Masooma Ranalvi, Convenor Speak Out On FGM writes for Hillele.org
This is a deep dark secret of a well off community living in India and overseas. It is a chilling story in which hundreds of women from my community have had their genitals cut at the tender age of seven.
A medieval practice called khatna, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is being perpetuated since 1400 years under deathly sworn secrecy. Until recently very few outside the community knew of its existence.
The practice involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
The act of genital cutting is done on seven year old girls. The same manner in almost all cases. The minute a girl enters her seventh year the mother or grandmother takes the child out on the pretext of buying her some goodies. The child is then taken either to a clinic or the house of the midwife, where she is made to lie down and a part of her clitoral hood is cut. Earlier the cut was done by a blade or razor in a very crude, unhygienic manner. The mother almost never knew what part of her child’s genital she was getting cut. Nowadays the practice sometimes gets done in a sanitised environment by a doctor or a nurse.
WHO defines FGM as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
Further , its classifies FGM into 4 types Female genital mutilation ranging from the partial or total removal of the clitoris (cliterectomy) to removal of all the external genetalia and stitching up the vaginal opening ,(infibulations)
Even procedures pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area comes under the definition of FGM.
Bohras practice type 1 and type 4 fgm, wherein a part of the clitoral hood is cut or incised. The pain , physical and psychological is universal. Almost all of us have a dark and painful memory of this moment. The religious leadership in the community says that what is done in the Bohra community is negligible; it’s a very miniscule part of the clitoral hood that gets cut. They go on to state that the real FGM or “mutilation” exists in Africa and not India. There is also an underlying notion that if done medically, FGM will not harm, completely ingnoring the psychological distress caused by this act.
Dr Pierre Foldès who works with victims of FGM in France, and has devoted his life to fight against FGM says “ in contrast , some women who received a smaller cut to the clitoris had seen their sexuality completely destroyed. Even the smallest cut is a very violent act, and the psychological distress of a woman can overtake her clinical symptoms he points out.
The underlying reason behind the cut is essentially to curb and contain the sexual desires of a girl/woman. The clitoris is the organ for sexual pleasure,by cutting a part of it, is but certainly directed at denying a woman sexual pleasure.
In the community it is referred to as “ haram ni boti” meaning a sinful lump of flesh . Removal of which is necessary so that the girl does not go astray, does not become promiscuous and stay faithful in marriage.
The Bohras are part of the Shia Ismailia sect in India and are largely found in the Western parts of India, namely Mahrashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Numbering 2 million , the Bohras are petty traders and businessmen, hence well to do. Women in this community are highly educated, yet the patriarchal control over them is near complete. It is a rather close knit community, with its constituents living largely in clusters, hence control over their lives is possible even in large metropolitan cities like Mumbai, which is also the head quarter of its High Priest , the Syedna. It is also important to note that the practice of social boycott has been used very effectively in the past by the high priest to ensure complete obedience to his word. Any form of questioning or defiance to any tenet propagated by the high priest ends up in excommunication.
While secrecy surrounds this practice, a section of the women have become vocal against this practice in the last few years . Speak Out on FGM was one such movement which spurred many to start voicing their concerns over the harm being caused by the perpetuation of FGM in their community even today.
A petition started by Speak Out on FGMin Decemebr 15 on change.org asking the government to ban FGM has received 87000 signatures so far.( https://www.change.org/p/end-female-genital-mutilation-in-india)
On 6th February the UN declared day for Zero Tolerance to FGM, the group presented the petition the Chair,National Commission for Women,Ms Lalitha Kumaramangalam. While graciously accepting the petition , Ms Kumaramangalam told the media in unambiguous words that FGM is an infringement of human rights. We are against female genital mutilation.Just because something is a social norm does not make it right.These are manifestations of different patriarchal norms”
She also pledged support to the campaign by Speak Out On FGM to end FGM in India.
FGM is global practice. 200 million girls and women alive today who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) from 30 countries Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing FGM every year. It is time to focus on these girls and to ensure they will be protected from the knife.
World over there are active movements by activists, ngo’s and governments to end this practice. There are new laws being made in countries to combat FGM. In the last decade over 23 countries in Africa have passed new laws banning FGM , the entire western world has strong anti FGM laws to deal with FGM which has come into these countries through the immigrants. In 2012 a case involving a Bohra family was instituted in the Supreme Court of Sydney Australia. It was the first case ever prosecuting 3 Bohras for practicing FGM. The case ended in conviction and was a proof that FGM happened in the Bohra community. According to an online survey done by Sahiyo, 80% of the girls in this community are still subject to the cut.
It has been explicitly laid out by the United Nations that FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women in as much as it violates the right to her life and liberty, right to be free from gender discrimination, right to highest attainable standard of health, right not to be subjected to torture or any inhuman treatment or punishment , rights of a child.
The words of the NCW chair ring in ray a hope for the beleaguered women campaigning for an end to FGM. It means we have one more ally on our side. An important one at that.