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‘These were made-to-order babies’: Reterritorialised Kinship, Neoliberal Eugenics and Artificial Reproductive Technology in Kishwar Desai’s Origins of Love
  1. Manali Karmakar1,
  2. Avishek Parui2
  1. 1 Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, Guwahati, Assam, India
  2. 2 Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
  1. Correspondence to Manali Karmakar, Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Guwahati, Assam 781039, India; mkarmakar68{at}


This essay examines Kishwar Desai’s Origins of Love (2012) in order to foreground how the novel is complexly reflective of the biomedical technologies strategically deployed by medical practitioners and prospective parents for the purpose of reinforcing caste-based bionormative notion of family that artificial reproductive technology is assumed to have problematised. The essay also demonstrates how the use of bioenhancement facilities has led to the revival of neoliberal eugenics enmeshed with state-led biopolitics. The essay draws on the concept of renaturalisation discussed by Tamar Sharon in order to examine how the schizophrenic or deterritorialising potential of reproductive technology is reconfigured and domesticated by the medicolegal practitioners in order to reterritorialise the normative structures of kinship and family formation within a capitalist consumerist culture.

  • artificial reproductive technology
  • bio-normative family
  • kinship network
  • caste
  • eugenics

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Kishwar Desai, an Indian author, columnist and the winner of the 2010 Costa First Novel award, in her second novel Origins of Love explores the bioethical issues of reproductive tourism.1 The novel offers a fictional representation of the growth of the multimillion-dollar surrogate industries in ‘Third World’ countries like India catering to the demands of white wealthy consumers. 2 Set in modern-day India, Origins of Love begins with the heroine Simran Singh a social worker whom Desai introduces in her first novel Witness the Night,3 a gripping detective fictional narrative about sex-selective abortion and female infanticide in India. Origins of Love investigates the mystery behind the origin of the bioengineered baby named Amelia, born HIV-positive in an Indian fertility clinic Madonna and Child and the mysterious death of the baby’s British parents in a car accident.4 No one knows how the fatal infection is transferred to the child and hence, Amelia’s medical condition raises curiosity and anxiety among the staff members of the fertility clinic. The names and address of the British commissioning parents Mike and Susan Oldham proved to be fraudulent and the sudden disappearance of Preeti, the surrogate mother of Amelia from the fertility clinic further augments the tension of the hospital authority. The fatal medical condition of baby Amelia created immediate need to find a family for the child and the trail takes Simran Singh to London in search of Edward Walter (a wealthy sperm donor) in order to unveil the mystery behind the conspiracy. The story revolves around Simran Singh’s investigation who narrates the dark side of the booming surrogacy industry where surrogate mothers and bioengineered babies are treated as disposable commodities.

The novel has multiple plotlines that weave in the life of fictional characters like Dr Subhash and Dr Anita Pandey who are the proprietors of the fertility clinic Madonna and Child. Kate and Ben are the British couple who desperately want a child and are exploring possible options for visiting India in order to hire a surrogate. The other characters constitute the 16-year-old Sonia who agrees to work as a surrogate in the fertility clinic of Dr Subhash Pandey, the custom officer Dewan Nath Mehta who visits a cryobank in order to know the reason behind his wife’s infertility and the health minister Renu Mishra who wants to have a legal heir for inheriting her political dynasty and visits Madonna and Child for designing a baby through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

We approach Desai’s Origins of Love as a literary piece that enables us to speculate on how biomedical practitioners and prospective parents strategically use artificial reproductive technology (ART) for the purpose of customising and consolidating the heteronormative institution of kinship, despite the apparent intervention such technology makes in the ontology of organic procreation and parenting. The essay examines Desai’s novel for the purpose of demonstrating how the biomedical practitioners deploy ART for reinscribing the notions of caste, class and religious identity as biological phenomena. The first part of the essay discusses Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s concept of deterritorialisation, reterritorialisation and the process of renaturalisation explained by Tamar Sharon.5 The second part of the essay demonstrates how Desai’s Origins of Love offers a fictional representation of the subversion of the schizophrenic deterritorialising potential of ART. The third section speculates on the disposable status of the surrogates and the last section studies how bioenhancement technology opted for by the parents for genetically configuring desired traits in their children has led to the rebirth of neoliberal eugenics practices that are enmeshed with state-led eugenics policies as argued by Caroline Schurr.6

Reterritorialisation of reproductive technology

As an integral component of our social situatedness and existential experientiality, kinship may be conceived as an immersive knowledge network that generates a sense of individual identity as well as a location in a specific collectivity. Janet Carsten argues that the notion of the family as a natural unit based on the biogenetic relatedness is being problematised by developments made in the domain of ART.7 Technologisation of biological phenomenon has reconfigured our fundamental assumptions about parenthood, kinship and family. Sarah Franklin discusses reproductive technologies like IVF as a ‘hybrid technology that reproduces conception as an in vitro replica of ‘natural existing biology’ and inaugurates a powerful new domain of ‘artificially constructed’ biology that is simultaneously understood to be ‘just like the real thing’ and completely different from it - being improved, redesigned, cleaner, and more manageable’ (n.pag).8 In this reading of biodesigned bodies, technology becomes ‘second nature’ accepted as an alternative mode for procreating babies by the consumers of reproductive medicines (n.pag).9

Radical posthumanist thinkers like Judith Halberstarn and Ira Livingstone have argued that biomedical technologies like ART have the potential for deconstructing the dualistic structure of a society shaped by ideologies of humanism and enlightenment that discursively operate ‘to domesticate and hierarchize differences within human (whether according to race, class, gender) and to absolutize difference between the human and the non-human’.10 Normatively it is accepted that the hierarchical structure of the society is to a large extent informed by the biological understanding of the human body. In this understanding, men and women are biologically differently structured and hence differently privileged. Shulamith Firestone states that ‘the biology itself-procreation is at once the origin of dualism’ (p. 8).11 Firestone further argues that the bionormative architecture of the family is an external manifestation of this unequal power distribution. She states that, ‘the natural reproductive difference between the sexes led directly to the first division of labour and the origins of class, as well as furnishing the paradigm of caste (discrimination based on biological characteristics)’.12 Firestone optimistically states that the genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally if reproductive technologies are judiciously deployed for eliminating uneven distribution of labour involved in the process of procreation. Use of reproductive technologies like ectogenesis 13 will disburden women from involving biologically in the process of procreation. Artificial reproductive technologies may be used to deconstruct the oppressive power structures like class and caste that are ‘set up by nature and reinforced by man’.14 Firestone argues optimistically:

The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of the both would be replaced by artificial reproduction; children would be born to both sexes equally or independently of either. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (cybernation). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken. And with it, the psychology of power.15

In a similar vein, in her 1991 article entitled ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ Donna Haraway argues that the transgressive nature of technoscience may offer us new political possibilities for deconstructing the patriarchal, phallogocentric and heterosexual order embedded in our understanding of the family structure, gender and race. Sarah Franklin states that Haraway is considered to be the ‘torch-carrier of Firestone’s impatience with Goddess-loving, pregnancy-worshipping, feminist Luddities and her enthusiasm for technologically-assisted, disloyal, perverted evolution’.16 In her manifesto, Haraway states that although the developments heralded by information and communication technology and biotechnology are not gender, race and class neutral, the image of the cyborg can be metaphorically exploited for the purpose of formulating a new political ideology for celebrating the deconstruction of the binaries between man and machine, nature and culture, and mind and body.

