ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dalit Feminist Voices on Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Justice

Previous research has addressed questions of reproductive justice and the stratifications of Indian women’s reproductive lives in terms of class position and economic status. However, the question of caste has received little attention in the literature and there has been a lack of research on assisted reproductive technologies and caste along with the absence of Dalit feminists speaking out on reproductive technologies. This paper attempts to begin exploring the significance of caste by drawing on in-depth interviews with Dalit feminists who challenge dominant understandings of surrogacy in both international and national debates on reproductive technologies. It highlights how an insistence on the wider socio-economic context of women’s lives challenges notions of reproductive rights, replacing them by reproductive justice.


This research has been funded by the Swedish Research Council (2016–01644).

Transnational commercial surrogacy and the outsourcing of reproductive labour to women of the global South is arguably the most controversial practice in an expanding market in body parts and reproductive labour. The central role of India in this market represents a particularly challenging example, given the historical symbiosis between reproductive policies and population control in the country. For roughly a decade, India was a hub for commercial surrogacy and biocrossings, facilitated through the global assemblages of a liberalised capitalist economy (Bharadwaj 2008). Within this transnational fertility circuit, bodies of underprivileged Indian women, formerly seen as waste and their reproduction as something to be controlled by the post-independence Indian state and policymakers in the first world, were transformed into sites of profit generation within the reproductive industry of the neo-liberal Indian state (Rao 2010).

While previous research on surrogacy has addressed the stratified reproduction (Colen 1995) of Indian women in terms of class and economic status (Pande 2014; Rudappa 2015; Vora 2015; Deomampo 2016), the question of caste has received little attention (Madge 2015). Responding to the lack of research on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and caste, the aim of this article is to explore the significance of this intersection to ARTs in general and commercial surrogacy and egg donation in particular. We draw on in-depth interviews with Dalit feminists whose perspectives on ARTs are uncharted.1 Our analysis explicates the need to connect these issues with broader questions of social justice that we theorise through the framework of reproductive justice. This understanding challenges dominant articulations of ARTs centred on reproductive rights.

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Published On : 12th Jan, 2024

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