Khatna has been given a bad name, say Bohra women from around the world

Well-educated women from different countries say they experienced no trauma or pain when undergoing the procedure

April 26, 2017 01:22 am | Updated 01:22 am IST

Mumbai: The arrest of Detroit-based emergency room physician Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and two others in connection with female genital mutilation (FGM) of two minor girls in the United States has once again put international focus on the religious practice followed by the close-knit Dawoodi Bohra community, known for its affluence and literacy.

Known as khatna or khafd within the community, the procedure is termed as a violation of human rights as well as child rights by the World Health Organisation. But the followers of the practice term it as female circumcision, and feel that the anti- khatna lobby has given it a “nasty” portrayal.

When The Hindu spoke to well-educated and well-placed Bohra women from across the world, who had gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for the inauguration of an Arabic academy by their religious leader Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, each one echoed the same sentiment.

Dr Nagarwala, too, was on her way to Kenya to attend the same event and to meet her daughter who lives there when she was arrested in Detroit. This is the first such arrest under the law that makes FGM illegal in the United States.

“It is a religious practice for us. But the way it has been portrayed is extremely nasty. I am a Muslim and I follow Shariat, and I feel there is nothing wrong with the practice of female circumcision,” said a 35-year-old Dubai-based businesswoman who was cut at the age of seven-and-a-half. “I have no traumatic memory of the day. I recall wearing my favourite purple dress. My mother told me that we were going to my grandmother’s house to play a game,” she says.

Her 11-year-old daughter, too, underwent the procedure at the age of seven. “My daughter was well aware about the circumcision through her peers in the community, and happily underwent it. There was no trauma attached to it whatsoever,” she said, adding that Dr. Nagarwala’s arrest was extremely unfortunate. “The procedure is extremely minor. I wonder if they are questioning the practice or the procedure,” she says.

Khatna involves cutting the part of the clitoral hood or the prepuce of minor girls that helps protect the clitoral glans. Activists believe that the practice is meant to suppress the sexual urge of a woman, or to even make the experience painful for her. But a 50-year-old U.K.-based English teacher said, “There is simply a tiny slit on the prepuce, which helps expose the clitoris more. Because of this, the sexual pleasure and arousal is much more.”

The woman’s daughter and granddaughter based in the U.S., where FGM was made illegal in 1996, have undergone the procedure too. “The mutilation that everyone talks about is common among African tribes. But in Dawoodi Bohras, the procedure is meant to facilitate stimulation of the clitoris,” she said.

According to her, most women refrain from talking about it because of the sexual component involved in it. “I have experienced orgasm. Women who think they have a problematic sex life because of the circumcision should go see a doctor instead of blaming the practice. “I have only sweet memories attached to the day when I was taken for the procedure. My mother and I bonded, the same way my daughter and I did when she was circumcised,” she said, questioning the veracity of the few women who are “pointing fingers at the 1,400-year-old practice”.

“They lack the knowledge of sexual function. What they need is a therapist,” she added.

The teacher said that “taking the germs out” or “going to play a game” are sweet stories told to girls, and there is nothing wrong in it.

A 50-year-old woman from Karachi, a teacher in a renowned university, said she had no memory of pain when she underwent the procedure years ago. Her 20-year-old daughter was cut by a nurse at her home. “We are a very transparent family. Me and my daughter watch a lot of Youtube videos and read what people have to say against the practice. And amidst this crisis, we feel glad that we had the procedure done much earlier,” she said.

The women refrained from being named because FGM is illegal in many countries.

Anti- khatna activists, however, say that the practice is nothing but violation.

“For me, it is no different than child sexual abuse,” says Insia Dariwala, co-founder of Sahiyo, an organisation that is working towards ending the practice of khatna .

Ms. Dariwala says a strong FGM law needs be incorporated within the already existing Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act in India. “Any practice, religious or otherwise, if it causes physical or mental trauma to an innocent child, should be discontinued,” she said.


Dr. Jumana Nagarwala : Emergency room physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, who allegedly performed the FGM procedure

Dr. Fakhruddin Attar : Ran the Burhani Medical Centre in Livonia, Michigan. The premises were allegedly used by Dr. Nagarwala to perform the procedure

Farida Attar : Wife of Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, who allegedly assisted Dr. Nagarwala while performing the procedures

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