“Wombs-for-Hire”: Biopolitics and Neoliberal Eugenics of Indian Commercial Surrogacy Industry in Amulya Malladi’s A House for Happy Mothers

© Media Watch 12 (1) 67-78, 2021
ISSN 0976-0911 | E-ISSN 2249-8818
DOI: 10.15655/mw/2021/v12i1/205459


“Wombs-for-Hire”: Biopolitics and Neoliberal Eugenics of Indian Commercial Surrogacy Industry in Amulya Malladi’s A House for Happy Mothers


Eva Sharma1 & Isha Malhotra2
1Independent Researcher, Jammu and Kashmir, India
2Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, India



The commercial surrogacy industry in India has become a site of neoliberal eugenics and state-led bio-politics. Individuals can make certain reproductive choices by commissioning the bodies of less privileged women surrogates. The advancements of biomedicines and biotechnology have furthered the revival of the consumer-driven neoliberal market place, reducing surrogates to mere “wombs-for-hire.” The paper examines Amulya Malladi’s A House for Happy Mothers (2016) to explore the bioeconomic and bioethical paradigms related to exploitative surrogacy practices based on systemic and structural inequalities of class and gender in India. Drawing on the theoretical framework of Foucault’s biopolitics and Nikolas Rose’s neoliberal eugenic politics, an attempt is made to unpack the problematics of the medico-industrial complex of the fast-growing Indian fertility industry.  


Keywords:   Commercial surrogacy, India, ART, bioethics, biomedicine, biopolitics, neo-liberal eugenics



Atwood, M. (1998) .  The Handmaid’s Tale . Anchor Books.

Agar, N. (2004). Liberal eugenics: In defence of human enhancement. Blackwell.

Buchanan, A., Brock, D. W., Daniels, N., & Wikler, D. (2000). From chance to choice: Genetics and justice. Cambridge University Press.

Bhattacharyya, R. (2016a). Draft surrogacy (regulation) bill 2016: Rhetoric or surrogate-centric? Space and Culture, India, 4(2), 9-21. https://doi.org/10.20896/saci.v4i2.219.

Borah, M., Hazarika, A.K., & Kalita, U. (2020). Right to be a Surrogate: Biological, Constitutional and Economic Perspectives. Space and Culture, 8(1), 78-90.

Braidotti, R. (1994). Nomadic subjects: embodiment and sexual difference in contemporary feminist theory. New York, Ny: Columbia University Press.

Briggs, Laura. (2003). Mother, child, race and nation: the visual iconography of rescue and the politics of transnational and transracial adoption. Gender and History 15, 179–200.

Canning, K. (1994). Feminist history after the linguistic turn: Historicizing discourse and experience. Signs, 19, 368–404.

Casarino, C. (2012). Sexual Difference Beyond Life and Death. Angelaki, 17, 95-103.

Clarke, A., Shim, J. K., Mama, L., Fosket, J. R., & Fishman, J. R. (2003). Biomedicalization: Technoscientific Transformations of Health, Illness, and U.S. Biomedicine. American Sociological Review, 68(2), 161–94.

Commercial Surrogacy & Feminist Perspectives. (2016). Writing on Surrogacy. https://writingsonsurrogacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/commercial-surrogacy-feminist-perspectives/

Cooper, M. (2008). Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. University of Washington Press. 

Cooper, M., & Waldby, C. (2014). Clinical Labor: Tissue Donors and Research Subjects in the Global Bioeconomy. Duke University Press. 

Deonandan, R. (2015). Recent trends in reproductive tourism and international surrogacy: Ethical considerations and challenges for policy. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 8, 111-119. 

Dickenson, D. (2006). The lady vanishes: what’s missing from the stem cell debate. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 3 (1-2), 43-54.

Dickenson, D. (2008). Body Shopping: The Economy Fueled by Flesh and Blood. Oneworld Publications.

Dupree, C. Y. (n.d.). Amullya Malladi,  A House for Happy Mothers. CBHD.ORG. https://cbhd.org/sites/default/files/premium_content/Dignitas_V23_N3_Fall _2016_Dupree.pdf

Fabre, C. (2013). Surrogacy. In H. Lafollette (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics. (pp. 5086–5092). Blackwell Publishing Ltd.10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee123

Firestone, Shulamith. (2003).  The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 

Foucault, M. (2008). The birth of biopolitics. Picador.

Goodrow, G. (2019). Biopower, Disability and Capitalism: Neoliberal Eugenics and the Future of ART Regulation. Duke Journal of Gender and Law Policy, 26(137), 138-155.

Harris, J. (1998). Rights and reproductive choice. In John Harris & Soren Holm (Eds.), The future of human reproduction: Ethics, choice and regulation. (pp. 5–37). Clarendon Press.

Hewitson, G. (2014). The Commodified Womb and Neoliberal Families. Review of Radical Political Economics, 46(4),  489–495.

Jones, C. A., & Keith, L.G. (2006). Medical Tourism and Reproductive Outsourcing: The Dawning of a New Paradigm for Healthcare. Int J Fertil, 51(6), 251-255.

Karmakar, M, & Parui, A. (2019). ‘These were made-to-order babies’: Reterritorialised Kinship, Neoliberal Eugenics and Artificial Reproductive Technology in Kishwar Desai’s  Origins of Love.  Med Humanities. 1–10 d oi:10.1136/ medhum-2018-011522

Krolokke, C., Foss, K. A., & Sandoval, J. (2010). The commodification of motherhood: Surrogacy as a matter of choice. In S. Hayden & D. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein (Eds), Contemplating maternity in an era of choice: Explorations into discourses of reproduction. Lexington Books.

