Waging a legal battle to ban FGM

A lawyer speaks on what prompted her to take up the issue in the apex court

May 11, 2017 12:27 am | Updated 12:27 am IST

Sunita Tiwari is a 53-year-old advocate based in Delhi who has filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in India. On Monday, the Supreme Court after hearing Ms. Tiwari’s petition, sought a response on the issue from four States — Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat — and four Ministries: Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, Law and Justice and Human Resource Development.

While there has been strong opposition from individuals against FGM — known as khatna or khafd, which is practised by the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims — there has been no word yet on the issue from lawmakers and State governments. In an interview with The Hindu, Ms. Tiwari speaks about what prompted her to take up the issue in court and the outcome she hopes to achieve.

Why did you take up the issue of FGM?

Last year, I came across a full page article in a national daily on the practice of female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community. Honestly, till then, I was under the impression that the practice was not predominant in India. That article was an eye-opener; it shocked me. That’s when I began reading all the material available on the issue. I came across several blogs and online petitions started by victims against the continuation of this practice. I also watched a documentary, A pinch of skin, by Priya Goswami. It was also a matter of personal interest as I work closely on child rights and human rights issues.

When did you decide to take the legal route?

I was hopeful that one of the women or one of the groups spearheading the anti- khatna campaigns would knock at the doors of the courts. Unfortunately, no one did for a long time. Then I decided to study the legal aspects of the issue and make a plea in the court.

Did you meet victims and campaigners?

I got in touch with a few women who have been actively campaigning against the practice and requested them to become co-petitioners. They could have helped me gather more information on the issue, but I did not hear from them.

What is your understanding of FGM?

Many countries have banned the practice. The United Nations General Assembly has also passed a resolution banning it. But khatna continues to be practised in the name of religion in India. I am not against any religion or religious activity, but I believe no religion allows for a child to be tortured. To sum it up, I feel that it is a violation of child rights and human rights.

What have you sought through the PIL?

I have petitioned to ban khatna throughout the country and frame a law that imposes punitive measures on those who perpetrate the practice. The offence should be made cognisable, non-compoundable, and non-bailable. Offenders should get maximum punishment and penalty.

The police should be empowered to arrest the guilty without a warrant. Till such a law is in place, the Director General of Police in each State should be directed to prosecute offenders.

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