Haraway studies cyborg as an iconic image of ‘potent fusions and dangerous possibilities which progressive people might explore as one part of the needed political work’.17 Haraway’s argument is in consonance with the approach of radical posthumanists who perceive the blurring of the borderlines between human, non-human and nature as potentially liberating. However, Sharon offers a more complex understanding of the biotechnological practices that radical posthumanist thinkers unequivocally celebrate to be potentially liberating. Sharon argues that the schizophrenic deterritorialising potential of reproductive technology ‘to deconstruct the concept of nature is seen as constantly coming up against and being captured by legislative and discursive strategies that re-naturalise nature’.18 Sharon appropriates and extends Deleuze’s and Guattari’s concept of schizophrenic deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation in the context of reproductive technology for the purpose of enunciating how the society appropriates biotechnology for fulfilling its desired ends. Sharon’s essay offers an important intervention in an uncritical acceptance of technology as a liberating apparatus in feminist and radical posthumanist theory. Sharon’s essay examines how technological innovations may be implemented to further and perfect capitalist cultures of consumption and discrimination.

In Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari draw on the concept of schizophrenia for the purpose of examining the working mechanism of capitalism. They argue:

Capitalism embodies twofold movements of decoding or deterritorializing flows on the one hand, and their violent and artificial reterritoralizing on the other. The more the capitalist machine deterritorializes […] the more its ancillary apparatuses, such as government bureaucracies and the forces of law and order, do their utmost to reterritorialize, absorbing in the process a larger and larger share of surplus values.19

Deleuze and Guattari explain schizophrenia as a process of deviating from accepted paradigms of societal institutions such as government and industrial organisations that are structured by the anthropomorphic norms for the purpose of producing and containing new collective subjectivities. This process of deviating from the accepted paradigm for producing new forms of epistemic system is defined as deterritorialisation by Deleuze and Guattari.20 The concept of reterritorialisation denotes the process of channelising the subversive potential onto fixed and conventional understanding in order to reinstate rather than invalidate the hegemonic discourses. Deleuze and Guattari state that the structure of capitalism is formulated by both the schizophrenic and paranoid tendencies. Sharon argues that the schizophrenic deterritorialisation has a liberating effect because it possesses a positive and dynamic energy for deterritorialising individuals and collective identities from institutionally created restrictive forces. She states that the concept of deterritorialising is ‘inherently political. It contributes to the crumbling of the humanist barricades in the rising tides of posthumanity’.21

Sharon argues that the schizophrenic potential of reproductive technology to subvert the bionormative concept of family-making is channelised and reconfigured by the biomedical practitioners, administrative staff of clinics, legislature, and the prospective parents in order to reinscribe notions like biogenetic relatedness, nature, and parenthood that reterritorialise normative structures of sexuality and legacy. Sharon uses the term renaturalisation for the purpose of discussing how biomedical practitioners strategically use artificial reproduction for promoting biogenetic continuation between parents and their offspring. Sharon explains that the process of reterritorialisation or renaturalisation foregrounds the strategies employed by the users of biotechnology for taming and disciplining the subversive traits of reproductive technologies. Sharon argues that ‘the biotechnologies present a schizophrenic potential to overcome the essentialisms and binaries of modernity, but in practice, the uses these technologies are put to restore foundational categories that are once more used to normalise and discipline’.22 In a compelling study of the collusion between ART and dominant discourse of human hierarchy, Seline Szkupinski Quiroga argues that the desire for guarding racial purity of the child underlies the use of reproductive technology.23 Reproductive technology is embedded in ideologies of genetic essentialism 24 and racial purity. The biomedical practitioners reinforce, reproduce and reinscribe these social inequalities via assisted reproduction, in complete collusion with capitalist principles of production and consumption.

Reinforcing bionormative concept of family-making

Desai’s Origins of Love foregrounds the working mechanism of fertility clinics like Madonna and Child and websites such as that encourage clients for online ordering of surrogates and reproductive gametes and direct shipping of embryos to the Indian fertility clinics, if the prospective parents from the wealthy Western world are not able to visit the country. In sync with the production principles and selling strategies in an extreme biocapitalist commodity culture, Dr Subhash wants the fertility clinic’s website to be well designed and insists on uploading better quality photographs of the surrogates in order to attract transnational clients. Thus, the novel dramatises how the discourse of reproductive medicine is structured by a culture of bioconsumerism. The narrator explains:

Subhash looked at the photographs. With more expensive clothes, a protein-rich diet, bleach to lighten her skin, and may be some make up, Sonia could do. Better photographs would have to be taken (especially for the website, which was designed to appeal to Western tastes), in soft pastels and with floral borders…But everything could be photoshopped these days, so he was sure that the final, slightly out-of-focus photographs of Sonia and Sobhah on their websites, would make them look more middle class.25

Desai’s novel depicts how in the current culture of neoliberal consumerism, the parents are unconsciously turned into consumers of bioengineered babies and the surrogates are conceived as collateral and dispensable entities that are exploited by the fertility industries for producing babies that are delivered to the wealthy white clientele. The fictional representation of the capitalist kinship structure manufactured by the reproductive labour market correlates to Debora L Spar’s study of the surrogacy industry rooted in the discourse of capitalism discussed in her book The Baby Business.26 Spar states that although parents are not necessarily driven by commercial motive and they hardly see themselves as shoppers of their offspring, the advancements in the domains of reproductive technologies have promoted the practice of baby shopping. Spar argues that in the age of biocapitalism when the parents ‘buy eggs or sperms, when they contact a surrogate, when they implant an embryo they are doing business. Firms or the fertility clinics are making money, customers are making choices and babies for better or worse are commodified’.27 In a similar vein, Janice Raymond examines the irony in how the instrument of agency is enmeshed with consumerist codes in the current culture of ART whereby the rhetoric of choice is synchronously and functionally linked to the right to consume.28

