Hope for an End to FGM: UK, Australia Ban the Barbaric Practice
Female genital mutilation exists in India. The time has come for India to have strong anti-FGM laws.
A small but confident group of Bohra women have been working steadfastly within and outside their community to bring to centerstage the issue of Female Genital Mutilation – also known as female circumcision or khatna – that is being secretly practiced among their people. The practice involves cutting part of a seven-year-old girl child’s clitoris.
The last few days have given this womens’ collective lots of reasons to cheer. Three decrees issued recently by Jamaats of Sydney, Melbourne and UK have asked Bohras to stop practising brutal FGM.
Citing the teachings of Prophet – Hubbul watan minal imaan (love for the land of abode is part of faith) – the decree issued by the recognised Jamaat leaders (appointed by His Holiness the Syedna) asks all Bohras to obey and observe the sanctity of the laws.
The Supreme Court of NSW also ruled that khafd (also known as khatna) is illegal whether it is carried out within any of the states of Australia or overseas. The UK decree too prohibits a wide range of procedures including Khafd (Khatna).
All three decrees clearly state,
“All parents and guardians are hereby directed in the strictest terms not to carry out khafd (khatna) under any circumstances and the consequences of breaking the law will be solely yours.”
Interestingly, the decree doesn’t mention that FGM harms our little girls and has serious health consequences for adult women. Bohras practice Type 1 and Type 4 FGM, classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to WHO, “FGM interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.”
In certain cases, adult women have to compulsorily undergo FGM and produce a certificate if a non-Bohra woman seeks to marry a Bohra man. In Mumbai, there are over 10 officially appointed doctors who do female circumcision and issue certificates. In fact, a doctor who spoke to me anonymously had issued more than 20 such certificates in 2015.
The decrees also make no mention of the alleged benefits of this centuries-old practice and its religious sanctions. Even worse, India doesn’t even have a strong anti-FGM law which would save Bohra women from these sufferings.
In a first of its sort, three Australian Bohras faced a Supreme Court (New South Wales) trial and were convicted for practicing genital mutilation on two minor girls in November 2015. The girls’ mother, the nurse and the priest are liable to get a maximum 7 years jail term, according to the Australian law.
In 2011, Syedna responded to a change.org petition saying, “I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument.”
But these decrees of UK and Australia have given some hope for a practice which was mercilessly followed through varied Jamaat networks in India and the world over.
India supports United Nation’s pledge to abolish FGM by 2030. India is also a signatory of (CEDAW) which strongly condemns FGM and any form of violence on women.
So, will this inhumane practice ever be banned in India, where the largest number of Bohras live and practice FGM? Will India also have its own decree criminalising FGM?
Speak Out on FGM, a collective of Bohra women, has started a petition on change.org asking the government to ban FGM. They also spearheaded awareness programs because of which a once silent, secret and taboo topic is now being openly discussed in the public domain.
As of now, Speak Out on FGM, which is committed to seeing an end to FGM is happy with the favourable decrees in UK and Australia. The challenge though remains to completely wipe out this barbaric practice across the world.
(The author is a women’s rights activist)
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