“Nadaan and Nasamaj at the Age of 7…”: Why FGM Needs to Stop, Now
Nothing has changed on the ground. A study of 1991 and the latest one in 2016, show that FGM continues unabated, at almost the same pace among Bohras.
The UN declared February 6 to be Zero Tolerance Day to FGM. It is perhaps a day to sit up and take notice of the fact that a medieval practice – like cutting off a woman’s genitals so that her sexual desire is curbed and curtailed – exists in the world today.
For most in India, Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting ( FGM/C) happens in far off Africa and not in India. But that is not true. FGM/C has been in existence in India for the last 1400 years in a community called the Bohras, living largely off the western coast of India.
The practice of FGM/C continues till date in secrecy. Over the years, several women of the community have expressed their anguish against the practice. But effectively, nothing much has changed on the ground.
The Age of Seven...
Perhaps the first lucid expose on the issue of FGM/C in India in the Bohra community came from Rehana Ghadially who published a very well researched article on the practice in India in Manushi in 1991.
Ghadially’s research gets a mention in the UN interagency statement which states that India is an FGM practising nation – but one from which no statistics and estimates are available.
In the study, for the first time, 50 women from the Bohra community were interviewed at length and the detailed explanation of the hows and whys of the practice were laid bare.
Rehana says in her study –
...the circumcision is done when the girl reaches the age of seven. The choice of this particular age is not clear. At this age the girl is considered nadaan (innocent) and nasamaj (not capable of understanding). She is considered not capable of understanding what is being done to her and at the same time is considered sufficiently mature to continue the tradition when she has a daughter of her own.
She also very clearly exposes how the clergy promote and perpetuate the practice amongst women:
The tradition of Sabak is there even today, and it is here that women are told to ensure that any and every girl child should be cut.
On the harm caused by FGM she says:
The cutters passed on their role of cutting from generation to generation. But each cutter has to have the explicit permission from the clergy to do so even today.
Little Change, But Many Voices
The irony is, that since this report of 1991 very little seems to have changed on the ground. The practice continues to date in pretty much the same manner – and it is estimated that over 80% of the girls are still subject to FGM, according to a very recent 2016 study by Sahiyo.
What has, however, changed today is that the number of women who have become more outspoken has increased. Speak Out on FGM is one such effort to mobilise support of women from the community and to have conversations with them on the practice and its impact on their minds and bodies and their sexuality. The stories of women opposing the practice and not subjecting their girls to the knife have also multiplied.
Speak Out On FGM had started a petition on Change.org asking the government to ban FGM in consonance to its commitment to the treaty of CEDAW (Convention for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women) which clearly mentions FGM as a form of violence against women and a form of discrimination based on gender.
It has been explicitly laid out by the United Nations that FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women in as much as it violates the right to her life and liberty, right to be free from gender discrimination, right to highest attainable standard of health, right not to be subjected to torture or any inhuman treatment or punishment, rights of a child.
World over, there are active movements by activists, NGO’s and governments to end this practice. At this point in time, it is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated. Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.
The United Nations’ sustainable goal for 2030 is to ensure that not a single girl will be subjected to FGM.
For that goal to become a reality, India will also have to contribute. We hope that we can appeal to the government of the day to honour this commitment and end FGM in India by banning it and making its practice illegal.
(Masooma Ranalvi is Convenor, Speak Out On FGM)