Desai’s Origins of Love offers a fictional representation of this process of renaturalisation (reterritorialisation) of ART that operates with the logic of industrial production and consumer satisfaction. We argue that the novel fictionally captures the anxiety of the prospective parents like Kate who support the use of reproductive technology because it allows them to have children with whom they will be able to share genetic and biological relatedness, in a reinscription of natural human kinship with the aid of medical machine. Kate expresses her desire to have a child who will inherit her and her husband Ben’s genetic traits and explains to Ben that through IVF it will be possible for her ‘to gift him a child that bore his DNA…it was a sign of her love for him’.29 The narrator explains the reason behind Kate’s preference for IVF thus:

Perhaps she too thought that hiring a surrogate was the only way out. Faced with Kate’s single-minded determination how could he ever talk to her about adoption? She would reject it outright. She wanted a child with their DNA, their genes, their hair, and their eyes-she would never settle for a child who might have nothing to do with them.30

Drawing on the notions of genetic essentialism and racial purity as discussed by scholars like Sharon and Quiroga, it may be argued that the novel portrays how in the context of gestational surrogacy,31 a web of relationships is configured and reconfigured by the biomedical practitioners and commissioning parents in order to extend and reinscribe the concept of genetic essentialism in the formation of family. Desai foregrounds how the medicolegal entanglement clinically reinscribes the heteropatriachal model of family which ART is supposed to have problematised in a classic instantiation of Deleuze’s idea of reterritoralisation as a postdeterritorialisation phenomenon in a clinically capitalist economy as discussed by Sharon. In this essay we argue that the reinscription of the bionormative concept of family-making portrayed in the novel may be interpreted as an ironic fulfilment of Victor Frankenstein’s dream of re-establishing the heteronormative and phallogocentric notion of family formation by annihilating the progeny he engineered. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein draws our attention on how the masculinist appropriation of the birth process with the help of reproductive technology has led to the denaturalisation of nature and family structure.32 Whereas literary texts like Origins of Love throw light on how the ‘Frankenstein medicine’ is used to renaturalise and reinforce the bionormative notion of family formation.33

In one of the episodes in the novel, when the social worker Simran Singh requests the proprietors of the fertility clinic Madonna and Child to encourage and advise the infertile couple adoption as a possible solution, Dr Anita Pandey states that the reason behind the success of the ART industry lies largely in its assured reified retention of genetic relatedness and racial purity of the child. Hence, ART offers a more desirable option than adoption for buyers anxious to preserve their racial and genetic hygiene, with the added dimension of caste in the Indian context of Desai’s novel. Desai’s fictional exploration of the politics of parenting in the current culture of reproductive medicine is in consonance with Dorothy Roberts’ arguments34 discussed in an article entitled ‘Race and New Reproduction’. Roberts argues that reproductive technologies are ‘more conforming than liberating: they more often than not reinforce the status quo than challenge it’.35 Reproductive technology does not subvert the bionormative understanding of family-making, rather it enables the infertile couples to have children who are genetically related to them, thus protecting and perpetuating the heteronormative architecture of the family.

In the middle of the twentieth century, social scientists had optimistically stated that the developments in the domain of natural sciences will eliminate biology as an important factor in determining human behaviours. It was scientifically proven that human beings irrespective of the racial and ethnic categorisation ‘appear to be remarkably homogenous species which support our post Enlightenment moral intuition concerning the universal dignity of all people‘.36 However, Francis Fukuyama argues that knowledge of genetic differences has continued to inform the research of human genetics. Fukuyama states that although the notion of ‘scientific racism’ is empirically proven to be invalid, the accumulation of knowledge about the genetic differences among the different human races has continued to cause endless medicolegal and political controversies.37 Fukuyama argues:

Even if we do not posit any break-through in genetic engineering that will allow us to manipulate intelligence, the sheer accumulation of knowledge about genes and behaviour will have political consequences. Some on the consequences may be very good […] on the other hand, the life science may give us news we would rather not hear. The political firestorm set up by Bell curve will not be the last on this subject, and the flames will be fed by further research in genetic, cognitive, neuroscience, and molecular biology.38

The passage in Origins of Love where Dewan Nath Mehta visits a cryobank in order to take his fertility report aptly captures how the biomedical practitioners infiltrate the belief that socially constructed phenomena such as caste, class and religion are biologically configured. Mehta is advised by the clinician to select a gamete donor and to create a baby through IVF. Following the advice, Mehta randomly chooses a donor but the clinician refuses to proceed with the medical procedures stating, “Arrey baba, he is a Muslim, and you are a Hindu? No, no, we don’t encourage that because later you can say we gave you wrong advice?”.39 We argue that the clinician’s reluctance to forgo the religion, caste and class binaries elucidate the working mechanism of the cryobanks that are strictly guided by the notion of purity and anxiety of contamination in complete consonance with hierarchical hygiene-based norms which are discursively determined. Thus, the novel clearly demonstrates that far from unsettling the institution of family, the medical technology assisting reproduction here acts as a strong reinforcer of phallogocentric family production in complete and clinical collusion with capitalist and consumerist principles of hygiene and purity.

The novel further explores how reproductive medicine is deployed by the proprietors of the fertility industries in the passage where the social worker Simran Singh visits a cryobank in order to study the operating policies of the Indian fertility clinics. She is surprised to know about the selection criteria that are being applied for purchasing reproductive cells. In a baffled state Simran exclaims, “you can check DNA but surely not caste”.40 The manager who is in charge of the clinic explains:

What caste are you looking for? Madam, that’s how we like to do it. The genetic pool is kept clean. It is the child of the family. The same caste…Otherwise, Madam, you know how worrying it is - lower castes can pollute the Brahmins. I know that in South India there are sperm banks only for Brahmins. No one else can go there!41

The manager’s explanation of the caste-based cataloguing of reproductive cells demonstrates how the consumers’ choices are linked to social demands and desires that are enmeshed with the market of consumer culture. Simran’s interaction with the manager enables us to reflect on how the hierarchical structure of society is vigilantly guarded by the medical practitioners thereby reinforcing the notion of caste purity. Desai’s Origins of Love depicts how the characters in the novel conceive ART as a means through which it is possible to create a legitimate political heir. Renu Mishra, a politician who holds a respectable position but has no political heir to whom she can leave her wealth and political legacy, is advised by her maid Champa to have a baby through IVF because it will enable her to beget a child with her genes and political mantle. The episode where Renu Mishra visits Madonna and Child with an intention to create a baby of her choice deserves close reading as she enquires to Dr Subhash and Anita Pandey about the artificial baby-making process:

