Subhash Mukhopadhyay was a physician from West Bengal, India, who was the creator of India’s first and second for the world, a child using in-vitro fertilisation, Durga. The child was born about 67 days after the first IVF baby in the United Kingdom.
A commendable achievement, no doubt.
But how did India reward such a prolific man?
He was forced to commit suicide owing to repeated rejections and ridicule of his work.
Born on 16th January 1931, Subhash graduated from The Calcutta National Medical College with an Honors degree in Physiology. Durga, alias Kanupriya Agarwal, was born on the 3rd October 1978, in the hands, or rather the test tube of Dr. Mukhopadhyay.
It is possibly the worst irony that Durga was born 67 days after the first test-tube baby for, had she been born before, probably Dr. Mukhopadhyay would’ve led a respectable life and not killed himself.
The story of the ridicule
Dr. Mukhopadhyay was working on his project at the Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College, Kolkata, West Bengal. He was a very talented man and probably possessed talent far ahead of his times.
In 1978, on 18th November though, the Government of West Bengal appointed an ‘expert’ committee along with the medical association to give their verdict on the fate of Dr. Subhas Mukhopadhyay who was charged for the following:
1. He claims to be the architect of Durga who is first human test tube baby to be created.
2. He announced the report and his findings to the media before it was cleared by the Government bureaucrats.
3. He made this fascinating invention with some very basic apparatus and a refrigerator in his apartment without using any expensive resources
4. His inability to admit that his actions were wrong and straightforwardness apparently did not sit well with the government bureaucrats and also attracted jealousy out of his peers.
In his research for IVF, Dr. Mukhopadhyay was given assistance by Sunit Mukherji and S.K. Bhattacharya.
The “expert” committee, was presided over by a radiologist and comprising of a gynecologist, a psychiatrist, and a neurologist who knew absolutely nothing of modern reproductive technology.
An example of the questions Dr. Mukhopadhyay was asked:
Committee – “Where did you keep these embryos?”
Mukhopadhyay -“In sealed ampules.”
Committee -“How did you seal an ampule?” (?!!)
Committee – “Oh! Embryos do not die while sealing?”
At the end of this ridiculous farrago of exasperating dimwitted questions, his research papers were termed as “absolutely bogus”. He was handed a punishment which transferred him to the Ophthalmology department, also effectively ruining his prospects of working on the hormone project.
So, how did his discovery come to light?
Mukhopadhyay’s research came to light in a very interesting way when T. C. Anand Kumar the creator of the official first human test-tube baby of India, Harsha Vardhan Reddy Buri, went to Kolkata.
In 1997, Kumar was in Kolkata for a Science Congress and it was there that he came across the research documents of Mukhopadhyay that were given to him by Dr. Sunit Mukherji.
He became certain that it was Mukhopadhyay who brought India’s first test-tube baby into existence after going through the evidence and extensively talking to Durga’s parents.
After all the work Kumar putting into revealing the actual father of invitro-fertilisation in India, finally Mukhopadhyay was given the title of being the architect of the first Indian test tube baby and the ICMR recognised his work.
Even Durga, after her 25th birthday, came forward and revealed her actual origins and identity at an event organised to remember Mukhopadhyay.
She spoke about her creator in front of the media and proved once again that her creator’s claim was not bogus.
In 2003, Durga also spoke at an IVF conference and said that “I certainly do not want to be a poster girl of the IVF industry, which undermined Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s achievement for 30 years,” and finished with, “I am not a trophy but I am proud to be the living example of work of a genius.”
However, all this happened posthumously, in 2002, twenty-one years after his death.
Because on 19th June 1981, after facing not only social ostracisation but also reprimand and insults from the government of West Bengal instead of praise for his inventions, neglectful treatment from the bureaucrats, and not being allowed to attend international conferences by the Indian government, he committed suicide.
The man who sacrificed hopes of children for research
Namita Mukhopadhyay’s, wife of late Dr. Mukhopadhyay has been paralysed and battling with ignominy and neglect ever since her husband committed suicide. Namita is confined to her bed now and naturally, the news of her husband’s recognition failed to bring any smile on her face.
“We decided not to start a family as he (Subhas) 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,” said Namita as per sources.
It was this tragic tale that inspired Tapan Sinha’s film ‘Ek Doctor Ki Maut’.
The Department of Reproductive Physiology in Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College has been renamed after this great stalwart.
Today many others are getting to hear of him for the first time.
But some mistakes are too expensive.
On that fateful 9th of June, 36 years ago, Namita returned from school to find the hanging body of her husband inside their Southern Avenue flat.
The suicide note read:
“I can’t wait everyday for a heart attack to kill me.”
Image credits: Google