I heard about International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which falls on 6 February, for the first time in 2015. It was also the first time in my life that I acknowledged, to myself and to the world at large, that I was a victim and survivor of the practice – known to me as ‘khatna’, but to the world as FGM.
I did not feel alone, after I read about the global campaigns to end FGM. There were over 200 million women in the world, just like me. I learnt that this practice was prevalent in epic proportions across 92 countries.
It’s no more a secret or hidden practice. Studies initiated by survivor-led organisations like ‘WeSpeakOut’ provide irrefutable evidence that FGM is alive and kicking in India. There have been cases involving members of my community – the Bohras – in countries like the USA and Australia.
In India, too, the Supreme Court, is sitting on the judgment over the validity of the practice under the Constitution.
4.16 Million Young Girls at Risk
Yet, not once but twice, the government has denied the existence of FGM in India in the Parliament because of “no evidence". What an easy and deceitful way to shrug off all responsibilities instead of taking action against crimes being committed against young girls.
Here’s taking note that in 2021 alone, there are 4.16 million girls around the world who are at risk of undergoing the brutal practice. This is a cause for concern and the sole reason for us to continue and relentlessly pursue this path for social change.
In the last five years, we have built a strong, healthy, and democratic movement of women survivors of FGM from the Bohra Muslim community in India – a movement which started with just sharing our stories and learning about the practice from our own lived experiences.
‘Physically Invasive, Psychologically Damaging’
We need to acknowledge that this practice is extremely physically invasive, and it is also psychologically damaging. That there have been cases where it has caused deep-emotional damage between the daughter and the mother, as it comes to signify a deep breach of trust.
There have also been cases of physical complications because the ‘cut’ actually turned out to be much more than that. It has also affected the woman’s relationship with sex and sexual relations, hampering many a marriage.
That women have to be controlled remains a part of our psyche; that a woman and her sexuality are the main reasons of all problems in marriage remains our belief. This needs to be curbed and contained.
Catchy Slogans Aside, Why No Steps From Govt?
That survivor-led organisations like WeSpeakOut and Sahiyo gathered support and momentum. Our Change.Org petition against the practice garnered two lakh signatures of support.
Yet, in the five years, neither the Narendra Modi government nor any of the institutional bodies like the National Commission for Women or the National Human Rights Commission took any concrete steps to formally acknowledge or work towards the eradication of this practice.
Despite catchy slogans like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, much trumpeted support for Muslim women in the form of the Triple Talaq law, the Modi government has chosen silence on the FGM issue.
The International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female FGM was first instituted in 2012, by the UN General Assembly, with the aim to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice.
The UN slogan for 2021 says – “No time for global inaction.” Yet, what I see around me is nothing but inaction, silence and denial existing in India.
Threats From Religious Establishment, Family
Apart from the political inaction we face threats from the religious establishment in many subtle forms. Social boycott, which get translated into family pressure. Pressure from aunts/uncles, relatives who ask our parents/spouse to get you to shut up or else they would break ties with the family.
The threat of excommunicating you, of denying you social access, cutting you off from your near and dear ones, of economic sanctions, denial of basic human and cultural provisions like burial for the dead, loom over those who speak out.
It’s noteworthy that the women of the Bohra community have stood fast and strong despite these threats.
On this day of Zero Tolerance, we once again need to acknowledge the work of such women and to amplify our voices. We should pressurise those with political powers to stand up to the promises they make on global platforms.
A global spotlight on this day helps fledgling movements like ours to not only stand out but also shine.
(The author Masooma Ranalvi is the Co-Founder, India Lead at WeSpeakOut. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)