While the operation may not be illegal, it was unethical at many levels, says health official.

File Photo
news News Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - 09:59

“Media not allowed madam, please cooperate,” says the guard with a frown on his face while he locks the gate of Kiran Infertility Center in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.

This is the clinic that was raided by the Hyderabad Central Zone Task Force on Saturday evening; during the raid, it was found that 48 women who signed up to be surrogate mothers were kept confined in the building.

Two days later, the guards have been instructed not to let anyone in.

The inspection

On Monday though, TNM entered the premises when 10 officials from the state health department arrived at the hospital for an inspection.

“The women are staying in a poor condition,” says Farook, an officer from the health department.

The atmosphere inside the hospital seems tensed.

At the ground floor control room, the health department can he seen questioning one of the doctors in-charge, and checking the documents.

“All the women are on the second and third floor. They are fine, we are giving them all the facilities, they even meet their family whenever they want,” one of the staff members from the hospital tells TNM.

However, the health department officials say that the sanitation facilities on the two floors are horrible, and have seized one of the laboratories, along with two Ultrasound machines.

“We have not seized the hospital, since the lives of 48 women are at stake," says Fatook. "What will they do?” he asks.

Victimised or mistreated?

On the second floor is a room with 17 beds, all in a row. This is one of the rooms where the surrogate mothers who have been rescued are staying.

For the nine months before childbirth, the women are not allowed to go out of the hospital, not even to the terrace.  

But while the 'rules' aren't enviable, most of the women are not here without their consent.

Jahnavi (name changed), is one of the 48 surrogate mothers. The 27-year-old is busy checking the clothes which were hanging near one of the windows for drying.

“It is boring here, whenever I want some fresh air, I stand near the window. It is beautiful outside when it rains,” she says.

Jahnavi, like all the others in the room, says she knows what she is doing.

“It was my decision to come here, no one forced me,” she adds.

The only complaint she has is that, the staff do not allow them to go out, and even scold them if they ask to go for a walk.

The room congested with beds and one television has hardly any space left to even walk around, she says.

“I am not as educated as you. We face financial crisis. I have two kids, who will feed them?” Jahnavi asks.

“My husband is alcoholic, he prefers to just sit at home and do nothing. These nine months are tough, but at least I will get Rs 3 lakh after the delivery. They (the clients) have their needs and we have ours. If I get a chance, I would not mind doing this (surrogacy) again for money,” she says.

She says her two daughters and mother-in-law come to the hospital every alternate day to meet her and spend time. "That is the best part of my day," she says.

“Around 15 of them are from Telangana, while 10 are from Delhi. The rest have come here from the North Eastern part of the country. We are taking good care of them, they are provided with health check ups, medicines and proper food,” says one of the staffers in the hospital.

Commercial surrogacy not illegal

Though the the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 has been introduced in the Lok Sabha, the bill is yet to pass; due to this, the health department says, they cannot seize the hospital, as it is a registered clinic.

“We are questioning the doctors and staff about the sanitation. But we cannot do anything more for now, as commercial surrogacy is not illegal. Also none of the women have been forced to do it,” says one of the health officers present in the hospital.

He adds that while the operation may not be illegal, it was unethical at many levels.

“Though they will be paid Rs 3 lakh after the delivery, this is just 10% of the amount the client has paid. The agents and middlemen keep most of the amount and give the women only 10% of the amount,” he adds.

Presently, the bill which is yet to pass, proposes "extra protection" for the surrogate mother through mandatory "insurance cover" and completely abolishment of commercial surrogacy.

The bill also prohibitd single parents, homosexuals, and live-in couples from becoming commissioning parents.

In this case, the the staff says that several commissioning parents are non-resident Indians and single parents.

“I am happy with whatever I get, it will be enough. Media has made a big issue out of it. We are not educated or financially stable, so it is easy for people to say abolish this process, but this is also a way for us to earn a livelihood,” says 29-years old Gauri (name changed), a surrogate mother from Delhi.