Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is formally defined as the intentional, non-therapeutic physical modification of female genitalia. In lay terms, it means cutting a part of the clitoris. In real-life terms it means young girl children aged 6-8 are beguiled with a lure of candy or some other promise into an unknown place where another woman, in a most crude and unhygienic manner cuts a part of the clit with a razor or blade, without anaesthesia.
This is what happened to me when I was a seven-year-old. The horror and trauma of it has stayed with me till date, 40 years after the incident.
This horrific cultural practice is perpetrated till this date in India. And like me, there are thousands of my Dawoodi Bohra sisters who have been subjected to genital mutilation as children. Even today thousands of Bohra girl children are being subjected to this practice. I belong to the Dawoodi Bohra community which is a Shia Ismaili Sect, headquartered in India. With a 1+ million strong community, we have let the practice of FGM thrive within us.
The Dawoodi Bohras are amongst the most educated in India, yet we are also the only Muslim community in India to practice FGM. The practice has got nothing to do with religion, and is more of a cultural practice. The very basis of FGM is rooted in patriarchy. It stems from the belief that female sexuality is destructive to patriarchal order.
Hence they have to be controlled and their bodies be tampered with much against nature and God. Women, according to this belief, are not allowed to love, they have no right over their bodies; they have no right to enjoy sex, and are considered a source of temptation.
According to the UNICEF, FGM has no health benefits. In fact, it harms girls and women in multiple ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue which interferes with the natural functions of our bodies. It often leads to pain, shock, tetanus, genital sores, excessive bleeding, etc. It also has a long-lasting psychological impact on the victims, ranging from sexual disorders, fear of sexual intimacy, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution on the elimination of FGM. The resolution states:
Countries to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilations, and to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, awareness-raising and allocating sufficient resources to protect women and girls from this form of violence. It calls for special attention to protect and support women and girls who have been subjected to female genital mutilations, and those at risk, including refugee women and women migrants.
Across the world, FGM is being outlawed. Nigeria and Gambia recently made FGM illegal after women came together, campaigned and raised their voice. FGM is banned in over 20 countries in Africa itself.
In India no such law exists.
A few months ago, a group of concerned, conscious and empowered Bohra women came together to create a platform: Speak out on FGM.
This was a spontaneous coming together of women from Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Nagpur, Udaipur, Delhi, Australia, US, UK, Toronto… some of who have been subjected to the practice of FGM, to talk about their experiences, to share their individual battles – battles they have engaged in with their families and community elders. A coming together of the idea to be involved in an outreach program within the community to end this practice.
As part of this outreach, Speak out on FGM has started a signature petition to garner support on their demand for an end to FGM in India, and appeal to the government to make a law that will ban this practice.
For the first time in the history of this community, 17 Bohra women have put their names and signatures on the petition. Most of the women on the petition have themselves been subjected to this practice, while some have been lucky enough to escape the knife. Many of my sisters from Speak out on FGM have not put their names on it in fear persecution.
We need your support, and appeal to you to sign this petition if you agree with our demands.
(The author is a women’s rights activist)