Female Genital Cutting in India: Women and Men Come Together to Share Their Stories of Khatna
Female Genital Cutting (FGC) – a term that isn't very familiar for Indians but should be. When we read about it, we disregard it as the problem of a land far away, that it's something for Africa to deal with. What we don't realise is that FGC exists in India too, even in 2016 when women's rights are spoken about more than ever before.
Hidden away from the eyes of the world, the Dawoodi Bohra community in India practises female circumcision. But women, and men, from the community are now speaking out against this practice, known as khatna in India.
Now, Love Matters India and Sahiyo, an NGO working towards the end of khatna, have come together to demand the end of this painful practice in a video documenting the stories of those who have suffered khatna and those who have seen their loved ones go through this. The makers of the video have said that they will be collaborating with other international organisations to petition the United Nations urging them to include Type 1 FGC, the kind practised in the Dawoodi Bohra community, in their research on Female Genital Mutilation across the world. According to the makers of the video, Type 1 FGC, which is the least severe but equally damaging, is ignored. The World Health Organisation classifies Type 1 FGC as “partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).”
Titled A Small Nick or Cut, they say..., the video highlights the pain and trauma of women who have gone through khatna, and the importance to bring the conversation about the subject into the mainstream.
The writer and director of the short film, Priya Goswami, says that this is her third film on the subject. “When I shot my first film, A Pinch of Skin, no one was willing to reveal their identities and speak up. This is why this video is a huge leap from then.”
Aarefa Johari, journalist and co-founder of Sahiyo, says, “I was seven, so my memories of that day are quite hazy. I don’t remember the excuse I’d been given when my mother took me to visit Bhendi Bazaar. I remember we knocked on an unfamiliar door and a few minutes later, I was on the floor of a strange lady’s house, my underwear taken off and my frock raised, with no idea what was going on. The only preparation I received was my mother saying things like “Don’t worry, this will only hurt a little bit” and “This will be over in a minute” just before the lady brought the blade between my legs. Someone was holding me down and I was scared. She cut something down there, it hurt and I cried. I don’t remember blood, but I have vague memories of being afraid to urinate for the rest of that day. A few days later, I forgot all about the incident.”
Saleha Paatwala, a journalist and the opening voice of the video, told Vagabomb, “I was seven years old when I was taken to an unfamiliar place by my grandmother to cut me. Soon, after I was cut, I asked my grandmother why it was done. She consoled me by saying, 'You have now become pious.'”
None of the women who are made to go through FGC ever forget what happened to them. Saleha says, “I remember that building, the tall ladies who joined my grandmother and one of who held my legs. I remember that dark room where I was cut by one of them. I remember the pain and I remember them giggling and saying, 'Congratulations, she has now been circumcised.'”
Saleha's father, Abbas Ali Paatwala, has also voiced his opposition to khatna in the video.
For far too long, women have fallen prey to practices that have no basis in science or religion. And far too often, they're the ones who bear the burden of tradition from an early age. So while you may still try to comfort yourself by thinking that it doesn't happen around you, please remember that somewhere in India, a child is being forced to go through the pain of genital cutting.