Let’s all hear the story of an unsung hero of India, which will beam your heart with pride and shame at the same time. India is a mystical land where men of extraordinary capabilities are born, but simultaneously we have opposing forces as well, which not only silence their voices but also numb their bodies. Such is the story of Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay, the first doctor in India and second in world to produce a baby using IVF.
In 1978, he created first child Durga (Kanupriya Aggarwal) in Asia using IVF, which was just 67 days after Robert Edwards in UK, mastered this technology creating world’s first baby via IVF. Since 1978, nearly 4 million children have been produced worldwide using IVF. In 2010, Robert Edwards was honored with the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
In 1931, Dr. Mukhopadhyay was born in Bihar where his father was a doctor. He studied physiology in Calcutta National College of Medicine and later went to University of Edinburgh to earn his doctorate.
Durga’s birth was a major controversy and topic of heated debate. His peer were pure jealous of him because despite owning efficient labs they fail to do this experiment and how could he master it within his room in a apartment.
Also, the Government Of India denounced his achievement saying it is ‘bogus’. They also accused him of leaking this achievement in media and didn’t allow him to attend international conferences.
The social ostracisation and reprimand from authorities of state and central government forced him to committed suicide in his Calcutta residence on 19 June 1981.
His personal life was equally disturbed. According to his wife, Namita Mukherjee:
“We decided not to start a family as he (Subhash) wanted to complete his research. He was a very emotional person and dedicated himself to his work. But he never got any support either from the government or from his peers,”
Now it seems common to couples, who can’t bear a child, to take shelter of these clinics but it was this man who opened the door of this opportunity for everyone. He realized at early stage that men suffer from erectile dysfunction, low sperm count and infections. Similarly women also suffer from low egg production and fibroids. The impact of stress in reproduction stirred him to make a break through discovery in the world of medicine. Unfortunately, his achievement was belittled that time.
It is said that the hard work always pays well. In this case it paid little as to what it took away. 21 years later, his contribution to the medical science in India was acknowledged.
Dr. Sunit Mukherji, a cyrobioligist worked as a team along with Dr. Subhash in creating IVF baby. He was shocked after learning about his death along with being emotionally drained from facing rejections from bureaucrats.
As reported in Livemint, he says
Dr. Mukhopadhyay had presented his findings at the International Congress on Hormonal Steroids at New Delhi in 1978; at the Indian Science Congress at Hyderabad in 1979; and had published a paper in the Indian Journal of Cryogenics in 1978. He had even submitted a report, Transfer of In Vitro Fertilized Frozen-thawed Human Embryo, to the West Bengal government.
He further told –
The West Bengal government kept saying that he hadn’t (had) sufficient documentation. What else did they want?
The committee that condemned Dr Mukherjee’s procedure reportedly comprised a gynecologist, a psychologist, a physicist and a neurologist—none of whom had any knowledge of modern reproductive technology.
He couldn’t handle the politics. He was a scientist, not a lawyer.
He is the editor of ‘Architect of India’s First Test-Tube Baby’ It is based on Dr. Subhash Mukherjee’s lifelong work of introducing a breakthrough method in medicine world.
It was only Dr. Sunit Mukherji who stepped ahead and made a last attempt to bring recognition to Dr. Subhash.
He handed over Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s diary, which he had, to Dr. T.C. Anand Kumar who had also created a baby using IVF, claiming to be the first one. He was widely recognized as he went on to publicize his work and present it on a large scale.
In 1997, Dr. Anand went to Kolkata to participate in a Science Congress and over there Dr. Mukherji gave him the documents of Dr. Subhash having hand written notes and research. He studied it carefully and met Durga’s parents to assure. He also read Durga’s medical reports to be sure of what he was told. Dr. T.C Anand Kumar was the former director of the Institution of Research in Reproduction at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), so he was in power to exempt the false charges against Dr. Mukherjee.
That was the time when things took a turn. He generously gave up the title of fist IVF doctor, as it was Dr. Mukhopadhyay who indeed deserved it truly.
It was due to Dr. Kumar’s efforts, in 2002, that ICMR recognized his work for the first time.
On celebrating 25 years of IVF in Bangalore, Dr. Anand Kumar invited Durga and his family as guests. She studied MBA from Symboisis, Pune and was working in Gurgaon. She was also married and now called Kanupriya Didwaniya.
For the very first time she came in public and told that she was born after 13 years of her parents’ marriage. They were orthodox Marwari and getting a test tube baby was equivalent to shame that time. Thus, just after her birth she was in care of her grandmother so that the media doesn’t approach her and also her parents’ sex life is not discussed in public.
She further said after Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s death that she felt numb as if her real father died because she failed to bring him any recognition. Though his wife, Namita still continued to visit her as she was the only child she had from her husband.
At IVF conference in 2003, Durga said ,
“I certainly do not want to be a poster girl of the IVF industry, which undermined Dr Mukhopadhyay’s achievement for 30 years, I am not a trophy but I am proud to be the living example of work of a genius.”
Dr. Sunit Mukherji and team of dedicated doctors set up Dr. Subhas Mukherjee Memorial Reproductive Biology Research Centre in Kolkata. They also run a website which offers resource guideline to senior and upcoming doctors.
Now in Sao Paulo, during the eve of 30 years of completion of IVF, Brazilian Medical Society recognized and honored Dr. Mukhopadhyay for his incredible achievements.
In 1991, director Tapan Sinha made a National Award-winning film made ‘Ek Doctor ki Maut’. It was based on Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s life. The movie starred Pankaj Kapur and Shabana Azmi, showcasing the hollowness and inefficiency of our judicial system.