Fighting Female Genital Mutilation in India

“When I was around 7 my grandmother took me on an outing. We went to a dingy building. The women there told me to take my panties off. Then all the women, including my grandmother, pinned my arms and legs down. One of the women took a blade and began cutting me down there. I screamed in terror and pain”.

It was accounts like these that has spurred a Mumbai based woman to start an online petition seeking to put an end to female genital mutilation. A ritual not many people are aware is observed in India.

Tasleem, who describes herself as an educated woman in her 40’s, is from the Dawoodi Bohra community where the practice, called khatna, is a rite of passage. She plans to forward her petition to the community high priest Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, asking him to put an end to it.

Tasleem declined to meet or even speak on the phone as she fears exposure. In a detailed email interview she explains what pushed her to speak out.  The Dawoodi Bohra community, while highly educated, is strongly conservative, and her step is a bold one. Tasleem says she was not circumcised, but the stories she heard made her “boiling mad”.

Khatna involves removing the clitoral hood, and in some cases, the entire clitoris. Today, it’s mostly done after birth, when the baby is four days old by community doctors. “The idea behind this is to curb her sexual pleasure. The belief is that otherwise the girl will go astray” says reformist Bohra scholar Dr Asghar Ali Engineer. “Unlike the male circumcision ritual which is celebrated, this is done in a hush-hush manner,” explains Dr Engineer.  There are some who have resisted, but they are a tiny minority. Nasreen (name changed) refused to let her 14 year old be circumcised.  “We are seen as an educated community, but the truth is our girls are put through such barbaric rituals even today”, she says.

The petition which is acquiring growing online support has sparked off a debate within the 10 lakh strong Dawoodi Bohra community, spread across the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat.  The practice has huge support from many who say FGM is mandatory under the Bohra Sharia (law).  A notion noted Islamic scholars like Dr Zeenat Shaukat Ali question. “Nowhere in the Koran or the teachings of the Prophet is the act shown to be legal. This is completely unIslamic. Bohra Shariat also springs from the Koran. The prevalence shows the pre-dominance of patriarchy. Traditions like these which are anti-women have to be questioned,” says Dr Ali.

According to the World Health Organization, globally, nearly 150 million girls and women have undergone FGM.  More than 3 million girls are at risk in Africa alone. Apart from Africa, it is practiced in a few countries in Asia and the Middle East. Seventeen countries have laws specifically banning FGM.

The harmful impact of FGM has been widely acknowledged. The WHO says FGM can lead to haemorrhage, tetanus and open sores. Long term consequences include infertility, risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

To learn more about Tasleem’s campaign click on

http://www.change.org/petitions/hh-dr-syedna-ban-female-circumcision-ladkiyon-par-khatna

29 thoughts on “Fighting Female Genital Mutilation in India

    • I am against this mean act and ready to do any thing to prevent this. The indian parlament should make law to stop this practice. My deep condolences to all sisters who underwent this cruel act with out their concent espicially Africans. Certainly this is not religious. If any religion says to change their bodies then we need not follow that religion.

  1. Thank you Shai Venkatraman for creating this blog. I am one of the signatory’s to Tasleem’s petition and hope we can save our little girls from this horrendous, insensitive and cruel practice. Being a victim myself, and written on this issue anonymously 4 years ago, I wonder how people like Tasleem and myself can bring a change if we choose to remain anonymous.

    • Hassena, If the media keeps gicing publicity to the issue, it will help in ending this menace. FIrst of all, most unmarried men dont even know this is happening, second they do not know it is not mndatory. And third they will realize its terrible consequences. please do email me. We will work on this together.

      • Hi, I think it’s great women like you are finally speaking out. I think you should start a campaign on Twitter and FB to spread awareness among Bohra women so they start to fight back in their homes. That will help end this cruelty

  2. That’s a great idea Shai. Tasleem and I will work on this and take this forward. I have many friends and family who are willing to participate in a campaign.

  3. Lovely Shai. It’s shocking, never knew this happened in India, had only read about it being done in Africa. How horrible for the women! A Facebook/Twitter campaign would best help spread awareness about this practice – at least for a lot of young adults, given that most are internet-savvy. Forums or posts like these could also help women anonymously talk about these issues

  4. Tis is exactly what I have spun in my book … We barely know what goes on beyond the days dedicated to women n children. Conferences in Feb about awareness against mutilation and then after the day is over again back to the crude reality …. We bask in the glory that we are spreading awareness … But are we talking enough and making and attempt to know more. I hope my book creates that ripple … A Calendar Too Crowded

  5. As a single unmarried person I was not aware of this abominable practice in India.
    All parents should ensure it does not happen and I am glad there is effort by Good People to educate the masses.

