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Designer babies, with an Indian twist

More and more Indians want egg donors, but only if they're from the right caste.

In Mumbai, couples ask for similar family background, said Goral Gandhi, laboratory director at the well-known fertility clinic, Rotunda.

"Family background" is often the euphemism for seeking out particular castes and sub-castes that number in the hundreds in India’s byzantine social system.

A good-looking egg donor of a higher caste could command anywhere between 50,000 rupees (about $1,100) to 100,000 rupees (about $2,200) whereas down the caste ladder, the prices could dip to 20,000 rupees (about $430), Rao said. He has enlisted and provided the services of 70 egg donors and 150 surrogates so far.

In Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, the prices can go higher to 200,000 rupees (about $4,300). Donors are usually from poor economic backgrounds as are the surrogates. None was willing to be interviewed for this article.

Sociologist Carol Upadhya at the Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies says caste is ingrained among many Indians as that which preserves the purity of the race. “They feel caste is rooted in the body, in the genetic material,” she said.

Even the highly educated want specific genes because they want to pass on the caste and community genes to their future generations, Rao said.

“Prospective parents openly advertise for egg donors and surrogates by caste in the classified sections of local newspapers,” he said.

Such advertisements, listed by caste and sub-caste, are staples of the matrimonial sections in India’s biggest newspapers.

In Bangalore, fertility specialist Kamini Rao who runs a successful practice said that “some infertile couples recruit egg donors and surrogates of their own caste before arriving at my doorstep for procedures.”