India’s new law against surrogacy is being challenged in the courts – by a single man who wants to become a father. Lawyer Karan Balraj Mehta, 32, has his family’s support to become a parent via the procedure. Under the new law, passed in December to regulate the hugely successful surrogacy industry, he is ineligible. Mehta said he fully supported the law when it was passed because surrogate mothers needed to be protected against unscrupulous middlemen, touts, and hospitals out to exploit them. As a lawyer who practises in the Delhi High Court, he said he understood that this exploitation went unpunished because the women were mostly uneducated, unaware of their rights, and with no group protecting them. Many women, desperate for the money, signed contracts without reading them. Others signed nothing at all. On payment day, some were paid less than the amount promised to them. “India needed regulation urgently but the government went too far the other way. You can – and must – protect surrogate mothers, but why limit the rights of single men and women to become parents? What is the logic in that?” Mehta asked. Under the law banning commercial surrogacy, single men and women, live-in couples, and same-sex couples are excluded. Will India’s surrogacy ban drive childless couples and poor women underground? An unmarried woman can only have a surrogate baby if she is a divorcee or a widow aged 35 to 45. Even married couples can only opt for commercial surrogacy if they cannot have children on medical grounds or have only one child. “These exclusions are unfair. We can’t restrict having children only to married people. It is my fundamental right to be a father,” Mehta said. His childhood friend, aged 31, who does not want to disclose her name, is a co-petitioner and the mother of a daughter. Her reason for wanting a surrogate child is because her pregnancy was very difficult, with multiple complications. “I want to have another child so that my daughter will be a sibling but I cannot go through the same experience of pregnancy and childbirth again. It was too traumatic,” she said. Ever since the law was passed, Indians who work with infertile couples had predicted a challenge in the courts on the grounds that the law is discriminatory against Indians who are not heterosexual and married. Mehta said he believed there were thousands of people like him who are upset with the law. It’s not only single men who are suffering discrimination. Troll attacks on Priyanka Chopra spotlight India’s surrogacy stigma Fertility experts meanwhile have said they are getting calls from childless couples horrified by the new law. Some are considering flying to Kenya, the United States or Georgia in Eastern Europe to find surrogates there. “I am going to fight it out here,” Mehta said. “I could opt for adoption, I could go abroad for a surrogate baby but I’m not going to do that. I am an Indian and Indian law should let me become a father on the basis of my rights under the constitution,” he said. The law bans commercial surrogacy except for those who qualify but it allows altruistic surrogacy where a relative carries a baby for a childless couple. Surrogacy refers to the procedure in which an embryo, created from a woman’s egg and fertilised by sperm in a laboratory, is implanted into the uterus of another woman who carries the baby to term before handing it back to the couple who hired her services. For the potential surrogate too, the new law lays down strict criteria. The woman must have been married at least once in her life and should have her own child. She should be between 25 to 35 years old and be a close relative of the couple opting for surrogacy. The new regulation was long overdue. India’s surrogacy industry took off around 2010 and became so huge due to its affordability that it became known as “the world’s baby factory” and “surrogacy capital”. Before the law came into effect, surrogacy was popular with Bollywood stars. Celebrities such as Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Shilpa Shetty and Karan Johar became parents via surrogacy. Mehta’s petition will be heard in November. Given the 44 million cases currently grinding their way slowly through the Indian courts, it will take some time before he gets a verdict. “Fatherhood is not a fad for me. I’m prepared to wait,” he said.