  6. FGM awareness is a step closer to bringing it to its end. People are still unaware that this practice occurs and the perpetrators who perpetuate this practice know this is wrong otherwise why the cloak and dagger behaviour?

    FGM is not only traumatic for the women who have had this done to them but from personal experience it brings no contentment to a man who will never know if he has made that woman happy.

  7. Information and awareness are the most empowering tools that can be given to a person today. I salute all the people who are spreading awareness and working to end this barbaric ritual and violation of the dignity of women the world over.

  8. I am glad that this has been out in the open no one ever dared to even talk in Bohra community family friends no one. hush___forbidden. For a seven year old girl life moves on after FGM but with inhibitions… thankyou outlook, I am one of the victims.tasleem Thank u and all who support FGM

  9. Kudos to all you brave women who are expressing this hushed up practice. I am 68 years old and still feel the pain & humiliation of that horrific day when I was 7 and khatna was done to me.
    I am with you all, ready for whatever it takes to stop this chauvanistic barbarism.
    Ashrafa

  10. Ive read about this happening in Africa, but also not completey surprised that this prevails in India. I am against any kind of mutilation of such kind on the human body be it male or female which is God given..

    To be honest, superstitions and blind faith will never be completely wiped away.

  11. It is very important that Bohri women be educated about the futility of this heinous practice. As in all spheres of life, women empowerment is the crux.

  12. Hi all,

    Shai Venkatraman, thank you so much for starting this blog and for asking me to post my comments on it.

    This is great that people are writing about FGC and that awareness is spreading. I am definitely on board with ending the practice as I greatly believe it is a violation of human rights and against the UN convention of elimination of discrimination again women. And when it happened to me — I remember the pain of going through it at 7. My only concern is some of the arguments being used to fight against it — I feel that with the Dawoodi Bohras many women who really believe in continuing the practice will not resonate with that argument that it is a human rights violation or that it is a cruel practice. Some beliefs within the Bohras is that it actually increases your sexual desire. I’ve also spoken to many women who have only had a small piece of the clitoral hood cut off and who have visited gynecologist as adults (me included) and been told that nothing was out of the ordinary. I know that the extent of FGC that has occurred on women varies from person to person and from who their practitioner is.

    The online petition against it is a great way to bring awareness and momentum to the movement and I think that urging Dr. Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin to ban the practice will have a huge impact on it ending. It’s just because this is a practice that is often continued on women by women and that people really believe this is culturally important…not acknowledging that the practice has a religious significance to the population could do more harm. I know it is a practice that has ancient roots and is not considered an islamic practice, but if people believe it is a religious practice — then I think it is fair to say it is a religious practice.

    Also the arguments about the harmful health effects — most of those stats pertain to Type II & III. I am a social worker and in graduate school, I conducted a research project on FGC among the Dawoodi Bohras to learn more about rationale for why it was continuing in the United States – a country where it is illegal. I remember interviewing women for my thesis and the ones who would continue it (educated women also) they felt there were no harmful physical effects. (This may pertain more to more western places where it is practiced like the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, etc — where it seems that doctors within the community are now performing it for the most part. There just isn’t real research out there about physical effects caused by khatna. Emotionally and mentally, I think we can all agree there are effects and that might be worth showcasing more in the fight against FGC. I am sure some woman have experienced physical effects as well and perhaps with more awareness being made on khatna or Type 1 FGC in India, future research will be conducted that can help strengthen the fight against it.

    I really want to build on this momentum. Just wanted to play devil’s advocate and state what I think some of the challenges are going to be in ending the practice among the dawoodi bohras and perhaps think about way to counter those arguments.

    Anyways, those are my two cents. I am tremendously encourage by the response that has been generated so far on this issue and I hope we can build on the momentum. I just feel that labeling something barbaric without truly understand why people continue it (even if we don’t agree with the practice and trust me I don’t) — it can do more harm than good.

    • Mariya: you are right that the degree of mutilation varies and so does its effects. I almost cried about women who still feel pain while urinating and mensturuating. And some seem to have got off lightly with a prick. But the fact remains that it is a misogynist ritual – carried forward by women themselves. And if doctors are in the act, it is getting medical validation. which is very scary.
      I keep stressing on Afircan because people think all good Muslims have to do this. SO delinking it from religion seems to help convince them. please drop me a mail and stay in touch! stopfgm@gmail.com

  13. I knew about it but not in greater detail.reading this makes you really angry.I just felt the pain with in me .Tasleem you are really brave.was just wondering how to work with our women from the slums on this issue.

  14. Dear Shai, I was directed to this post by Farahnaz. After having read her post on this issue and then what you have written, I am better informed about this practice. Thanks and congratulations for this effort!

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