I understand that you provide surrogacy here, right? That’s what I have come to discuss. First, I would like to have a child. Second, I need to be very sure that it does not suffer from any physical and mental disability. Thirdly, the child should carry my and Vineet Bhai’s genes…I need to do all this for the future of my party-I don’t have a political heir and this has become very important in recent days.42

Through the character portrayal of two Brahmin politicians Renu Mishra and Vineet Bhai, Desai demonstrates how the caste ideologies are strategically and covertly applied by the consumers of reproductive technology while selecting surrogates and gamete donors for designing babies. Renu Mishra and Vineet Bhai plan to hire Sonia, a Dalit woman as surrogate to carry their baby who will be genetically related to them in order to create a political dynasty that will appeal to a larger pool of voters, thus emphasising a complex entanglement of dynastic and identity-based markers characterising Indian political and electoral systems determined by caste ideologies. Vineet Bhai justifies his choice of Sonia as a surrogate thus:

One of your potential surrogates, Sonia, lives in one of our servant quarters. I would like her to carry the child. As I said, she is actually a Dalit, and when the child is born, I will take it from her…For the sake of authenticity, we are prepared to forgo the issue of racial purity. Strictly speaking we should get a Brahmin girl, but politically that doesn’t seem like a good idea. This will be a masterstroke.43

The novel dramatises how the baby-making industries in India are informed and affected by the dominant political ideologies geared towards protecting and perpetuating caste-based hierarchical structure of the society. The fictional representation of the caste-based kinship structure customised and consolidated by the fertility industries correlates to Aditya Bharadwaj’s study of the current culture of genetic engineering.44 Bharadwaj argues that although in the domain of anthropology and sociology we are aware of how developments in genetic engineering have problematised the normative understanding of reproduction and family-making, it is observed that patients, clinicians and scientists tend not to think critically about how technocratic biomedicine has deconstructed the binary between nature and culture. Instead, attempt is made to appropriate the ‘supposed difference into familiar categories (kinship and relatedness)’.45 In a similar vein, Amrita Banerjee argues that the proselytisation of the notion that race, class and caste are genetically configured and can be transmitted by the proper selection of gamete donor have led to the reification of these socially constructed phenomena that can be purchased by the consumers of biomedicine, especially in the ART industry.46 Banerjee suggests that it is interesting to analyse how caste politics manifests itself covertly and overtly in the practice of ART. Banerjee states that, “caste preference and the obsession with caste-matching in the case of third-party selection carries the dangerous potential of upholding an erroneous belief in the biological origin of caste-projecting it as a heritable biological fact rather than a social form”.47

In a study that corroborates this reading of Desai’s Origins of Love, Saritha Rai argues that the fertility treatment specifically in India is enmeshed with the age-old biases about the caste hierarchies.48 She states that in contrast to the West, where medical fitness of the donor is the most significant criterion for selection of gamete donors, in India medical diagnosis begins after the commissioning parents are convinced about the donor or the surrogate’s caste background. The politics of procreation and parenthood as dramatised in Desai’s Origins of Love carries interesting resonances with sociological study of France Winddance Twine who argues that the practice of engineering babies through medical technologies like IVF and embryo transfer is embedded in racial, class-based and economic inequalities.49 Twine states that the categorisation and selection procedures followed for purchasing genetic and reproductive gametes throw light on how socially constructed phenomena such as race, caste, religion and educational qualification of the gamete donor shape the choices regarding the selection of biomatter for the creation of babies. Desai’s Origins of Love enables us to speculate on how the technological artefacts are adopted and appropriated by society in order to achieve its desired discursive ends. We argue that the act of appropriating technological artefacts as replicated in the novel corresponds with the theory termed as social construction of technology that is applied by the sociologists for studying how different actants of the society determine the way a technology operates in a particular context.50 The next section discusses the disposable status of the surrogates whose biological relatedness with the child is not medicolegally acknowledged.

Surrogates as dispensable commodities

In the novel Sonia the surrogate who is hired by the politician Renu Mishra is neither medicolegally nor socially acknowledged as the mother of the child she conceives. Rohit the party worker explains to the maid of Renu Mishra that in the current culture of ‘made-to-order-babies Renu Madam would definitely be successful. It would be as though she had borne it herself, but without the bother of pregnancy’.51 The surrogate Sonia says that she feels like an insentient animal or an incubator that is being exploited for producing babies. Sonia’s narration of her agentic crisis corresponds with Gena Corea’s explanation of the inhuman status of surrogates. Corea states, “the commercial promoters of surrogacy commonly describe the surrogate mothers as inanimate objects: mere “hatcheries”, “plumbing”, or “rented property”- things without emotions which could make no claim on others”.52

Desai’s fictional demonstration of genetic relatedness produced and perpetuated by the medicolegal organisations corroborates with Charis Thompson’s examination of the cultural significance of the emerging ART industry.53 Thompson argues that the fertility clinics have become an important site for protecting and perpetuating the biogenetic notion of family-making. She explains the ambivalent nature of reproductive technology thus:

It is very difficult to decide whether the new reproductive technologies are best judged as innovative ways of breaking free of bondage to old cultural categories of affiliation or whether they are best denounced as part of the hegemonic reification of old stultifying ways of classifying and valuing human beings.54

Thompson states that in the fertility clinics, certain kinds of kinship are produced, protected and perpetuated whereas other forms of biological relatedness are undermined in order to facilitate couples who purchase bioengineered babies as commodity. In the current culture of reproductive technology, it is possible for a child to share biological substance with multiple individuals but legally parental rights are accorded to the purchasing couples who are genetically related to the artificially produced baby and hence biotechnology here is employed in perfecting genetic narratives of privileged buyers and consumers, with agency equated almost entirely with purchasing capacity.

