Growing murmurs against Female Genital Mutilation in India

Dawoodi Bohra community leader speaks up on practice

News - India & You


March 28, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

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Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting is a contentious issue that has only recently found a space in public debate in India

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting is a contentious issue that has only recently found a space in public debate in India

Female Genital Cutting, performed in the Dawoodi Bohra community in India, is being debated within and outside the community.

A leader of a faction of the Dawoodi Bohra sect, Syedna Taher Fakhruddin became among the first leaders in his community to speak on the practice of Female Genital Cutting. Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) is a practice that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other genital organs for non-medical reasons. The Dawoodi Bohra community (a Shia Muslim sect) is known to be a prosperous and wealthy one. Khatna, as the mutilation process is known, has only recently found discussion beyond closed doors. With sustained efforts and activism, community members and others are hoping to bring an end to this practice that international organisations such as WHO and UNICEF have condemned and deemed a violation of human rights.

FGM/C, as performed in the Dawoodi Bohra community, involves the removal of prepuce from the genitalia of girls in their childhood. Belonging to the ‘Type-I’ classification under the WHO’s manual on FGM/C, the act, as is the case with all types of FGM/C, has no known medical benefits, and can have a number of physical and psychological consequences. Fakhruddin, who is contesting a succession battle of his late father for the 53 Dai Ul Mutlaq’s (leader of the community) post, spoke out on the practice. Stating to local media, he said that the traditional practice is being incorrectly practices as FGM/C. He remarked, “Like our previous Syednas, the community has always given precedence to the law of the land. A woman should decide after adulthood if she wants to opt for it.” Explaining the rationale behind the practice and upholding it, Fakhruddin stated, “It is prescribed for the betterment of women. They should do what is prescribed, but no one can force them.”

The Sydena’s public statement has come after the campaign against the practice has been gaining momentum. With reports, advocacy and community members beginning to speak on the issue publicly, India is beginning to acknowledge a practice within its community that has remained a secret for decades. Outfits like Speak Out on FGM, and Sahiyo have initiated two petitions online in December 2016, urging the UN to recognise India as a country where FGM/C was still being practised. With International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation being celebrated on February 6 this year, Speak Out on FGM also appealed to community leaders to put an end to this practice.

Sahiyo launched a report on the practice of FGM/C in the Dawoodi Bohra community last year. It stated in its report that 80 pc of the 385 participants reported to have undergone the procedure as children, with 66 pc of them only 6-7 years old at the time. 82 pc of the women asserted on not wanting to continue Khatna on their daughters, and 81 pc expressed not being okay with Khatna continuing in the community. “These results suggest that though FGC is considered a widespread practice in the Dawoodi Bohra community; trends towards abandonment of the practice have perhaps begun,” states the report. However, as the report also outlines, the reasons and justifications for the practice remains varied and understanding or challenging the same is a long drawn process.

Human rights above all

Khatna, as stated by the Sahiyo report, includes potential long-term physical and psychological effects, with infections, pain during intercourse, an affect on one’s sense of identity and self-image and severe psychological trauma such as anger, PTSD and depression. However, even as the practice has no medical benefit, it is continued. In Sahiyo’s report, reasons for the procedure included religious purposes and maintaining traditions and customs. An inter-agency report, titled ‘Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation’, also states, “Communities that practise female genital mutilation report a variety of social and religious reasons for continuing with it. Seen from a human rights perspective, the practice reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. Female genital mutilation is nearly always carried out on minors and is therefore a violation of the rights of the child.”

An infographic by the UN advises on FGM/C

An infographic by the UN advises on FGM/C

UNICEF estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women in the world have undergone such procedures, and 3 million girls are at risk every year. Known to be prevalent in certain regions of Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East and migrant communities in North America and Europe, FGM/C has also become a focus of Sustainable Development Goal 5 – gender quality, with the United Nations aiming to eradicate it by 2030. Even as India is only now waking up to the existence of FGM/C in certain communities, those affected and in solidarity are making a strong effort to end this practice.

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