Krølokke, C.H., & Pant, S. (2012). “I only need her uterus”: Neoliberal Discourses in Transnational Surrogacy, Nora: Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Studies 20(4), 233–48.

Lee, Christine. (2007). Medical tourism, an innovative opportunity for entrepreneurs. Journal of Asia Entrepreneurship and Sustainability. 

Lemmens, T. (2017). The Commodification of Gametes: Why Preventing Untrammelled Commercialization Matters, in Regulating Creation: The Law, Ethics And Policy Of Assisted Human Reproduction 415, 431–32 (Trudo Lemmens et al., eds., 2017)

Majumdar, A. (2013). Transnational surrogacy: The “public” selection of selective discourse. Economic and Political Weekly, 48(45–46): 24–27.

Majumdar, A. (2014a). The Rhetoric of Choice: The Feminist Debates on Reproductive Choice in the Commercial Surrogacy Arrangement in India. Gender, Technology and Development. 18(2), 275-301. DOI: 10.1177/0971852414529484

Majumdar, A. (2014b). The Rhetoric of the Womb: The Representation of Surrogacy in India’s Popular Mass Media. In Sayantani DasGupta & Shamita Das Dasgupta (Eds.). Globalization and Transnational Surrogacy in India, 107-203. Lexington Books.

Malladi, A. (2016). A House for Happy Mothers. Lake Union Publishing.

Mastangou, E. (2015). India’s luxury hospitals spur health tourism. Business Destinations. Retrieved August 4, 2015, from https://www.businessdestinations.com/move/travel-management/indias-luxury-hospitals-spur-health-tourism/

Medical Tourism Guide. (2007).  http://medicaltourismguide.org/

Mendes, A.C., & Lau, L.  (2015). India Through re-Orientalist Lenses.  Interventions 17 (5), 706–727.

Mills, C. (2018). The Routledge Handbook of Biopolitics. Routledge.

Nadimpally, S., & Venkatachalam, D. (2016). Marketing Reproduction: Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Commercial Surrogacy in India. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 23(1), 87–104. https://doi.org/10.1177/0971521515612865

Pande, A. (2009). It may be her eggs, but it’s my blood: surrogates and everyday forms of kinship in India. Qual Sociol, 32, 379–397.

Pande, A. (2010a). Commercial surrogacy in India: Manufacturing a perfect mother-worker. Signs, 35(4): 969–992.

Pande, A. (2010b). “At least I am not sleeping with anyone”: Resisting the stigma of commercial surrogacy in India. Feminist Studies, 36(2): 292–312.

Pande, A. (2011). Transnational commercial surrogacy in India : gifts for global sisters? Reprod Biomed Online, 23, 618–625.

Pérez-Fernández, I. (2018). This is a Business Transaction, Fundamentally: Surrogate Motherhood in Meera Syal’s The House of Hidden Mothers. Miscelánea: a Journal of English and American Studies 58, 31-48.

Raymond, J. (1993). Women as Wombs: Reproductive Technologies and the Battle over Women’s Freedom. Harper San Francisco. 

Reddy, J. (2020). Indian surrogacy: Ending cheap labour. Santa Clara Journal of International Law, 18(1), 92. 

Richards, S.E. (2014). “Should A Woman Be Allowed To Hire A Surrogate Because She Fears Pregnancy Will Hurt Her Career.” Elle. https://www.elle.com/life-love/a14424/birth-rights/

Rose, N. (1999). Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511488856

Rose, N. (2007). The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rudrappa, S. (2017). Reproducing Dystopia: The Politics of Transnational Surrogacy in India, 2002–2015. Critical Sociology, 1-15.

Saravanan, S. (2010). Transnational surrogacy and objectification of gestational mothers. Economic and Political Weekly, 45(16): 26–29.

subRosa. (2003). Stolen rhetoric: The appropriation of choice by ART industries. Shaping technologies, 110–118.

Towghi, F., & Vora, K. (2015). Bodies, Markets, and the Experimental in South Asia. Ethnos, 79:1, 1-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2013.810660

Venkatesan, S., & Murali, C. (2020). The Infertile Body in the Clinic: Medicalization, Gaze, and Loss of Agency in Women’s Infertility Comics. Women’s Studies. 1-20.https://doi.org/10.1080/00497878.2020.1785879

Vora, K. (2009). Indian transnational surrogacy and the disaggregation of mothering work. Anthropology News, 50(2): 912.

 Vora, K. (2013). Potential, risk and return in transnational Indian gestational

Surrogacy. Current Anthropology , 54(7), 97–105.

Vora, K. (2015). Re-imagining Reproduction: Unsettling Metaphors in the History of Imperial Science and Commercial Surrogacy in India. Somatechnics, 5(1), 8  8–103. DOI: 10.3366/soma.2015.0149

Waldby, C., & Mitchell, R. (2006). Tissue Economies: Blood, Organs, and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism. Duke University Press. 

Waldby, C., & Cooper, M. (2008). The biopolitics of reproduction: Post-fordist biotechnology and women’s clinical labor. Australian Feminist Studies 23(35), 57–73.


Eva Sharma is working as an independent researcher based in Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, India. Her areas of research interest lie in the field of surrogacy, ART, and body politics. 

Isha Malhotra is an Assistant Professor in the School of Languages and Literature, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Jammu and Kashmir, India. Her area of interest includes gender studies, body politics, and cultural studies.


Correspondence to: Isha Malhotra, School of Languages and Literature, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University Campus, Sub-Post Office, Katra, Jammu, and Kashmir – 182320, India