Thompson further argues that all the other members such as the surrogate and the gamete donors are conceived as collateral ‘prosthetics’ who are deployed for the production of the baby and are effaced, anonymised and sometimes violently distanced from the produced babies, thus dramatising the classic Marxist ideas of alienation and reification in an extreme biocapitalist culture of production and consumption.55 The clinics prioritise the procreative intention of the parents who are biogenetically related to the baby in order to ‘disambiguate the relevant kinship categories’ that are created by the practice of reproductive medicine.56 This is done through a process of naturalisation of high-end biocapitalism and a strategically sentimental celebration of the human-kinship narrative in a bid to conceal the artificiality of the ART with the human happiness quotient. In Desai’s novel, Preeti recalls how the hospital administrators train the surrogates to think of their womb as a machine that can be transformed into a commodity. The narrator explains the dilemma of the surrogates like Sonia and Preeti who struggle to negotiate between the training they receive in the fertility clinic and their existential experiences as biological mothers thus:

Yet, Preeti was sympathetic. In the lessons they had been given in the hospital they had been clearly told that they had to divide their heads from their hearts and realise from day one that they should have no emotional attachments to the child in their womb. But was that really possible? After all, they had carried the child for 9 months, fed it with their blood.57

The fictional representation of the dilemma of the surrogates bears resonance with Charlotte Halmo Krolokke’s and Saumya Pant’s study of the neoliberal discourses of transnational surrogacy as discussed in their article entitled ‘I only need her uterus’. In their article Krolokke and Pant argue, ‘while surrogates want to earn a living and improve the quality of their lives, they express both attachment and grief associated with giving up the surrogate baby. Their choices are framed within a moral and ethical dilemma as they are challenging social norms and cultural expectations’.58 The mind-body dualism dramatised in Desai’s Origins of Love is in consonance with Kalindi Vora’s discussion of how the Western biomedical understanding of the body as machine is amply applied in the context of gestational surrogacy where the doctors and the administrators of the fertility clinic encourage the surrogates to think of their bodies as machines that remain detached from their selves. Vora explains the estrangement thus:

This understanding of their womb as independent of their selves allows surrogates to distinguish surrogacy from infidelity and to conceive of gestation as a form of work. These understandings combine with the technologies that isolate and disperse procreation in a way that allows for the alienation of the womb and mothering necessary for commodification.59

Vora’s study of the surrogacy industry reveals how surrogates embody the carrier-selves whose corporeality is strictly utility-based in quality and is divorced from dominant orders of social agency. An analogy may be drawn between Karl Marx’s theory of alienation explained in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844 and the estrangement experienced by the surrogates in the current culture of reproductive technology.60 Marx argues that under the capitalist condition, the workers are alienated from the process of production and the product. In the modern industrial condition, workers are not conceived as agentic selves. Similarly, in the context of fertility industries, the surrogate is alienated from her reproductive labour because she is disassociated emotionally and biologically from the child she brings forth. In ‘Marxism and Surrogacy’ Kelly Oliver draws on the Marxist framework in order to define surrogacy arrangement as an estranged relationship. Oliver argues that the concept of estranged labour is amply applied in the context of surrogacy because a surrogate is ‘doubly estranged’ from her body, reproductive labour and the baby that are reified and are transformed into commercial products purchased by the commissioning parents.61 The surrogate is conceived as a passive incubator whose purpose is to produce a flawless product.62 She thus emerges as a collateral identity devoid of any agency in the production-consumption economy of the ART industry.

Drawing on classic Marxist discourses Elizabeth S Anderson argues that the legal strategies implemented by the commissioning parents and the medical practitioners to repress the parental love the surrogate feels for the child has led to the conversion of the surrogate’s reproductive labour into an alienated labour.63 Application of the commercial norms to woman’s reproductive labour has reduced the surrogate to a purchasable commodity.64 In an examination of the industry of bioengineered baby-production and its treatment of surrogates, Sucharita Sarkar argues that posthumanisation of the process of procreation has turned surrogates into commodified entities that are purchased by the capitalist clientele for designing babies. Additionally, one can relate issues of embodiment, parenthood, identity and agency that are problematised with the act of surrogacy. In Origins of Love the doctor named Maria Hansen of the fertility clinic says to Simran Singh that in the current culture of biocapitalism Third World countries like India are conceived as potential hubs for manufacturing ‘an army of surrogates for producing children for the Western world’.65 The sociocultural status of the fictional characters like Sonia and Preeti in Desai’s novel draws readers’ attention to the dispensable status of the surrogates who are subjected to strict medical surveillance and are not medicolegally acknowledged as the proprietor of their body and their progeny.

The commodification of surrogates and the babies has created new forms of unequal exchanges that are allied to the notions of neocolonialism and neocannibalism in a neoliberal consumerist economy. It is interesting to note how in the current culture of ‘baby shopping notions of property and ownership are extended to human body’.66 Advancement in the domain of biomedical surgeries and the rapid growth in medical tourism have further amplified the existing division between First World/Third World, centre/periphery, haves/have nots. The dehumanised status and the alienation of labour experienced by the surrogates appear to corroborate with Francis Fukuyama’s argument that the human agency is compromised in the era of genetic engineering and has led to the revival of eugenics practices. The following section discusses how developments in biomedical technologies like preimplantation genetic diagnosis that enable designing of babies with selective genetic traits have perpetuated the practice of neoliberal eugenics in the era of biotechnology.

Revival of neoliberal Eugenics in the era of ART

Origins of Love portrays how in the age of bioengineering the physical attributes and reproducible biomatter are reified and are transformed into biocapital that are purchased and consumed by the privileged sections of the society through the markers of discursively determined hierarchy and privilege. The episode in the novel where Sharmaji, the agent of the fertility clinic visits Kate and Ben to know their preferences about the physical attributes they would like to have in the donor and the surrogate aptly captures how the pharmaceutical enterprise legitimises ‘the commodification of physical ability, mental aptitude, and many other traits’.67 Sharmaji proudly mentions to Kate and Ben that he is capable of catering to all kinds of demands made by his clients. The narrator says, “Sharmaji launched into another list once more: ‘Just tell me your requirements: tall, short, fat, thin, straight hair or curly hair because you also need the egg from her, right?’” in an instantiation as well as a caricature of the customised and consumerist culture of the ART industry.68 In a similar vein, the leaflet that is designed by the agent of the fertility clinic Madonna and Child aptly depicts how the vital matter and physical features are transformed into purchasable commodities:

Don’t Worry Be Happy

Just Come to Collect Your Baby

Use our Courier Cryogenic Service

At 100 percent No Risk

That We Can Get You Egg Donor

Any Way You Want Her

Big, Small, Slim, Tall

It’s Your Call

You and Your Wife Can Take Rest

New Life- Cheap and Best.69

We argue that the lampoon-like quality of the singsong advert emerges as a pointer to the easy deliverables in the ART industry as depicted in the novel, one which puts high premium on consumer happiness akin to a high-selling commodity. The neoliberal consumer culture dramatised in Desai’s novel correlates to Donna Dickenson’s study of the working policies of the fertility clinics.70 Dickenson in her book examines how the fertility clinics mimic the commercial companies in their act of advertising the bioproducts and the babies as commodities and addressing their parents as clients who can choose gamete donors on the basis of their physical attributes that are allied to their physical preference. In a similar vein, Amrita Banerjee argues that although the act of choosing the physical traits of the baby might be conceived as apolitical, it is enmeshed with the discourse and motivations of eugenics.71 Fertility industries can be studied as important zones that promote subtle forms of eugenics at the macro as well as metonymic levels by offering liberties to the consumers to choose their donors and design babies on the basis of the biogenetic traits like skin and eye colour, hair texture and height.

