Friday, March 22, 2013

Surrogacy debate heating up in India

Surrogacy debate heating up in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The debate around surrogacy is really heating up in India with a PIL being moved in the Calcutta High Court on the issue of surrogate mothers and export of children produced by in-vitro fertilization (IVF) (test tube baby) to foreign countries.

The PIL alleged that poor women and girls have become victims of this recent trend in the country and the fertility centers are responsible for their condition.The PIL urged the High Court to direct the central and state governments for introduction of a law to protect the surrogate mother and the child and that the entire issue be investigated by the CBI.

Hearing the PIL, the division bench of Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi directed the central government to file an affidavit within eight weeks.

The petition claimed that production of children through surrogate mothers has become a booming business for fertility centres. It alleged that there was no government control on fertility centres in India and more than 1000 test-tube babies are born every year. There are about 1,000 registered and unregistered fertility centers in India.

A Kolkata-based NGO, India's Smile, had filed a PIL which cited the recent trend of fertility centres charging huge amount of money from couples who cannot, or do not want to bear children.

According to the petition, there is no law in the country to protect surrogate mothers or to stop the malpractice by fertility centres. Advocate Ajay Roy, counsel of the NGO, said the fertility centres force poor women and even girls to sell their eggs to meet the demand of the couples who cannot bear children.

The petition mentioned the incident of a 17-year-old minor girl, who reportedly died after the process of egg donation, was conducted on her by one Routanda Centre for Human Reproduction in Mumbai.

Another malpractice that the petition complained of was that many couples who cannot bear children or do not want to take the pain of bearing one, hire wombs of women for the purpose.

Fertilised eggs are placed in the 'hired' wombs of these women, who agree to go through it for money. After childbirth, the fertility centres issue a false birth certificate for the child where there is no mention of the surrogate mother. The couple then takes away the child, mostly abroad.

Notwithstanding the facts, the matter of surrogacy has become a serious issue in the country. Surrogacy in India is estimated to be a $445 million business with the country becoming a leading service provider. Each year, an estimated 25,000 foreign couples visit India for surrogacy services, resulting in more than 2,000 births.

This is because of the low cost of treatment and the ready availability of women willing to rent their wombs. In comparison to USA where surrogacy cost is about $70,000, it is a bargain in India — running anywhere from $18,000 to $30,000. A surrogate is generally paid about $5,000 to $7,000 for carrying a child to term.

Traditionally lax regulations surrounding the industry have made India a popular destination for couples from European nations and Australia, where surrogacy is not legal.

The issue shot into limelight in 2008 when a surrogate mother gave birth to a girl ‘Manji’ in Gujarat. The baby's parents, Ikufumi, 45, and his wife Yuki, 41, came to India and hired the service of a surrogate mother from Anand town in Gujarat.

However, before the baby was born the couple separated and divorced. Manji's father claimed the custody of the child but laws in India do not permit this and the issue got entangled in legal battle.

The Supreme Court finally granted Manji's custody to her 74-year-old grandmother but this was contested by an NGO named ‘Satya.’ The NGO claimed that Manji was an abandoned baby.This made the Supreme Court to ask the central government to clarify its stand on issues related to surrogacy, particularly parentage and citizenship.

There was another case in which a Norwegian woman was stranded for over two years in India with twins born by an Indian surrogate. The mandatory DNA tests showed that the children were not biologically related to her, the Norwegian embassy in India refused to issue her travel papers for the twins. The case stretched out until 2012 and when the babies eventually were allowed to travel back to the parents’ country of origin, other complications continue to haunt the lady there.

In 2010 a French gay man, who had twins through an Indian surrogate, was allowed to travel back to France, where surrogacy is illegal. He is still engaged in a court battle even as the government there took away the twins and placed them in foster care.

Even though still there is not much clarity on the issue, the surrogacy debate is really heating up in India. In December 2012, India’s Home Ministry circulated to Indian missions abroad, stipulating that gay couples, single men and women, non-married couples and couples from countries where surrogacy is illegal be prohibited from hiring a commercial surrogate in India.

As of an unspecified date, foreigners who want to hire a surrogate must be a “man and woman,” the new rule says, “[who] are duly married and the marriage should be sustained at least two years,” Indian Mission circular added.

The opinion seems to be building for having relevant laws regarding this issue that should not only protect the surrogate mothers, but also some clarity on the foreigners who come to India looking for renting wombs.

The, British and American laws forbid surrogate mothers to charge a childless couple, whereas in India there is no such law. It raises the question whether surrogate mothers should be allowed to charge a fee. Besides, what to do with the fact that there is too much money that’s changing hands in this business.

