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Witness
Mother India
India's booming assisted fertility business encourages childless couples to overcome the 'curse' of their infertility.
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2012 06:56

Filmmaker: Raffaele Brunetti

Despite its growing population, India's infertility business is on the rise.

Jhuma and Niladri are a couple from Burdwan in the state of West Bengal. They have been married for eight years and have no children. This is a major problem, especially in India where a childless married woman is considered impure. A few years ago, Niladri would probably have abandoned Jhuma, and her life would have become a misery, her presence taken to be an inauspicious sign at social events or religious ceremonies.

Today, cutting-edge research and the boom in the assisted reproduction industry offer them new possibilities, new hopes, new dilemmas. The couple set off for Hyderabad, the heart of Indian medical and assisted reproduction research, on a journey of hope, a journey that will take them to Dr Rama's fertility clinic.

Dr Rama is the owner of a number of clinics in southern India and is expanding her business into the Gulf States and the Caribbean. At the Hyderabad clinic, Jhuma comes into contact with doctors, embryologists, other infertile women and surrogate mothers who are driven by poverty to sell their wombs to earn the surrogacy fees that give them and their existing children a chance of a future.

The meetings and the results of the medical tests will make Jhuma and her husband face crucial decisions. The journey to Hyderabad will change them forever.

This extraordinary film charts the personal experiences of several women from different castes and classes involved in all sides of this growing business: the desperate couple whose longing for a child is straining their relationship, the equally desperate women who turn to surrogacy and the dynamic and entrepreneurial Dr Rama.

It is a story of the growing desire for prosperity from the lower classes in the face of India's booming economy, where traditional values and customs hit up against globalisation - a story of hope, cultural taboos, drama and money.

Director's statement

Two years ago I rented a room in the hostel next door to Dr. Rama's fertility clinic in Hyderabad, the capital of India's medical and pharmaceutical industry which is booming thanks to the huge assisted fertility business. I began spending much of my time at the clinic. I got to know the doctors, the nurses, the investors, the surrogate mothers and, through time, the clients: childless Indian couples desperate to overcome the 'curse' of their infertility.

The universal need for motherhood was revealed here in all its rawness. The relationship between maternity and society was shown, without hypocrisy, in all its contradictions, with the power of money in all its brutality.

I decided to follow an Indian couple in their dramas, their trials, their prayers and their journeys. No one was willing to cooperate, because the powerful social stigma forbade childless married women to bare their pain in public.

Over a year went by before I finally met Jhuma and Niladri, at the very moment when they were planning their journey of hope to Hyderabad. I am grateful to them for understanding my motives, for allowing me to follow them so closely, for taking me to the god Balarama, who himself was born thanks to an embryo implant. I am grateful to the Indian women, both the super-rich and the poor, who enabled me to see, through their eyes, the development and contradictions of this country which is both the most ancient and modern of all. A country in which, without any filters, we ourselves are mirrored, laying bare our own contradictions.

 

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Al Jazeera
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