
to you. But don’t burn your heart over him.’ I am so lucky to
have a couple like them taking care of me. I see how the rest of
the surrogates in the clinic get treated.
The surrogates seem to be resisting the commercial and con-
tractual nature of their position by establishing some kind of a
relationship with the adoptive couple. While this can be seen as a
form of resistance to medical narratives and procedures that under-
score their disposability, it downplays the business aspect of surro-
gacy and consequently their role as ‘workers’ entitled to a wage.
These ‘relationships’ between surrogates and adoptive couples
make the remuneration structure very informal, often to the detri-
ment of the surrogates’ interests.
In the absence of any binding law or contract, individual couples
have considerable freedom in deciding the boundaries of re-
muneration. The surrogacy contract ensured that a payment of
Rs 25,000 was made every three months, but beyond that the rates
were negotiable. A couple from New Jersey decided to pay the en-
tire amount in kind to their surrogate Salma. Salma explains:
Will (the adoptive father) said ‘You make us happy and we’ll
make you happy’. His wife has become like an elder sister to
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me so I do just want to see them happy. They said they would
build a house for us wherever we want to build it and however
big we want it to be. I am having twins so perhaps they will
build us two rooms instead of one. But I don’t want to ask.
The ‘relationships’ formed with the couples often prevented the
surrogates from negotiating their wages and further eroded their
role as workers. In the next section, I will discuss the last pattern
I observed in the narratives of surrogates—making claims on the
baby.
‘It May be Their Genes, but it’s My Blood’: Making Claims
on the Baby
The literature on care work and emotion work has found that work-
ers reduced the emotional strain of their work by forming familial
ties with their clients and wards (Hochschild 1983; Hondagneu-
Sotelo and Avila 2003; Parrenas 2001). Faced with the dissonance
between their understanding of motherhood (the mother bears,
gives birth to and raises the child) and their actions (giving away
the child they bear), surrogates often resorted to a similar strategy.
The surrogates are often not told about or do not understand
the exact medical procedure involved in surrogacy, but they are
constantly told by the nurses and the doctors that they have no
genetic connection to the baby. Dr Khanderia narrates how she
explains the process of surrogacy to the women:
I had to educate them about everything because, you see, all
these women are poor illiterate villagers. I told them, ‘You have
to do nothing. It’s not your baby. You are just providing it a
home in your womb for nine months because it doesn’t have a
house of its own. If some child comes to stay with you for just
nine months what will you do? You will take care of it even
more because it is someone else’s. This is the same thing. You
will take care of the baby for nine months and then give it to its
mother. And for that you will be paid.’ I think finally how you
train them, showing the positive experiences of both the parties,
is what makes surrogacy work.
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The surrogates, however, did not passively accept the doctor ’s
description of their role in the surrogacy process. They did rec-
ognise that having no genetic connection makes it simpler to justify
the ‘giving away’ of the baby, but simultaneously they laid some
kind of claim on the baby—another possible way of countering
their role as ‘merely a vessel’.
Surrogate Parvati makes a distinction between genetic and
‘blood’ ties and stresses her ‘blood’ ties with the foetus. She ex-
plains that she was against foetal reduction surgery in which one
foetus has to be surgically eliminated.6
Madam told us that the babies won’t get enough space to move
around and grow, so we should get the surgery. But the couple
and I wanted to keep all three. I told Doctor Madam that I’ll
keep one and they can keep two. We had informally decided on
that. After all it’s my blood even if it’s their genes.
The surrogates also used cultural symbols that parallel different
aspects of the surrogacy arrangement to downplay the anomalous
aspects of surrogacy and to implicitly reiterate their relationship
with the baby. They invoked a tale from Hindu mythology, where
the infant Lord Krishna was taken care of by a foster mother,
Yashoda. Surrogate Parvati argues that surrogacy is not new to
Hindus:
We can’t really call it (surrogacy) either work or social service.
I personally feel it’s nothing strange to us Hindus, it’s in our
religion. It’s something like what Yashoda ma did for Lord
Krishna. And Krishna loved his Yashoda ma, didn’t he? Do you
ever hear stories of Devaki, his real mother!7
Other surrogates normalise the process of surrogacy and the
act of giving away by finding parallels between giving away the
baby on delivery and the act of giving away a daughter at marriage.
Surrogate Jyoti reasons that the act of giving away will be painful,
but she is ready for it,
Of course I’ll feel sad while giving up the baby. But then I’ll also
have to give up my daughter once she gets married, won’t I? She
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is paraya dhan (someone else’s property) and so is this one. My
daughter is my responsibility for 18 years, then I have to give
her up, but I still remain responsible for anything that goes
wrong. At least with this child I won’t be responsible once
I give her up. Also with this one I’ll be happy that she is some-
where where she will be happier. These people will send her to
school, college, pamper her much more.
By making claims on the baby/foetus, the surrogates further
resist their ‘disposability’ and the commercial nature of surrogacy.
