MUMBAI: A group of women from the Dawoodi Bohra community have petitioned the United Nations, demanding that India be recognised as a country where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is practised. The petition was put up by a group called Speak Out on FGM on Thursday, and signed by 30 women.
“For hundreds of years this practice is being continued under a shroud of secrecy and silence, and no one outside of the Bohra community even knew of its existence. Even today young Bohra girls aged seven, or even younger sometimes, are taken secretly and subjected to FGM/C,” the petition states.
The World Health Organization defines FGM — sometimes called female circumcision — 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. The WHO also emphasises that the procedure has no health benefits. In India, the commonly practiced form of cutting is clitoridectomy, the partial removal of the clitoris, specifically the clitoral hood that is made of erectile tissue and protects the glans. Called ‘ khatna ’ or ‘ khafz ’ in India, it is common in the two-million-strong Dawoodi Bohra community. The petition says that due to the secrecy around the practice, it is ignored by the government and there is no data on FGM from India. Bohra women fighting against the practice say that clitoral unhooding is also a form of genital cutting and violation of human rights.
According to the members of the group, while some health facilities would carry out the procedure, the attention to the practice, and the public condemnation has driven it completely underground. Ahmedabad-based gynecologist Dr. Sheroo Zamindar says that the procedure is carried out secretly, by women who are not qualified medical practitioners, usually in non-sterile environments, and without anaesthesia or painkillers. The ‘tradition’ is that girls should bear the pain and never let others know what they feel.
“Male circumcision is a common practice, but there is some evidence to show its medical benefit,” Dr. Zamindar says. “In females, there is absolutely no benefit. In fact, the act of female cutting is carried out with an idea of reducing sexual pleasure or reducing libido in women.”
“We have been raising our voices since a long time but the practice continues," said Masooma Ranalvi, a 50-year-old publisher from Delhi and a member of Speak Out on FGM. “There has been barely any change at the ground level, as the government has not responded to our pleas in any way. If the UN stands with us, the government will automatically take note; many African countries have stopped the practice after the UN intervention. We hope to have the similar change in our country.”
Ms. Ranalvi was subjected to FGM at a very young age, but she ensured that her daughter, who is now 22, was not put under the knife. “At least 80 per cent of the Bohra girls are subjected to this act of violence,” she says. “Unless the government stands behind us, the brutal act will continue.”
Since the group formed in 2015, it has run several campaigns to reach out to the community. Their very first petition in November last year, named after the group, received 80,000 signatures. Another campaign, Not My Daughter, started in April this year, and has over 150 Bohra parents pledging that they wouldn’t put their daughter through the suffering. Their most recent campaign, Each One Reach One, in collaboration with another group called Sahiyo, askes each participant to reach out to at least one Bohra woman to have a conversation about khatna . The group has also reached out to the clergy in the community, including their religious head Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin.
“I still can’t forget that dark dingy room where I and my sister were taken,” says Dr. Zamindar, who was cut at an early age. She says that many of her patients approach her to cut their daughters, but she flatly refuses. “I feel that the parents absolutely have no right to tamper with their children’s bodies, she says. If I had a daughter, I would have not done it for her.”