By Theertha Raj
A group of women from the Dawoodi Bohra community filed a petition to the UN on 8th December demanding that India be recognised as a country which practises female genital mutilation (FGM). Several of these women are first-hand victims of FGM, and had previously submitted an 83,000 strong petition last year to the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, which appealed for action to end the practice. WHO guidelines on FGM and the 2016 UNICEF report focus on the prevalence of FGM in African countries. but do not address the presence of FGM as a clandestine custom in many Middle-Eastern and Asian communities. The current petition, filed by the group Speak Out on FGM during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, is an attempt to expose the pervasiveness of the practice in India.
The petition, which was organised in association with Sahiyo, a Mumbai-based organisation that has been campaigning fiercely to end female genital cutting (FGC), mentions that FGM and FMC have been largely ignored by Indian authorities due to the secrecy involved in the procedure and the resulting lack of documentation. The ritual is widely prevalent in the 2 million strong Bohra community, and falls under Type 1 FGM according to WHO classifications, which describe a partial or complete removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy). Called ‘khatna’ or ‘khafz’ locally, it is often conducted in non-sterile environments with no medical supervision, anaesthesia, or pain killers. Bohra girls as young as seven years are subject to this practice, carried out with the idea of reducing libido, due to a perception of the clitoris as “a source of sin” which could cause women to stray from their marriages.
The campaigners faced a major setback earlier this year in April, when the spiritual head of the Bohras, Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin, defended the practice, saying that it was essential. But since then, people associated with the struggle against FGM have spoken up. According to Mansooma Ranalvi, a publisher in Delhi and a member of the Speak Out on FGM group, “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.” Dr. Zamindar, an Ahmedabad-based gynaecologist recalled that many parents had asked her to cut their daughters, but she vehemently refused.
Let’s hope the new petition makes some headway towards preventing female circumcision. It can be found here.