(This article was first published on 10 December 2016. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Human Rights Day.)
In December 2014, Joice George, an independent MP from Kerala asked a question in Lok Sabha. He wanted to know if the incidence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) had been reported in the country and whether the government had taken any preventive steps to curb this practice. The answer to both these questions was that there was no official information on the incidence of FGM.
The reality is quite contrary to this official government response. A fairly large community of Bohras – numbering around 2 million – practise FGM/C.
The reason that no incident has been reported is perhaps because FGM/C happens to a child of 7, and is shrouded in complete secrecy. Its knowledge is restricted to the mother, grandmother or aunt who take the girl child for the cutting. The child is deceived to begin with, about the fact that she will be circumcised /cut. The pain and physical and emotional trauma are such that in most cases the girls never utters a word about this to anyone. That leaves us with the mother and grandmother who are the perpetrators of this act – and there is no reason they would ever report this to the government or any official for that matter.
For hundreds of years this practice was being continued under a shroud of secrecy and silence and no one outside of the Bohra community even knew of its existence.
‘Speak Out On FGM’
All this has now changed. Women from within the community have now begun to speak up. In 2011, a young lady, Tasneem, had started a petition on change.org addressed to the Bohra clergy – asking for an end to FGM in the community. This petition received over 5,000 signatures, but the Bohra clergy did not pay any heed to its plea.
Last year, in November, we – a group of Bohra women – came together under the banner of ‘Speak Out On FGM’, to collectively oppose FGM. Speak Out On FGM started another petition – this time addressed to the government – to ban FGM. Over 80,000 signatures have already been garnered. But is the government listening?
All over the world, FGM is a secretive practice and information of its incidence is never easily available. 10 December is observed by the UN as Human Rights Day. It commemorates the day on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed unanimously in 1950. It is a day to call on everyone to stand up for someone’s rights.
The United Nations has declared FGM/C a human rights violation and provides support to anti-FGM campaigners around the world. Because of this support, many African countries have banned FGM. On 18 December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution which reaffirms its call to ban FGM worldwide.
Perhaps now is the time for the United Nations and the Government of India to recognise the fact that FGM exists and is thriving in India. Perhaps now they’ll take note of this practice.
India Needs to Emulate the US, UK...
On 24 October this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that “the Muslim women also have to be protected and be given equal rights as per the Constitution of India.” He further said,
According Muslim women their rights as per the Constitution is the responsibility of the government and the people of the country. Female foeticide is a sin. So what if the sinner is a Hindu? My government has taken a number of steps (to stop this practice). Daughters, mothers, sisters should be protected. One should not consider religion. Mothers and sisters should be respected.
While all of this was said in the context of the triple talaq issue, these words have relevance in the context of FGM/C also. The human rights and constitutional rights of Bohra women cannot be allowed to be curbed.
What we are asking for is really doable without in any way affecting our religious tenets, rights, practices and traditions. There are several countries in the world like the US, the UK, France, Australia – among others – where, already, the Bohras have stopped FGM/C because they've been supported by the laws in their countries which ban FGM/C.
The same can very well be done in India and a pernicious, centuries old practice can be ended.
Please acknowledge the fact that FGM/C exists in India and ban the practice – while giving voice to the Bohra Beti Bachao campaign.
(Masooma Ranalvi is the founder of ‘Speak Out On FGM’.)