Transnational Commercial Surrogacy and the (Un)Making of Kin in India

By Anindita Majumdar

Once identified as an emerging transnational industry, the commercial surrogacy arrangement in India was more than mere commerce. It also involved the birth of kin and relationships that included cross-cultural dialogues and conflicts between forms of reproduction and birthing. Transnational Commercial Surrogacy and the (Un)Making of Kin in India engages with the idea of emerging forms of families and meanings of kinship in a transnational world through ethnographic research, kinship, gender studies and science and technology studies.  The ethnography draws from a context that is enmeshed in the local-global politics of reproduction, and the engaging and ongoing debates regarding ethics and morality in the sphere of reproductive rights.

As of 2018, the Indian Parliament has suggested a ban on transnational commercial surrogacy, giving way to domestic altruistic surrogacy arrangements. Such a law follows the dynamic, controversial trajectory of transnational commercial surrogacy in India. This book aims to present an ethnographic picture of such a complicated, controversial practice as commercial surrogacy by focusing on its relevance for kinship and our understanding of interpersonal relationships at large.

Anindita Majumdar, Transnational Commercial Surrogacy and the (Un)Making of Kin in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Transnational Commercial Surrogacy and the (Un)Making of Kin in India seeks to explore the multiple relationships that emerge, are constructed and rejected in the course of contracting and participating in a commercial surrogacy arrangement. Drawing from conversations with foreign couples coming to India to hire Indian surrogates through Indian fertility clinics, lawmakers and clinicians, this book engages with multiple facets of the transnational commercial surrogacy process: the politics of foreign gay couples seeking families through surrogacy in India, the identity-giving processes of  babies born to foreign couples, the clinicians’ understanding of kinship, the networks of commerce and surrogacy agents, and the ways in which the surrogate and her husband position themselves within the arrangement. Some of the questions that the book explores are: What are the mechanisms by which kinship is understood and practiced in a comparative and cross-cultural milieu? How can anthropology develop a more nuanced notion of interpersonal relationships in a global, transnational setting? How do biology and the social come to be configured within kinship in transnational commercial surrogacy? Transnational commercial surrogacy becomes a fertile ground for the examination of cross-cultural engagements with kinship and technology.

Despite different areas of focus in the academic research on surrogacy — such as the nature of the surrogacy contract; the notion of reproductive choice; the examination of the gift-giving relationship as it is practiced within surrogacy; and the emerging markets in reproductive labour and reproductive tourism—kinship is a recurring motif in the analysis of surrogacy. This is primarily because surrogacy along with in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is seen to have led to a break between the biological-nurturing roles of parenting by creating multiple mothers: the one who donates her eggs, another who gestates, and the one who nurtures the child. This ‘fragmentation’ of motherhood continues to be a concern due to its importance within the ‘natural-biological’ context of kinship, as well as due to the sexual division of labour, which is based on the ‘assumptions’ of the natural bond of motherhood. However, the sociological analysis of the surrogacy arrangement focuses only on the surrogate mother, and, to an extent, on the adoptive-social mother. The overwhelming engagement with motherhood often leaves unanswered questions regarding the father, the clinicians, the child and other relations/persons involved in the arrangement and their negotiations with each other in the act of making a child through surrogacy. While each of these other people and their relationships have been studied in relation to assigning parentage, they do not form an important part of the academic engagement. This book seeks to explore the multiple relationships that emerge, are constructed and rejected in the course of transnational commercial surrogacy, including motherhood.

Emerging research points towards the dynamism of cross-cultural kinship practices in the use of assisted reproductive technologies (such as IVF) that are redefining the discipline in its theoretical core. Thus, in Transnational Commercial Surrogacy and the (Un)Making of Kin in India, canonical texts within the anthropology of kinship become important nodes to discuss and review the discipline through the practice of transnational commercial surrogacy. This includes an invocation of Marilyn Strathern’s work on technology and kinship, with that of David Schneider’s on kinship as a cultural symbol, along with Janet Carsten’s theorization of relatedness. But the book does not limit itself to these three theorists alone, and goes on to place the analysis in the book firmly within the new kinship studies. Thus, by invoking Sarah Franklin’s work on infertility technology with that of Charis Thompson, Elizabeth Roberts, Marcia Inhorn, Aditya Bharadwaj, Amrita Pande, Jeanette Edwards and others, the aim is to engage with ideas of relatedness and ‘biology’ as they conflict and collide in transnational practices of reproductive technologies.

The combination of technology and transnational-global trade in reproduction and international laws means that kinship ideologies and everyday practices of relatedness are increasingly being placed under scrutiny. In the book, I posit that transnational commercial surrogacy provides fertile ground for the examination of cross-cultural engagements with kinship and technology. The blending of Euro-American notions of kinship, biomedical ideas of kin and ‘kinning’ mesh in interesting ways with Indian ideas and practices of kinship and relatedness.

The book is centred on the theoretical development of the notion of ‘conflicted kinship’. The mapping of transnational commercial surrogacy in its processual, dynamic representation leads to the emergence of certain ideas regarding kin and kinship. From the choice of the arrangement, to the pregnancy and finally to the birth of the child, the surrogacy process is mapped in broad stages, which encapsulate within them other related conflicted processes.  Through the mapping of these stages the idea was to engage with the ways in which relationships ‘unravel’ and may be made sense of through kinship as a tool of analysis. Thus, the primary conflicts occur between the identification of the parents and ‘others’ (the surrogate, her husband and the egg/sperm donors); between the idea of what constitutes nurture and nature (biology, genes, blood); and between choice and kinship, or the ability to choose who you are related to through the intervention of technology. Each of these conflicts points towards deeper ideas of how people build relationships, especially when they are faced with such artificial, external interventions as technology.

The aim of this book is to blend together the lived experiences of surrogates and commissioning couples as they come together in transnational commercial surrogacy. The stories of the growing gay family enthusiastically participating in surrogacy in India are an important source of conversation. Narratives and experiences of commercial surrogacy, including those of the surrogate’s husbands and the families of commissioning couples, bring forth a more nuanced portrait of navigating the transnational commercial surrogacy industry in India.


Anindita Majumdar is Assistant Professor at the Department of Liberal Arts, Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad, Telangana. Her book, Transnational Commercial Surrogacy and the (Un)Making of Kin in India is based on her doctoral research, which was awarded the ‘Distinction in Doctoral Research Award’ by the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi in 2016. In February 2019, she was a participant of the Exploratory Workshop “Exploring Networks of Transnational Surrogacy” at Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin.


Citation: Anindita Majumdar, Transnational Commercial Surrogacy and the (Un)Making of Kin in India, in TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 08.04.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/18329.


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