‘Declare India country with FGM prevalence’

As many as 30 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 put up by the group called ‘Speak Out on FGM’ on Thursday states that due to the secrecy around it, the act is ignored by the government and there is no data on FGM from India.

‘Practice continues’

“We have been raising our voices for long but the practice continues. There has been barely any change on the ground level as the government has not responded to our pleas in any way. If the U.N. stands with us, the government will automatically take note,” said Masooma Ranalvi, a 50-year-old publisher from Delhi and a member of Speak Out on FGM. “Many African countries have stopped the practice after U.N. intervention. We hope to have the similar change in our country,” she added.

The World Health Organization defines FGM or 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. Termed as khatna or khafz in India, it is commonly practised among the two million strong Dawoodi Bohra community.

“For hundreds of years, this practice is being continued under a shroud of secrecy and silence. No one outside of the Bohra community even knew of its existence. Even today young Bohra girls aged 7 or even younger sometimes are taken secretly and subjected to FGM/C,” the petition states.

“At least 80 per cent of the Bohra girls are subjected to this act of violence. Unless the government stands behind us, the brutal act will continue,” said Ms Ranalvi, who was subjected to FGM at a very young age.

But she ensured that her daughter, 22, was not put under the knife.

Since the group of like-minded women got together in 2015 under ‘Speak Out on FGM,’ they have taken up several campaigns to reach out to the community.

They started with the very first petition which was named after their group that received 80,000 signatures.

Another campaign called ‘Not My Daughter’ started in April this year had over 150 Bohra mothers and fathers pledging that they will not put their daughter through the suffering.

A recent campaign called ‘Éach One Reach One,’ along with another group called Sahiyo, aimed at reaching 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 its religious head Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin.

‘Extremely uncouth’

“I feel that the parents have absolutely no right to tamper with their children's body. Male circumcision is a common practice but there is some evidence to show its medical benefit. 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,” said Ahmedabad based gynecologist Sheroo Zamindar who was cut at an early age.

“I still can’t forget that dark dingy room where I and my sister were taken,” said Dr Zamindar adding that the procedure is carried out in an extremely uncouth manner and in an non-sterile environment. “If I had a daughter, I would have not done it for her,” she said adding that many of her patients approach her to cut their daughters but she refuses.

The WHO also emphasises that the procedure has no health benefits for women. In India, the commonly practised form of cutting is clitoridectomy that involves partial removal of the clitoris, specifically the clitoral hood that is made of erectile tissue and protects the glans.

Bohra women fighting against the practice say that clitoral unhooding is also a form of genital cutting and violation of human rights.

“If we are declared as a FGM state by the U.N., there will be focus on our country,” said Dr. Zamindar.

Group of Dawoodi Bohra women

petition U.N. to draw attention to female genital mutilation