interview | Samina Kaanchwala, Masooma Ranalvi Mumbai

Khafz: circumcision or FGM?

A large group of Indian women are fighting against khafz, a Dawoodi Bohra religious practice involving a tiny cut on the prepuce of girls as young as seven years. While they term it as a form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), another group from the community has challenged this belief, stating that khafz is female circumcision and not FGM. As February 6 is observed as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, The Hindu speaks to women on the two extremes. Edited excerpts:

Speaking for the practice: Samina Kaanchwala, secretary of Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom.

What is the difference between Khafz and FGM?

Khafz, as practiced by the Dawoodi Bohras, is very different from FGM. We have been practicing khafz for the last 1,400 years and it is a harmless religious practice. Unlike FGM, it involves a nick on the prepuce. Female circumcision is in fact far less invasive than male circumcision. During khafz, the clitoris is not touched at all, and in fact, great care is taken by trained practitioners to ensure safety at all levels.

But most testimonies state that the procedure is carried out by untrained cutters within the community.

There might have been reports of persons having undergone khafz by untrained cutters about 30-40 years ago. The procedure has been completely medicalised and is being performed only by trained medical practitioners in a sanitised clinic, thus ensuring maximum safety of the child. In our interactions with women, we found that there was no issue with the way khafz was being performed, be it by a traditional practitioner or a medical one.

What do you mean by a medicalised procedure?

We are in process of identifying certified midwives, nurses, and doctors who are willing to perform the procedure. We already have a few people on board. These professionals will undergo training as well. Additionally, we have drafted Standard Operation Procedures, which are being circulated. We are looking at hygienic conditions, sterilised equipment and use of a local anaesthetic agent while performing khafz.

Speaking against: Masooma Ranalvi, convener of WeSpeakOut, a survivor-led group.

Speaking for: Samina Kaanchwala is the secretary of Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom.

Speaking for: Samina Kaanchwala is the secretary of Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom.  


What is the difference between khafz and FGM?

Khafz is FGM. The WHO gives a unifying definition of FGM that covers the slightest nick to the most severe form of mutilation. It has been clearly defined that cutting any part of female genitals is FGM. Khafz involves cutting of the clitoral hood. What is the difference between the two then? Saying khafz is not FGM is clearly an attempt to obfuscate the main issue. This year, ending FGM’s ‘terminology barrier’ is our specific goal. Ahead of the general elections, we are also calling upon all the political leaders to take steps to end FGM’s terminology barrier, and to take a categorical stand to end the practice.

There is an increased focus on medicalisation of khafz. Does it help in any way?

Whether one is cut by a doctor, nurse or a midwife, the fact remains that a minor girl’s genitals are being tampered with. The nature of the practice is offensive, oppressive, harmful and not religious at all. The practice is simply a hangover of patriarchy, it is done to repress women sexually. Therefore, it should not exist in any way.

Do you think the practice will come to an end?

Of course. It is just a matter of time. With education, awareness and more consciousness, the practice will come to an end. This has been true for all patriarchal practices. Five years ago when we started WeSpeakOut, we did not have many supporters but today we have so many. There are many in the community itself who don’t do it anymore.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 1:47:05 PM |

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