The Handmaid’s Tale leads one to re-examine these two forms of social hierarchy that women have to navigate: one where they apparently have equal sexual rights as men but have to bear most of the brunt of unwanted pregnancies, reproductive burdens and the like, and the other extreme where their decisions including those about sexual identity and procreation are institutionalised and they are robbed of all agency and autonomy.
So while theoretically we should all have the right to make our own decisions about matters to do with our sexuality, have the right to sexual and reproductive health care, the right to love who we want to, and the right to be free from violence and discrimination based on our sexual choices, to name just a few sexual rights, even today many people do not have these rights.
The new proposal to ban commercial surrogacy is essentially a rehash of a bill that was proposed three years ago — the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 — which lapsed when Parliament adjourned without taking the measure for a vote. The Indian minister for health has called the 2019 bill a “need of the hour,” citing a rough estimate that between 2,000 and 3,000 unregulated clinics currently operate in the country.
Pro-life arguments have invoked faith and religion to decry a person’s right to seek an abortion, and the right to decide what to do with one’s body. But, as Everyday Feminism’s comic, The Hypocrisy of Pro-Life Rhetoric, breaks it down for us, it is not with religion or faith where the problem lies.
Choices are also influenced by our milieu, by socio-cultural norms, by the laws and strictures that operate to regulate what we may and may not do. Lest this makes it seem that we are mere puppets triggered by internal whimsy and simultaneously constrained by external forces, our contributors show that this is not so.
While we moved one step forward towards sexual rights by striking down Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and decriminalising homosexuality, we still have a long way to go in changing and challenging the popular psyche and the political and legal narratives around homosexuality and queer families.
Choices in the sexual area should remain personal while maintaining the dignity and the rights of all people who must be able to make fully informed choices in this area. It is the duty of the state to provide the education and information to its people in this area but not intrude into their personal choices.