“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