Bohra Women Give Gut-Wrenching Accounts of Genital Mutilation
“Nose prick,” “pinch,” “injection,” “prick of a needle,” “nick,” “hard pinch,” “ant bite,” “injection,” “piercing pain…” “pain.”
These were the various words used by the women surveyed in a report published on the eve of International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February. These are women who claim to have undergone ‘khafd’, female genital mutilation/circumcision (FMG/C) according to Islamic customs.
The study comes just weeks after the Ministry of Women and Child Development – in response to an inquiry by the Supreme Court (in a PIL filed on FGM/C) – said that “there is no official data or study which supports the existence of FGM/C in India”. The study aims to counter that claim.
Significantly titled The Clitoral Hood: A Contested Site, this study was conducted by WeSpeakOut, the largest survivor-led movement to end FGM/C among Dawoodi Bohra Muslim women.
“Two Women Held Me... And Closed My Eyes”
‘Khafd’ is the procedure of cutting the clitoris and/or the clitoral hood, and is usually performed on a girl when she is seven years old. Remembering the ritual still has a strong impact on Sana, who is 49 years old now.
Two women held me... and they closed my eyes so that I could not see what was happening... I had never been touched in that place before... I still get shivers down my spine when I recall that [laughs nervously].Sana, a 49-year-old woman, circumcised at age 7
Rubina, 38, is an Alvi Bohra women. She went through khafd as a child but doesn’t recall it as a particularly painful experience.
They held me down and I was wondering ‘what are they doing to me?’ If I asked, I was told they were doing nothing and was asked to keep calm and quiet and let them do their job. They finished their job and put some red ointment on me so that I have no pain. They showed me the portion of my skin they had cut off. They kept it in a bowl. I do remember crying a little when they cut me and I felt a little pain, but because they had distracted me I didn’t realise or feel much of it.Rubina, 38-year-old woman
On the other hand, Jumana, who is now 26, remembers ‘khafd’ as the most painful and anxiety filled moment of her life.
There was this lady, she was a middle-aged woman. She was wearing a pink Ridah when it happened. I was made to sit on my great grandmother’s bed. First, she cleaned the area with cotton, but she was doing it so hard I felt that that was the Khatna itself. And I kept wondering when would it get over and I kept asking my mother is it over? Is it over? Mom said ‘no she is only just cleaning it with a cotton swab.’ After that the cut happened. And it was the most painful thing I ever remember in my life. And then after that I don’t know why but I felt like peeing. I remember this... it was done with a blade. I would like to believe it was sterilised. I don’t know whether it was or it wasn’t. Then I was sitting on the toilet seat and it was burning and mummy had given me some ice to put. But I just could not pee. I don’t know if it happened immediately or it happened a few hours later. But I know that it was very, very, very, painful. There was blood, but not much of bleeding. It was like a wound on your genitals.Jumana, 26-year-old woman
What Does the Study Show?
In the course of the year-long survey, these are just a few of the voices that spoke out in angst against the practice of genital mutilation. The study included responses from 94 participants – of which 83 were women and 11 were men. The participants belonged to four countries – India, Canada, UAE and USA – of which the Indian participants were from five states in India: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Kerala.
The report was also the first of its kind to document the sexual impact of partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or clitoral hood.
Some of the key findings of the report are:
- 75 percent of girls (aged 7 and above) were subjected to FGM/C
- ‘Khafd’ or FGM/C was remembered as a painful experience by 97% of women in the study
- Many respondents reported experiencing shame, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem and difficulty in trusting people
- Almost 33% of women in the study believe that FGM/C has negatively impacted their sexual life
The report, in the spirit of full disclosure, has also included the rather exhaustive questionnaire that it had framed for its 94 participants.
Masooma Ranalvi, founder of WeSpeakOut, hopes that the study will help bring positive change in India.
This extremely vital and ground-breaking research shares irrefutable evidence of FGM/C in India. It provides insights into the nature of the practice and, for the first time, recounts the experiences of damage and harm inflicted upon women and children. The report goes beyond documenting survivors’ stories of trauma and outlines clear-cut suggestions and prescriptions to prevent this grievous human rights abuse. I sincerely hope that this report will accelerate our movement towards the elimination of FGM/C from the country.