Nikolas Rose states that in the current culture of human genetics the notion of biopolitics is entwined with the process of ‘subjectification’ of biomedicine.72 The notion of subjectification throws light on how since the second half of the twentieth century citizens have refused to remain as passive recipients of medical products, rather they have grown as active consumers who make decisions about medical treatments on the basis of the information available on medical websites and multiple other sources that influence their decision-making process. In an era of biomedicalisation, citizens have transformed into informed and active agents who are involved in making decisions about their health and vitality. Rose argues that in the current culture of biotechnology, molecular biopolitics is not guided by state-led policies of population control and improvement of the national stock. Rather biopolitical regimes of modernity have been replaced by the individual management of genetic risk in the context of bioeconomy. In the new culture of ‘active citizenship’, the agency accorded to the citizens is extended to the domain of reproductive technology where parents are offered liberties to make decisions about the genetic traits that they would like to configure in the baby they are planning to design through IVF.73

In contrast to Rose’s argument, Carolin Schurr argues that although in the current culture of biocapitalism parents appear to exercise their agency in reproductive matters, the notion of neoliberal eugenics has to be interpreted within the larger narratives of biopolitics that aim to regulate the quality and quantity of the population for the purpose of creating a healthy nation. This essay is in consonance with Schurr’s argument that neoliberal eugenics practices ‘recast rather than replace traditional state biopolitics’.74 Biopolitics in the era of human genetics evolves as a result of collusion between governments, pharmaceutical companies and citizens who are active consumers of the biomedical products. We argue that in Desai’s novel the fair and healthy baby boy that the surrogate Sonia gives birth to becomes an external manifestation of the complex entanglement between neoliberal eugenics and state-led biopolitics that aim to produce a fair and able male body that can be represented as the face of the Indian nation, fairness and maleness being major markers in the politics of dynastic privilege in the Indian electoral context. Rohit narrates to Sonia about Renu Mishra’s eldest son who is not acknowledged as the member of the family because he was born physically disabled and hence is considered to be a threat to Renu Mishra’s political career and the image of the nation. Rohit describes thus:

The child may have been an accidental product of another relationship, but partly because he was illegitimate and partly because he needed constant care, Renu Madam was advised that he would have to be smuggled away. He should not even be mentioned ever again. She could have brought him up in the house as someone else’s child but there were many who told her that a child with special needs might be politically risky, as voters like to see healthy, happy families.75

Renu Mishra’s family may be considered as a metonymic representation of the Indian nation-state embedded in the biopolitical eugenics-driven policies that aim to purge the national community from the biological and political degeneration thereby creating a strong and healthy nation through bioengineered processes. The novel Origins of Love fictionally dramatises how the genetic preferences enlisted by the parents are covertly entangled with the notion of neoliberal eugenics. In the novel, the health minister Renu Mishra says to Dr Subhash and Dr Anita Pandey that she wants to design a fair baby boy who in future will take over her political position and will rule the nation. Vineet Bhai carefully delineates the genetic traits he wants in the bioengineered baby:

We know that certain genetic qualities are important. Is there any way you can ensure that? Most importantly, it should have Renuji’s sagacity and my intellect; the rest we can teach. The looks are unimportant but the child should be fair in complexion, because fairer babies do better.76

The designer baby in Desai’s novel draws readers’ attention on how a structural homology is established between the body of the nation and the body of the baby who is presumed to embody an order of masculinity allied to the political ideologies of the ruling party. We argue that a parallel may be drawn between the fictional representation of the fair, tall and intellectually superior designer baby portrayed in the novel Origins of Love and the current political climate in India of right-wing Hindutva domination that intends to create a pure racial imaginary for the purpose of reviving the supposed sanctity of the Aryan martial race. On 7 March 2017, The Indian Express published an article entitled ‘RSS wing has prescription for fair, tall, and customised babies’ that discusses the Garbh Vigyan Sanskar (Uterus Science Culture) project of the Rashtriya Svayamsevaka Sangha’s (RSS’s) health wing Arogya Bharati which is driven by the objective of helping Indian parents to produce perfect progenies.77 The office-bearer associated with the programme states that the project is inspired by Nazi eugenics and it aims to purge and restructure the Indian national community for creating a race of super humans with an urge to build a modern masculine nation with a high premium placed on purity and hygiene.78

Asish Nandy in Intimate Enemy discusses the reform movement of the nineteenth century colonial India that attempted to resurrect the image of Kshatriyahood that was considered to be emblematic of the authentic Indian warrior.79 Nandy argues that during the reform movement, Hindu reformers like Vivekananda and Swami Dayananda stated that the loss of masculinity and cultural regression of the Hindus were due to loss of the original Aryan qualities. Nineteenth-century Bengali poet and dramatist Michael Madhusudan Dutt attempted to fictionally revive the image of the martial race by endorsing the order of masculinity embodied by mythic characters like Meghnad, Ravana and Krishna. In a similar vein, in an article entitled ‘The Theory of Aryan Race and India’ Romila Thapar traces the historical development of the concept of Hindutva or Hinduness in the early part of the twentieth century by a group of people closely associated with the formation of RSS that was informed by the theory of Aryan race.80 Thapar’s article foregrounds how the theory of Aryan race has shaped the concept of Hindutva nation, and has informed current political ideologies of the country and Indian identity. The RSS group supported the eugenic policies implemented in Germany for purifying the nation from the Jews and proposed the formation of a Hindu nation state on similar principles by excluding the Muslims and the Christians.81 The image of the Hindu Arya is used by the political party as a major component for structuring the political ideologies and privileged identity politics in India.

It is interesting to note how the order of masculinity embodied by the mythical Aryans had not merely historically informed the reform movement during the colonial period but has had a revival in the dominant discursive as well as the immediately lived domains in the current notions of national purity and identity. It is argued that although the ‘scientific purification of womb project’ of the Hindu nationalist group has adopted a pseudoscientific mode for the creation of customised babies, ideologically they collude with the biomedical practitioners’ attempt to design the perfectly pure progeny through ART. In Desai’s Origins of Love, the fair and intellectually superior baby boy born to the surrogate Sonia may be interpreted as an extreme extension of Victor Frankenstein’s desire to create a perfect progeny informed by the notions of human perfectibility, rationality and agency inherited from Western European notions of Humanism and Enlightenment. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Enlightenment-centric science is deployed in Victor Frankenstein’s experiments aimed to produce a perfect male body with a superior order of intellectuality and rationality. Such fantasy for purity and perfectibility bears resonance with Renu Mishra’s criteria for designing a bioengineered baby for inheriting her political legacy.


