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India's obsession with fair skin

My baby whitest

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How far does India's obsession with fair skin go? All the way to the West. Many Indian couples now opt for Caucasian egg donors so they can have white babies through IVF.

Mayuri Singhal, 36, married into a fair-skinned family. She herself is what is often described in matrimonial columns as "wheatish". When she couldn't conceive, she walked into an IVF clinic with her demand: a "white" baby. "I had read on the internet that one could access a donor who is fair. I decided to opt for one so that the child blends in with the family, " says Singhal.

Incidentally, during her search for a Caucasian donor, Mayuri stumbled across a "very fair" Indian donor and went with the desi option. "This way the child will be fair but not look like a firang, " Singhal points out.

According to the World Health Organization there are close to 13 to 19 million infertile couples in India and their numbers are growing. Most of them opt for Artificial Reproduction Technology, or ART, to conceive. What's more, the technology gives them the freedom to 'design' their baby.

"Couples who come for IVF require a donor egg or sperm. Once this is explained, they demand specifications - the donor should be educated, fair, have blue eyes, " says Dr Rita Bakshi, an IVF expert who runs the International Fertility Centre (registered with the Indian Council of Medical Research) in Delhi. Dr Bakshi says that roughly 70 per cent of her clients ask for fair skinned donors. "I get clients who even ask me for donors who look like Aishwarya Rai. "

IVF clinics can obtain permission to import frozen human embryo after getting certain documents in order. Caucasian eggs are usually sourced from donors in Spain and countries in Eastern Europe. Dr Bakshi explains: "You need to get a legal agreement signed by the intended parents, and the clinic, which should be registered with the ICMR. The clinic should issue a No Objection Certificate to import frozen human embryo and it should be signed by the intended parents while they are physically present in India. " Various courier services, like DHL, Time and Temperature Couriers and cryopreservation companies dry ship such biological material to India.

Infertility experts, however, warn that getting a 'designer' baby is a difficult and expensive procedure. "You need a lot of paperwork and approvals from government agencies, " cautions Dr Anjali Malpani, a Mumbai-based fertility specialist. European donors may charge between $1, 000 to $5, 000 (Rs 6, 000 to Rs 30, 000 approximately) depending on factors such as physical health and educational background. Laws vary according to the country. For example, Canada forbids its donors from demanding any financial compensation. On the other hand, the US does not regulate the amount of money that can be paid to a donor. In 2012, fertility watchdog Human Fertility and Embryology Authority raised the limit for UK donors from £250 per cycle to £750 (Rs 22, 600 to Rs 67, 800 approx. ).

There is also the issue of logistics and laws. Dr Malpani cites a 2010 incident where a container carrying frozen human embryos from the US was seized by Customs officials at Mumbai airport and returned to the US. While the ART Bill 2010 clearly states that import of human embryos is allowed, the Customs department has yet to update its import tariff manual to include it.

None of this deters couples like Suresh and Supriya Shetty from Hyderabad who scouted for a donor fairer than them. "We are so grateful that our daughter Vani is as white as milk. There is no denying that it is easier to get fair girls married, " says Suresh who came to Ahmedabad to get IVF treatment done at Bavishi Infertility Institute after a couple of failed cycles in Hyderabad clinics. The couple couldn't conceive naturally because Supriya suffered from cysts in ovaries and had to get them removed.

Dr Manish Banker, director Nova IVI Fertility Clinics, says he deals with a similar request at least once every two months. "Seeking fairskinned donors is a rising trend. Couples usually ask for donors with blue or brown eyes, " says Dr Banker. Dr Malpani adds that the maximum demand for fair-skinned donors comes from Kashmiris, Parsis and Punjabis as they themselves are fair complexioned. "A couple came to me asking for a German donor because they wanted a child with a strong physique and fair skin, " says Dr Malpani.

Kiran Chugh, a 45-year-old woman of Indian origin living in London has recently found a Caucasion donor via Dr Bakshi's clinic. She is a second generation NRI who is a working professional and very happy with her choice of donor. "We live in a multicultural society. Many members of our family are of Caucasian descent. Therefore, having a child with Caucasian looks works for us, " says Chugh, who earlier had an unfortunate experience with an Indian surrogate at a different clinic. The surrogate lost Chugh's twins due to mismanagement on part of the clinic.

Is she concerned that people might judge her for being racist? "I am not bothered with what others say. I am more concerned about my family's needs and the future of our child, " says Chugh.
Doctors say that the demand for donor eggs is much more than for sperm. The donors either come to India for egg retrieval or eggs are fertilised abroad and the embryo is then imported. Eggs are sourced from international banks like The Egg Donor (TED) Centre as India still does not have a registered egg bank.

Like with surrogacy, the trend of Indian couples seeking Caucasian donors is raising many ethical questions. Banker claims that legislation to ban the use of foreign donors is being contemplated. Till then the use of fair-skinned donors remains in a grey zone.

- Additional reporting by Radha Sharma in Ahmedabad

Names of some couples have been changed on request

Reader's opinion (16)

SADU AVRMar 31st, 2014 at 12:57 PM

Shallow thinking!!

Dev cMar 25th, 2014 at 18:10 PM

maang maro

Rana Jb SinghMar 5th, 2014 at 13:24 PM

Its not about westernization or designer babies. We Indians tend to generalize things into categories. Be it on the basis of religion, caste, creed, colour, nationality, sex etc.The list is endless. we need to change this mentality first. The color of the skin cannot determine the color of heart.

Bharat BhandariMar 3rd, 2014 at 21:05 PM

Another madness in offing.

Ganesh Babu N ROct 14th, 2013 at 00:02 AM

Dark skinned people could explore marrying the fairer ones from Eastern parts of our country. Over a few centuries, we can bring down the count of dark skinned people to a negligible level.

Dev cJan 23rd, 2014 at 16:14 PM

lol

Malcolm FisherOct 13th, 2013 at 21:21 PM

How shallow are these people who want designer children, a child irispective of colour or cread is a blessing they need to look more closely into the reasons they want children and if its because they have the money to choose designer children it should not be allowed.

Ganesh Babu N ROct 13th, 2013 at 21:04 PM

Dark skinned people could explore marrying the fairer ones from Eastern parts of our country. Over a few centuries, we can bring down the count of dark skinned people to a negligible level.

Ali GhiasOct 10th, 2013 at 00:09 AM

Many since independence have crossed their genes to fair muslims,foreigners,by extramarital affairs,marriages,etc.

Dev cMar 25th, 2014 at 18:12 PM

narrow fanatic racist communal mindset!!

Satpal JabbalSep 13th, 2013 at 16:25 PM

No Comments.

Ratna PriyaAug 26th, 2013 at 18:33 PM

But why should we indians follow westernisation knowing that we indians are the most intellect ones...

Abhinav GuptaAug 12th, 2013 at 03:04 AM

Reading this article was an eye opener,as it gives us an idea how desperate are we to westernize and how foolish our actions have become....

Lita MishraJul 28th, 2013 at 09:04 AM

This has been researched and is useful for many couples! Just find more info. e.g. on http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_donation
:)

Simon Jul 24th, 2013 at 00:26 AM

i wonder, if indian couples ask for physically strong black donors.

Amitesh PandeyJul 22nd, 2013 at 16:28 PM

Westernization at its very best.
Its not only the gene that's makes a person stronger or physically well-built, its the salubrious environment that makes them what they are. In India you will hardly find that kind of atmosphere.

 
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