All these issues and many more issues are supposed to be addressed through ‘Assisted Reproductive Technology, Regulation Bill 2010,’ that the government has drafted and plans to bring in the Parliament. It’s high time that this bill is tabled in the Parliament, discussed and debated and then passed to become a law in the country.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Witness to Environmental Degradation Scene in India

Witness to Environmental Degradation Scene in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

In the month of January, 2013, I traveled from Paras-Nath, the Jain pilgrimage center in the Jharkhand state to Gaya, Bihar. I traveled in the 'cattle class' compartment of a local passenger train to have the feel of real India.

The Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand are on the eastern Railway route and the state of Jharkhand that is carved out of Bihar in the year 2000 has hilly terrain and tribal population. The lush green trees cover the rocks making it a perfect setting of a forest.

I have traveled on such train journey before and it used to be a beautiful sight with leaves brushing the windows and one can pluck some flowers or fruit on the way. Alas it’s no more, one can see the plight of the forest with its fallen trees from a distance.

A rampant felling of the trees is going on in this part of the world. Some mafia men operating in these jungles with the help of local tribal’s are cutting the trees in a large scale.

I was caught up in the train, which stopped midway in between the forest and rocks and saw huge amount of logs, (must be more than 100 ton of log) stuffed into the  train. All the passengers suffocated inside the compartment as the guys stacked the logs everywhere in the compartment. They were ferrying this goods from there to Gaya town, the seat of Buddhism in India.

Apart from wood there were many gunny bags of charcoal that was also loaded into the train. These charcoals were meant for the incense sticks (Agarbati) industry thriving in Gaya. The charcoal is produced burning the trees in the jungle, that’s first felled and then left to be dried and to be burnt to produce charcoal.

The activity is taking place in most of the passenger trains on Kodarma to Gaya line within a distance of about 50 kilometres. The train crosses the local stations like Gujhandi, Dilwa, Gurpa, Paharpur and Tankuppa where are logs loaded. Then most of the logs are off loaded between Bandhua and Manpur stations that fall in the outskirts of Gaya town.

The scene on the train is glaring. One is applaud why it’s not reported in the local media and why no action is taken to stop such kind of environmental degradation that’s going on with impunity.

There seems to be a very systematic operation going on in this part of the country. It is done with the connivance of local officials, forest department, and train officials.

The passengers traveling in such train are poor illiterate folks, who are just mute spectators. Even though they may not be happy about the way things are happening, they simply don’t know what to do.  

My inquisitiveness arose to know more about such blatant theft of forest resources happening in broad daylight in such secluded train route. I started inquiring about this and was told by a loader Deepak Marandi who was stacking the logs in the compartment that they pay 30,000 rupees to the train driver and other staff members for ferrying the logs to Gaya.

I saw a huge number of tribal people waiting near the railway tracks with their collection of logs to be loaded in the train. The train stopped exactly where such folks were standing. Some of the loaders were waiting along with the tribals, others traveled in the train. The loaders quickly got into the act once the train stopped. Logs were stacked between two compartments, on the passage and on the door and some near the window.  Some even took the wood up on the roof, but that’s dangerous as its hilly terrain, told Deepak.

The tribals were paid according to the weight of the wood they could collect and bring to the railway track. It appears that in certain cases an entire family was involved in this activity. After the loading was over, the tribals collected their wages and disappear into the forest. They are supposed to come next day with another bunch of logs.

After the loading operation gets over the train starts moving on its journey to Gaya. When the town starts approaching the train slows down at certain specified places and logs are unloaded. There trucks are waiting and logs are again loaded and transport via road to the city.

It appears there are ‘big fishes,’ which are funding this and buy the logs to use it for different purposes. Since the quality of the wood is very good it can be used for making furniture, said Deepak who was very candid in his description.

Its residues are used for burning purposes and replaces cooking coal. Some woods are even burnt to make charcoal that is used for making incense sticks.

With ‘Bodh Gaya’ (Vatican of the Buddhists) at arms distance, incense sticks are in great demand as Buddhist uses them for religious purposes. This is a lucrative business that’s thriving at the expense of the forest wood, explained Deepak my fellow passenger, sitting on the log of woods.

This is a true ground report that needs to be highlighted in the national media. It calls for immediate action to stop such wanton destruction of the forest resources. A constant vigil and follow-up is required so that such acts do not get repeated over a period of time.
Syed Ali Muntaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Indian Muslims View Beg Attention

Indian Muslims View Beg Attention
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Muslim views are seldom highlighted in the mainstream media. There is little attempt to articulate the aspirations and frustrations of the largest minority group in India. As a result their pent up anger continues to grow. Often Indian Muslims are found lamenting that they get bad press. There are some grievances of Muslim community that not only needs consideration but some are in dire need to be addressed immediately. Here  an attempt is made to piece them together so that the pulse of the community could be felt very loud and clear.