The article concludes by stating that works of fiction like Origins of Love enable us to speculate on how in the current culture of ART, the consumerist choice offered to parents and medical practitioners to select genetic traits of bioengineered babies has led to the reinscription of a more selectionistic, hierarchical and phallogocentric architecture of the family. In Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s creation of a bioengineered being deterritorialises the bionormative notion of family-making. It may be argued that the monstrosity in Frankenstein emanates as a result of the accidental disruption of the normative notion of family formation whereas Desai’s Origins of Love dramatises how the monstrous and schizophrenic potential of biomedical technologies are reterritorialised and domesticated by the medicolegal practitioners and commissioning parents in a perfectly consumerist economy of production and purchase. The fair baby designed with a supposedly superior order of intellectuality and rationality as portrayed in Desai’s Origins of Love aptly replicates the collusion between neoliberal eugenics and state-led biopolitics. It thus allows us to think of ART with renewed attention on the strategies and fantasies which inform shared notions of privileged subject identities and citizenship today. Desai’s fictional representation of the racial caste-based preferences made by the prospective parents throws light on how sections of people are perceived as the producers of the ‘biological and affective labour’ that are commodified and consumed by the privileged sections of the society.82 Apart from showcasing the biomedically produced and controlled commodity exchange between First World consumers and Third World labourers, Origins of Love also emerges as a complex and compelling depiction of the anxiety of contamination and the consolidation of caste-based identity markers in the social and political discourses in India today.


1. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love (London & New Delhi: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

2. Reproductive tourism or “cross-border reproductive care” can be defined as a type of medical tourism in which patients travel to other states or countries seeking fertility treatment because those treatments are either expensive or not available in their country. See Raywant Deonandan, “Recent Trends in Reproductive Tourism and International Surrogacy: Ethical Consideration and Challenges for Surrogacy,” Risk Management and Healthcare Policy 8 (2015): 111.

3. K Desai, 2010, Witness the Night (London & New Delhi: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

4. S Jacob, 2015, Reading Mary Along Side Indian Surrogate Mothers: Violent Love, Oppressive Liberation and Infancy Narrative (United States: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 70. The fertility clinic named Madonna and Child evokes a biblical connotation. It refers to the biblical figure of mother Mary with her child Jesus who is described in bible as the virgin mother goddess. S Jacob (2015) argues that Desai in her novel offers a literary connexion between mother Mary who is described as a “savior-carrier, unblemished by the stain of intercourse her body is being used for higher purpose” and the surrogate mothers who give birth to bioengineered babies designed through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) (xi). S Jacob, 2015 further argues that in the era of reproductive medicine there is a revival of the notion of virginal conception.

5. G Deleuze, 1974, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1974) 34. See also T Sharon (2014), Technologically Produced Nature: Nature Beyond Schizophrenia and Paranoia,” in Human Nature in the Age of Biotechnology: The Case of Mediated Posthumanism (New York: Springer, 2014), 175.

6. Carolin Schurr and C Schurr, 2017, “From Biopolitics to Bioeconomies: The ART of (re-)producing white futures in Mexico’s Surrogate Market,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 35.2 (2017): 241.

7. J Carsten, 2004, After Kinship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 7.

8. S Franklin, “Transbiology: A Feminist Cultural Account of Being After IVF,” The Scholar and Feminist Online 9.1–9.2 (2010/2011): 1–8. Accessed March 1, 2018,

9. Ibid.

10. J Halberstarn and Livingston I, 1995 (Eds), Posthuman Bodies (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995) 10.

11. S Firestone, 1970, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (New York: A Bantam Book, 1970) 8.

12. Ibid., 9

13. Creation of a child artificially in vitro.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., 11

16. S Franklin, “Transbiology”.

17. D. A Haraway, 1991, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth-Century”, in Simians, Cyborgs and Woman: The Reinvention of Nature (London: Free Association Books) 154.

18. T Sharon, 2014, “Technologically Produced Nature,” 175.

19. G Deleuze, 1974, Anti-Oedipus, 34.

20. Idib. 34–35.

21. T Sharon, 2014, “Technologically Produced Nature,” 179.

22. Ibid. 180.

23. Seline Szkupinski Quiroga, 2007, “Blood is Thicker than Water: Policing Donor Insemination and the Production of Whiteness,” Hypatia 22.2 (2007): 142.

24. Genetic essentialism may be explained as a reductionist approach that considers gene as the essence and the primary constituent for defining who we are as humans. Hence, genetic relatedness of a child with its parents is considered to be an important determining factor for medicolegally granting parental rights. See J Hendricks (2016), “Genetic Essentialism in Family Law,” Health Matrix: The Journal of Law and Medicine 26.1 (2016): 109.

25. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 26–27.

26. D Spar, 2006, The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception (Boston and Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2006), ix-xix.

27. Ibid., xvi.

28. J Raymond, 1993, Women as Womb: Reproductive Technologies and the Battle over Women’s Freedom (Australia: Spinifex Press Pvt Ltd, 1993), 85–89.

29. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 281.

30. Ibid., 134.

31. Gestational surrogacy may be defined as a medicolegal arrangement where the woman who is hired is not genetically related to the child she gives birth to and hence is not granted parental rights. See, Peter R Brinsden (2003), “Gestational Surrogacy,” Human Reproduction Update 9.5 (2005): 483–484.

32. M Shelley, 1818, Frankenstein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1818).

33. In Origins of Love K Desai (2012) refers to artificial reproductive technology as “Frankenstein Medicine”. 484.

34. E. D Roberts, “Race and New Reproduction,” Faculty Scholarship, 935.

35. E. D Roberts, “Race and New Reproduction,” 935.

36. F Fukuyama, 2002, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar, Starus and Giroux, 2002) 39.

37. Ibid.

38. Cited in F Fukuyama (2002) Our Posthuman Future,31. In their book The Bell Curve (1994) Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein argue that intelligence is largely inherited. Murray and Herrnstein say that “60% to 70% of the variance in intelligence was due to genes, the rest to environmental factors […] Genes and not social background will be the key to success”.

39. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 323.

40. Ibid., 172.

41. Ibid., 172–173.

42. Ibid., 249.

43. Ibid., 251.

44. A Bharadwaj, 2008, “Biosociality and Biocrossings: encounters with assisted conceptions with embryonic stem cells in India,” in Biosocialities, Genetics and Social Sciences: Making Biologizes and Identities, eds. Sahra Gibbon & Carlos Novas, 98–116 (London & New York: Routledge, 2008).

45. Ibid., 98.

46. Amrita Banerjee, 2014, “Race and Transnational Reproductive Caste System: Indian Transnational Surrogacy”, Hypatia 29.1 (2014): 114.

