We have a great irony in India. Here, the glamorous fictional world of Bollywood play a hugely decisive role in the nation's real life. Often dubbed an alternative feel-good reality for an average struggling Indian, Bollywood has in the last few years particularly, has donned the role of an agent of social change, which we can even call a series of silent social revolution.
Gay relationship, diseases like dyslexia and progeria, surrogacy and now sperm donation, Bollywood has helped us open our eyes to issues, which were mostly alien to us even a decade back. As a true medium, it has carried out its role in educating souls about these issues but the question is, are we mature enough to treat them as realistic socio-economic issues and ready to face the probable outcomes, both the good and bad? Time today demands us to undertake fresh social construction processes through the new socio-relational means and how far we succeed or fail, it is for us to determine.
The Indian psyche has already started to search for its own version of Vicky Donor, almost like adding a new dimension to the traditional social discrimination based on the chaturashram (brahmans, kshatriyas, vaishyas and sudras). Search for healthy sperm donors is a common trend but what a South Indian couple has done recently is something unique. They have advertised for a sperm donor, who besides being tall, fair, disciplined, was also supposed to be IIT graduate! May be they did not want to be like the initially disgruntled parents of Farhan Qureshi of 3 Idiots fame.
The ad even said the candidate's suitability would also be verified and references were sought for the purpose. The incident was quite shocking to various quarters as many said a man's intelligence could not be transferred through his semen and did not assure birth of a genius.
This is not an one-off case, however. Newspapers have reported that there are some sperm banks in the country, which specialise on caste or education. For example, while there are banks that store only Brahmin sperms, there are others which keep sperms of graduates from IITs or IIMs or medical colleges. If one finds these to be high-ended, they can opt for a mid-level engineering institute sperm bank. And of course, there is the requisition for sperm from superior physical attributes including fair skin colour. The entire Indian sperm business has given a new dimension to the Indian's eternal quest for a designer matrimonial match. And in the greater perspective, whether we criticise this or laugh at it, there is no denying that the synthesis of the Indian psyche with a new concept is perfect.
The Indian challenge
But will sperm donation survive the Indian condition? In terms of scholarly analysis, sperm donation could leave a serious impact on a child and the family by causing a break between the biological and sociological unity. Frustrated adults may opt for artificial reproductive means to have babies in a desire to extend their genetic continuity but in doing so, they 'curse' the offspring with a genetic discontinuity and in effect would reduce them into social objects. Kinship values and continuity of generations will be destroyed as a result.
In a developing society like India, children born of reproductive technology can face big time problem twenty years down the line for there is very little chance that the country's norms and legal framework would be updated then to shield a new social class, different from the normal, biological class. A problem, similar to that faced by homosexuals today, could be the chaos of the day then. Human rights could be endangered woefully.
Another major consequence of the sperm donation phenomenon could be its misutilisation towards gender discrimination. India is already waging a strenuous battle on the problem and another new way of genetic engineering in favour of a particluar gender can lead to a demographic disaster for the nation.
Moreover, sperm donation, unlike blood donation, is still to be acknowledged a noble business. Even a successful donor can earn wrath for such an act. Fears of rejection, both in family and socially, can haunt a donor. Secrecy and shame still are the rules of the game of sperm donation in India.
Even confession could throw an organised family into turmoil. There have been instances, when husbands, compelled by conscience prick, confessed to their act before their wives about their experiments with fertility in the past. It was a big shocker for the wives and some of them even asked the husbands to bring back those children for which they gave the seed. The wives had to be convinced that the children were not their and only created with their husbands' help. Sounds full of infidelity... huh?
Film stars, too, are preferred for their semen by fans. It is said that John Abraham, the producer of Vicky Donor, was approached by a common woman for his sperm at a restaurant. Emraan Hashmi is another favourite on the list.
Some multinational sperm banks in India had to shut their business for the neighbours complained that these outlets, with state-of-the-art facilities for donors to ejaculate, were promoting derogatory culture in the locality. Sources at another firm said that somebody had torn pages from relevant magazines that had put in their office and even stolen many. The Indian social mind has still some way to go before catching up with time, it seems.
Economically, the sperm donation business in India has to cover up some distance. The South Indian couple, which had sought an IIT-graduate as a donor, was ready to pay just Rs 20,000 for the service. Even there are instances where a donor gets a paltry Rs 170 for one sitting to give semen. This is a sad picture, when compared to country like the US. There, a PhD donor can earn USD 500 per case while a college graduate can earn USD 60. In India, the sperm-donating business is more of a urban phenomenon and payments are better in cities like Mumbai and Delhi.
For a young college-goer, Rs 500 for every sample is not a bad deal and they are just least bothered about the future ramifications. It's just another pay-for-service for them, that's all. Nevertheless, the donor makes poor monetary gains even if the client is mostly from well-off backgrounds.
Prospects for sperm-donation industry in India
the sperm-donation business in India is a dwarf compared to that in the US. Sperm banks in the US rake in an estimated USD 75 million every year. Efforts were made some years ago to promote the business in this country by opening international sperm banks but they had to be closed down for reasons already mentioned above.
The business, despite a good initial response, was given a blow by government apathy. Authorities did not allow an expert business of sperm despite high demand from abroad and the foreign sperm banks failed to compete with cheaper samples produced locally. Some of the fertility-treatment units in India also decided to diversify their businesses into other fields like veterinary sperm bank and other testing labs for sticking only to the sperm business is an expensive affair, both in terms of money and time.
Like every other social phenomenon, sperm donation will also take some time for getting a bigger recognition, there is no doubt. But what is important that we understanding the pros and cons of the new dimension at all levels of our living. Social engineering, after all, is a sensitive issue that demands a pragmatic attention. Vicky Donor has made us aware, now it is time we educate the system.