 Muslims are being targeted in the name of Terrorism

Its felt that innocent Muslim youth are deliberately being targeted for cracking the cases of terrorism. The modus-oprendi is to first implicate some Muslim youths on fabricated charges and then detain them. Such detainees are then forced to make false confessions through third degree methods. The Nimesh Commission probed into the arrest of Muslim youth in UP has indicted the state government for arresting Muslim youths on concocted charges. This pattern has emerged through out the country in cases of acquittal of several Muslim youth who have spend long years in jails as under trial.  The Muslim community desires the release all such Muslim youth languishing in jails UP jails across the country. The community demands the governments responsible for such false arrest should pay adequate compensation to the acquitted "terror" victims. Their lost years, destroyed careers, and defamation should be taken into account in deciding the compensation.The community feels that the existing laws in the country are enough to deal with the scourge of terrorism and strongly demands the terrorist law POTA should be repealed as under such law innocent Muslim youths are targeted.

Welfare Schemes

The Sachar commission report on Muslim backwardness had prompted the government to announce a slew of schemes to up lift the community. These schemes are meant to be implemented in the so-called Muslim-dominated districts. However, only few schemes are executed so far. Even the educational scholarships scheme is not properly implemented. Last year sixty percent of budget of this scheme was not utilized and had to be returned. The community wants the government should honor its commitment towards minority welfare schemes.

 Reservation Issue

The Muslim community likes to remind the Union government for the implementation of the Mishra Commission report that has recommended reservation for the Muslims. It also wants to know why the government has not yet given its reply to the Supreme Court on including the Muslim and Christian Dalits in the SC / ST reservation list. The Muslim community feels that the exclusion of Muslim and Christian Dalits from the SC / ST quota is against the spirit of the Constitution of India.

Stop Illegal Religious Construction

The Muslim community takes serious note of the dangerous trend of the construction of illegal Hindu religious structure near Muslim shrine, Masjid, Qabristan, or monuments in the country. The modus- oprendi is to place an idol, a picture, or a piece of stone near a Muslim structure. This is followed by Hindu rituals and puja and after that the place is declared as a Hindu place of worship. Such provocation is going on from a long time and the Muslim community appeals to the Union government to wake up to such realities. It is of the view that such development is taking place through out the country and should be handled with the firmness it deserves, else may tar the secular credentials of the country. The Muslim community appeals to the media to report such development in an unbiased manner and the secular NGO's should come forward and file a complaint against such cases for necessary action.

Stop Saffron goons from targeting Muslims

The Muslim community takes note of the growing trend of saffron goons' intimidating certain section of the Muslim community that's traditionally engaged in the meat trade. Opening of new abattoirs and meat shops are resisted, old ones are closed down, and trucks transporting cattle are being hijacked. The Muslim community treats such hurdles an economic assault on a section of the community. It calls upon the state governments to punish the saffron goons, communal elements in the government that includes police found engaged in such activities.

Promulgate Waqf Bill

The Muslim community urges the government to hurry with the Waqf bill through the Parliament. It has to take into account the suggestions made by some Muslim organizations. One of the suggestions was to have the Waqf bill on the lines of Gurdwara Act of 1925. It will lead to the creation of a Waqf Committee that would manage the Waqf properties in the country. The committee can manage various educational institutions, hospitals and charitable organizations from the revenue earned from the Waqf properties. Its no secret that there is huge amount of Waqf properties scattered through out the country and are in utter neglect, encroached upon and illegally being sold. The community feels that many of the Muslim problems in India could be solved if Waqf properties are put into good use for them.

Dispose Babri Masjid Case 

The Muslim community reiterates its full faith in the Supreme Court of the country for the resolution of the Babri Masjid dispute. There are long list of litigation and appeals pending with the Supreme Court in this case. The community eagerly awaits an early disposal of all such cases.

Check Ecological Catastrophe in J & K 

Muslim community shares the anxieties of the Kashmiri brothers over ecological catastrophe due to the increasing activities and infrastructure development by the Amarnath Trust in Jammu and Kashmir. The activities going on to cater to the ever-growing number of pilgrims to Amarnath, is having disastrous impact on the area's fragile ecology. Muslim community appeals to the government to limit the visitors only to the ecologically permissible limit. It is learn that pilgrims has grown from a few thousand in pre-1990 to around 6.5 lakh in 2012.

The Muslim community's views as expressed here are of 'Muslim Mushawarat Committee,' an umbrella organization of several Muslim groups. Their exclusive narrative vouches an inclusive growth story. It definitely  deserves consideration. There is a silver lining in the litany of their demands, that is the Muslim community's unstinted faith in their motherland.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at