Female Genital Mutilation: An Open Secret In India

By Pinak Pani Datta:

Women wait in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station in Shabazpur Dor village in Amroha district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh April 17, 2014. India kicked off the biggest day of its mammoth general election on Thursday, with a quarter of its 815 million voters set to head to the polls during a week of fresh blows for the ruling Congress party and gains for the Hindu nationalist opposition. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR3LNEL
Representation only. Source: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

“I am 60 years old (Indian woman) now, but will remember that fateful day for the rest of my life. I must have been around 7-years-old when my mother told me we were going to my grandma’s house to spend the day with her. When we reached my grandma’s house, my cousin (my mum’s sister’s daughter), who was a year younger than me, was also there. We were happy to meet each other.

Then, we were both led to a small room, which had a bed and asked to lie down. We kept asking “Why?” Suddenly, a lady dressed in black came into the room. By now, my cousin and I were terrified, not aware of what was to follow. Our dresses were pulled up and our panties pulled off, and we were asked to keep our legs apart. There were our mothers and our aunts holding our legs apart and then I felt something cold being applied to my clitoris, and then to my horror, the lady in black, actually held a scissor-like instrument and cut me there — I screamed and screamed but no one seemed to care. Then this same thing was done to my cousin, who was right next to me on the same bed.”

I came across this entry on this blog www.breakthesilencespeakthetruth.wordpress.com. At first, I thought it was just another blog protesting against rapes and violence against females, but to my horror, this was something much more terrible.

Female genital mutilation/circumcision is a traditional custom practiced by many religious sects of the world. The World Health Organization defines it as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for non-medicinal reasons.”

It is probably one of the best-kept secrets of modern India. In India, it is widely practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra community, a sect of the Shia-Muslims, who are led by the Syedna. Locally termed as ‘Khatna’, this practice has no medical justification at all. Some of the reasons include family honor, increasing sexual pleasure for the male, enhancing fertility, social acceptance (especially for marriage) and preservation of virginity/chastity.

In India, the Bohra community is a very small one compared to the entire population; added to that, the girls are generally circumcised just after/before they attain their puberty. So, the matter, even though unjust, gets buried inside the girls’ mind like any normal process like menstruation. Many women believe that FGM is necessary to ensure acceptance by their community; they are unaware that FGM is not practiced in most of the world. A letter to Molly Melching, Chairperson of an NGO named Tostan working against FGM, by an anonymous Indian lady exposes how this custom has been practiced for centuries; people are either too afraid or too embarrassed to raise their voice against such oppression.

Depending on the degree of mutilation FGM can cause severe pain and shock, uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, sexual dysfunction, difficulties in menstruation and psychological damages among many consequences. In addition to these there are considerable psychosexual, psychological and social consequences of FGM.

A typical profile of a woman who undertakes the job of female circumcision in India is a 75-year-old ‘uneducated but literate’ Bohra woman with no registered medical experience. She says that she has inherited this work from her family. Her grandmother used to perform ‘Khatna’ but her mother never learnt the trade as she was married in an economically well-to-do family. She herself has done it for 35 years till her eyes stopped supporting her. Today, all her three daughters-in-law do female circumcision and supplement their husband’s meager income. According to her, no other Muslim group in India other than the Bohras practices it.

An activist, who prefers to be named Tasleem, has launched a campaign on Facebook and is making sincere efforts to collect signatures to petition to the Bohra High Priest His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin asking for a ban on this ritual, this cruelty being foisted on Bohra females.

If you really believe this is an unjust practice, support Tasleem and raise a voice against one of the worst violence on women in modern history.

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