But again, by claiming ties of motherhood with the baby, the sur-
rogates downplay their role as contractual workers. This further
diminishes their identity as ‘workers’.
Conclusion
My primary motivation in this study has been to move conver-
sations on surrogacy beyond the Euro-American setting and get a
broader view of the cultural responses to new reproductive tech-
nologies. In this paper, I have situated commercial surrogacy, as it
is evolving in western India, as an emerging form of ‘sexualised
care work’ and begun to analyse the effect this kind of ‘work’ has
on the ‘workers’.
While the language of morality used by the surrogates affirmed
their dignity and sense of self-worth and reduced the stigma at-
tached to surrogacy, they simultaneously reinforced certain gender
hierarchies. Ironically, while the focus of this study has been on
surrogacy as labour, most surrogates and their families do not
recognise surrogacy as paid labour performed by women. The in-
laws and husbands of the surrogates perceive surrogacy as a
familial obligation and a duty. The striking absence of surrogacy
as work in the narratives of the surrogates indicates that the sur-
rogates do not resist this image of women as selfless dutiful women
whose primary role is to serve the family. Similarly, the vigorous
defence of their husbands’ moral worth indicates that the women
are overcompensating for their (temporary) role as breadwinners.
The second pattern in their narratives, that of emphasising
the adoptive couples’ ‘special quality’, is another example of this
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tension—discursive resistance both transforming and reproducing
power relations. Although the narratives used by surrogates to
minimise the feeling of disposability and the stigma attached to
being disposable mothers seem powerful when invoked by lower
class women in India, the dream of a wealthier or white family
coming to rescue them from desperate poverty and a bleak future
brings in issues of new forms of subjection based on race and class
domination. These narratives reaffirm their role as selfless mothers
and desperately poor Third World women waiting to be saved by
their richer and/or ‘whiter’ sisters. Similarly, by forming ties with
the baby, the surrogates downplay the business aspect of surrogacy
and reiterate their primary identity as mothers rather than workers.
According to Burawoy (1991: 281), the primary architect of the
extended case method, ‘The importance of the single case lies in
what it tells us about society as a whole rather than about the
population of similar cases.’ My study examines cases of a handful
of surrogates in a small clinic, not to formulate generalisations
about surrogates elsewhere but instead to explore how the lan-
guage of stigma, especially in conjunction with women’s work,
suppresses the development of a worker identity. Scholarship on
‘dirty work’, like sex work and erotic dance, has analysed how
workers neutralise the stigma attached to occupations by citing
‘higher loyalties’ and ‘altruism’.
Simultaneously, scholarship on care work has demonstrated
how care workers reduce the emotional strain of the work by form-
ing ties with their wards (Hochschild 1983; Hondagneu-Sotelo and
Avila 2003; Parrenas 2001). This case study of commercial surro-
gacy, a new form of women’s work lying somewhere on the cusp
of care work and dirty work, can be seen as a way of extending
the existing scholarship on gender and work. Instead of stopping
the analysis at the narratives and strategies used by women
workers to negotiate the peculiarities of their work, I have analysed
the consequences of these strategies on the workers themselves.
Poignantly, the narratives that increase their feeling of self-worth
are also instrumental in eroding recognition of the significant role
they play as workers, breadwinners and wage earners for their
families.
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170 • Amrita Pande
Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 16:2 (2009): 141–173
Notes
1. IVF is the process by which egg and sperm are united in vitro (in the laboratory).
Subsequently, the embryo grown is transferred into the uterus through the
cervix.
2. This article is part of a larger study I am conducting on commercial surrogacy
in India. Here, I analyse the narratives of surrogates as a lens through which
I seek to understand their complex reality. A more detailed discussion of the
structural and economic aspects of this form of labour as well as the multi-
layered consequences of surrogacy on surrogates’ lives can be found in Pande
(2008).
3. The entire document can be accessed at the official ICMR website http://
www.icmr.nic.in.
4. This study concentrates on the voices of surrogates. My future projects will
explore how other actors in the surrogacy process, the doctors, brokers and
intending parents, frame surrogacy.
5. This surrogate was an exceptional case, much more educated than the rest,
with higher than the average family income. She did not belong to Gujarat
and had travelled from eastern India just to be a surrogate.
6. Many European countries limit the number of embryos transferred into a
surrogate’s womb to three, as multiple births can be dangerous for the surrogate
mother and, sometimes, the babies. In the absence of any laws in India, up to
five embryos have been transferred. In case more than two develop, the doctor
at the clinic recommends a foetal reduction surgery.
7. According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born as the eighth child of Devaki,
sister of the cruel demon King Kamsa. Sage Narada predicts that Kamsa would
be killed by his nephew, so Kamsa kills his sister’s first six children. The eighth
child Krishna is secretly exchanged for a cowherd’s daughter. Krishna is
brought up by the cowherd’s wife Yashoda, and most stories surrounding Lord
Krishna in his infant years are about the loving bond between him and his
surrogate mother Yashoda.
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