47. Ibid., 125.

48. S Rai, 2010, “More and more Indian Wants Egg Donors, but only if they’re from right caste”. The Global Post, September 22, 2010, accessed July 25, 2017.

49. W F Twine, 2011, Outsourcing the Womb: Race, Class, and Gestational Surrogacy in Global Market (New York & London: Routledge, 2011).

50. Social construction of technology (SCOT) is a theory that is primarily applied in the discipline of Science and Technology Studies (STS) for the purpose of analysing how the society influences the acceptance, appropriation and rejection of technology in order to fulfil its desired objectives. In contrast to the theory of technological determinism (technological constructivism), advocates of social construction of technology argue that the acceptance and failure of a technology in a particular society have to be studied amidst the larger social context in which they are embedded. See T. P Bijker et al. (1989), Thomas P. Hughes and Trevor Pinch (Eds), The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology (Cambridge, London, and England: The MIT Press, 1989).

51. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 195.

52. G Corea, 1985, The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs (United Kingdom: Harpercollins, 1985), 222. See also the 2017 published article by Sharmila Rudrappa entitled “India Outlawed Commercial Surrogacy- clinics are finding loopholes.” The Conversation, accessed on April 27, 2018 her article Rudrappa discusses the recent banning of commercial surrogacy by the government of India. Rudrappa states, “now only so-called “altruistic surrogacy’ is allowed- when a consenting female family member bears a child for a heterosexual childless Indian couple”.

53. C Thompson, 2005, “Strategic Naturalising: Kinship, Race, and Ethnicity,” in Making Parents: Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies (Cambridge & London: The MIT Press, 2005), 143–178.

54. Ibid., 177.

55. Ibid., 145.

56. Ibid., 5.

57. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 288.

58. Charlotte Halmø Kroløkke and Saumya Pant, 2012 and Saumya Pant, ““I only need her uterus”: Neoliberal Discourses on Transnational Surrogacy,” Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research 20 (2012): 245.

59. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 273.

60. Karl Marx (1959), "Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844," Economica 26.104 (1959): 379

61. Kelly Oliver, 1989, “Marxism and Surrogacy,” Hypatia 4.5 (1989), 105.

62. See S Mydans (1990)' article entitled “Surrogacy Denied Custody of Child.” New York Times, October 23, 1990, ( published an article on child custody where the gestational surrogate Anna L Johnson’s request for granting her parental rights to the child she gave birth to was denied by the court. Mrs Johnson argued that although the child is not biologically related to her, she had bonded with the child during her pregnancy and had given birth to him. Hence, the court should allow her to share parental rights but the court denied the surrogate mother’s request for parental rights and argued that Mrs Johnson “had served in the transitory role of a foster parent” (n.pag). The Judge Parslow argues that the surrogate mother Mrs Johnson served for 9 months as a “‘home’ for an embryo that was the product of an in vitro fertilisation by its genetic parents” (n.pag), hence the biological relatedness of the child with the surrogate mother will not be legally acknowledged.

63. Elizabeth S Anderson, 1990, “Is Woman’s Labour a Commodity.” Philosophy and Public Affair 19.1 (1990): 75.

64. See Brandon Showalter’s article titled “Washington State to ‘Monetize Wombs’, Legalise ‘Baby Selling’, Redefine ‘Parent’,” in Christian Post, March 2, 2018, ( The article discusses the impact of legislative act titled “Uniform Parentage Act” on the parent-child relationship which will soon be legally enforced in Washington state. Showalter argues that the enforcement of the legislative act will legalise commercial surrogacy which will by default promote the existing global market for baby selling. In her interview with Showalter, Kathy Faust, the head of the children rights organisation named Them Before Us says, “once you legalise something and commercialise something, you’re going to set more of it… Washington legislation contains no restriction and more economically disadvantaged and vulnerable women who think this is just another way to make money will be exploited” (n.pag).

65. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 295.

66. D Spar, 2006, The Baby Business, ix.

67. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 124.

68. Ibid., 372.

69. Ibid., 343.

70. D Dickenson, 2008, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008).

71. Amrita Banerjee, 2014, “Race and Transnational Reproductive Caste System: Indian Transnational Surrogacy,” Hypatia 29.1 (2014): 113

72. N Rose, 2007, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power and Subjectivity (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007): 21.

73. Ibid., 23.

74. Carolin Schurr and C Schurr, 2017, “From Biopolitics to Bioeconomics,” 241.

75. K Desai, 2012, Origins of Love, 194.

76. Ibid., 250.

77. A Bhardwaj, 2017, “RSS wing has prescription for fair, tall, ‘customised babies’,” The Indian Express, May 7, 2017 ( accessed on August 1, 2017. See also Shiv Visvanathan’s “Time, Modernity and the BJP,” The Hindu, July 28, 2018 ( (accessed on August 6, 2018). In the article Viswanathan speculates on how in the current political climate of India the Bharatiya Janata Party is playing the role of a “surrogate modernizer” by drawing on an analogy between the Indian mythic narratives and the current biomedical developments like “test-tube babies and plastic surgery to biotechnology” (n.pag).

78. M Kesavan, 2017, “In his Image: The Importance of being Sashi,” in Telegraph, May 14, 2017 ( Kesevan in his article discusses the RSS’s health wing Arogya Bharati’s project of designing customised babies in order to build a strong nation. Kesevan states that the Arogya Bharati project claims to liberate Indians from the burden of being non-white.

79. A Nandy, 1983, Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 7–20.

80. R Thapar, 1996, “The Theory of Aryan Race and India: History and Politics,” Social Scientist 24.1/3 (1996): 3–14.

81. In his book The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (USA: Basic, 1986)), R Lifton, 1986 examines the “biomedical vision as a central psychohistorical principle of the Nazi regime and the psychological behaviour of the individual doctors”. (p. 4) R Lifton (1986) study discusses the collusion of the biomedical ideology with the Nazi political ideology that was geared towards the systematic annihilation of the Jews who were perceived as “gangrenous appendix in the body of the mankind”. It is interesting to note, how the Nazi doctors drew a parallel between a diseased human body and the nation (p.16). R Lifton (1986) argues that the medicalized killing was performed by the Nazi doctors in order to revitalise the Aryan racial virtues that they argued were contaminated by the Jewish characteristics.

82. Kalindi Vora and K Vora, 2009, “Indian Transnational Surrogacy and Commodification of Vital Energy.” Subjectivity 28.1 (2009): 267.



  • Collaborators Manali Karmakar; Avishek Parui.

  • Contributors Both the authors have equally contributed to the development of the research paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.