FROM THE EDITOR- IN- CHIEF
This week, the magazine gives you a break from the hurly- burly of politics which seems more of the same— the disruptions in Parliament, the careening economy, the tumbling rupee, the electoral posturing and sop- giving. We tell a very human story up close and personal from the bustling town of Anand. A town, halfway between Ahmedabad and Vadodara in the heart of central Gujarat, which has long been synonymous with India’s cooperative milk industry. It houses the head office of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd, whose brand Amul sparked the White Revolution and continues to give India some of its most creative advertising through a chubby little ‘ butter girl’ in a polka- dotted dress.
But Anand is now home to a different kind of cooperative cottage industry. It is fast emerging as an international destination for surrogate babies, and has so far provided childless parents from India and 34 other countries a chance to fulfil their aspirations. On August 5, a 28- year- old woman, now known as Surrogate No. 500, gave birth to a baby girl at Anand’s Sat Kaival Hospital and Akanksha Infertility Clinic, inadvertently becoming a milestone that has come to define what the surrogacy boom is doing for women from the region. A single mother of two sons aged five and three, she earned Rs 2,000 a month doing housework. Being a surrogate for a couple from Lucknow has given her Rs 3 lakh now. “I can build my own house now,” she says. Anand houses several others like her.
Surrogacy still remains a grey area in terms of how Indian laws deal with it. Constant government flip- flops on the status of single parents being used as surrogates, the marital status of couples, permissions for same- sex parents, and foreign parents, have caused a host of problems. The Assisted Reproductive Technology ( Regulation) Bill, 2010, which is in the drafting stage, is expected to change things for the better. But full social acceptance may take a little longer. Even in Anand, inebriated husbands are found hurling abuses outside homes where surrogate mothers live together during pregnancy, suddenly unable to bear the idea of their wives carrying another man’s baby.
The local Methodist and Catholic churches, and maulvis and pundits, have all preached against surrogacy to their respective congregations. But recent endorsements by Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao, whose baby boy Azad was born through a surrogate mother in 2011, and Shah Rukh Khan and his wife Gauri, whose boy AbRam was delivered via surrogacy this May, are going a long way towards helping lift the social stigma attached with the procedure. According to KPMG’s LifeSciences wing, the fertility industry in India is today worth $ 125 million. Surrogacy, which forms roughly 7 per cent of that, stands at around $ 9 million. Experts say that these are just estimates and the numbers will grow when more such cases are reported.
Our cover story, written by Senior Editor Gayatri Jayaraman with images by Rohit Chawla, takes you to the surrogacy clinics in Anand, where they put together an engaging story on how this new baby boom is affecting the town and the townspeople. “The most poignant moment of the trip was when a surrogate called the child in her womb ‘ hamara bachcha’ ( my child), and then stopped herself. She said almost apologetically, ‘ What to do, we sometimes begin to think of it as our own’,” Jayaraman says.
Born through any method, a baby is a blessing like no other for any couple craving one. The clinics of Anand are harnessing this longing. They may be providing a service, but they’re also providing hope.
OUR JULY 2010 COVER
( Aroon Purie)