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In Historic Protest, 17 Women Fight against Female Genital Mutilation in India

While reading about female genital mutilation, most people picture an impoverished African country where such a heinous practice could only be carried out in cut-off, uneducated tribal areas, far away from “civilisation.” Never do we think that little girls go through this torture much closer to home, in India. But it is a reality for women of the predominantly Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community in Gujarat and Mumbai. The practice entails circumcision with a razor blade, without anaesthesia and is done on girls before they turn five.

Now, for the first time, 17 women are making history by protesting against the practice, bringing it into the spotlight and demanding a law against female genital mutilation, termed as a human rights violation by the World Health Organisation and outlawed in many African countries. The women, who have been victims of genital cutting, called “Khatna” in India, have received over 4,300 signatures since the petition was started on December 1st.

Dawoodi Bohra women during a mass wedding ceremony | Source: homegrown

Speaking to Scroll , the first signatory of the letter and founder of Speak Out on FGM, Masooma Ranalvi says, “It is historic that 16 Dawoodi Bohra women who have all been subjected to FGM have signed the petition openly.” She also spoke about the risks the women are facing by revealing their identities on a petition that challenges rituals entrenched in the Dawoodi Bohra community. “Because this is a very educated, middle-class community, people think nothing goes wrong. But this is a closely knit community over which the clergy has a tight control. A lot of women want to speak out, but they don't want to be identified because of fear of persecution.”

The petition details a very painful experience in the life of a woman who went through unspeakable torture at a very young age.

At the age of seven, I was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Mumbai, in a most unhygienic and clandestine manner. The shock and trauma of that day are still with me.

Like me, there are thousands of my Dawoodi Bohra sisters who have been subjected to genital cutting as children and even today thousands of Bohra girls are being subjected to this practice, since it has been ordained by the clergy of our community.

A few months ago, women like me got together under the forum - ‘Speak out on FGM’ - to begin a conversation on this extremely secretive ritual which has caused physical and psychological damage to each of us in some way or the other.

We the undersigned women, who have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also known as ‘Khatna’ belong to the Dawoodi Bohra community which has its major adherents in India.

The practice of FGM is done surreptiously and in a clandestine manner to all the girl children in our community, without any consent whatsoever. The alleged reason for this tradition is to curb the sexual drive of women and control them.

The Dawoodi Bohras are amongst the most educated in India, yet we are also the only Muslim community in India to practice FGM. The practice has nothing to do with religion and is more of a cultural practice.

Most of us are too scared to speak out publicly. We fear ostracization, social boycott and exclusion of our families from the rest of the community by our religious clergy if we object to the continuation of this practice.

FGM has no health benefits, in fact it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies. FGM is often done without anaesthesia, without medical supervision and sometimes the procedure goes horribly wrong.

It often leads to pain, shock, tetanus, genital sores, excessive bleeding, etc. It also has long-lasting psychological impact on the victims, ranging from sexual disorders, fear of sexual intimacy, nightmares and post traumatic stress disorder.

In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution on the elimination of FGM. Across the world FGM is being outlawed in many countries. Nigeria and Gambia recently made FGM illegal after women came together, campaigned and raised their voice. FGM is banned in over 20 countries in Africa itself.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. According to WHO, FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.

In Australia, three Dawoodi Bohras were held guilty of FGM recently by the Supreme Court of New Wales, Australia. The case was closely watched by the Dawoodi Bohra community in India.

We urge the Government to pass a law banning this practice in India, such that anyone found involved in aiding, abetting and perpetrating this practice should be punished. Pressure of this law and fear of punishment will be the best way to put a stop to this cruel practice.

I along with my Dawoodi Bohra sisters want to raise our voice against FGM in India and put an end to this. You can support us by signing this petition.

This is not the first time that women of the Dawoodi Bohra community have tried to end female genital mutilation. A similar petition was started in 2011 appealing to the Bohra High Priest to stop the practice of cutting young girls. In reply, Dr Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin's spokesperson said , “I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument.” However, Dawoodi Bohra women campaigning against female genital mutilation argue that the practice has no basis in Islam.

Women have been subjected to torture in the name of custom and religion for far too long, and it is time to recognise that they too deserve to be treated like human beings.

Click here to sign the petition and make a difference to the lives of Dawoodi Bohra women trapped in a tradition of torture.

Featured Image Source: scroll.in
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