By Saif Ahmad Khan:
If you’re an Indian Muslim and a male, then at some point in time in your life, someone, somewhere must have used the slur ‘katwa’ to humiliate you. Circumcision, as a practise, is abhorred by the majority community in India. The Hindus view it is as a barbaric and violent religious ritual which infringes on the human rights of small children. Hindu hatred for circumcision also stems from the inhumane actions of some Muslim rulers in ancient times. Tipu Sultan forcefully converted some Hindus to Islam and also subjected them to forced circumcision. For such rulers, being a Muslim meant merely to keep a beard and have a circumcised penis. Hindutva fascist and Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray once praised Maratha warrior Shivaji by stating that had he not risen in revolt then all Hindus today must have been circumcised. Some Christians too attack Jews and Muslims because of the amputated state of their genitals. Little idea do they have that the Bible mentions the circumcision of Jesus on the 8th day after his birth and the practise is carried out on a large scale by Coptic Christians in Egypt.
The principal reason why circumcision is so controversial is because people are highly uninformed about it. The first thing that needs to be understood is that though many Jews and Muslims perform circumcision solely as a religious ritual, the practise is a scientifically validated one and has an array of health benefits associated with it. Secondly, circumcision in the 21st century is performed surgically in nearly all hospitals by expert surgeons and not by some random Jewish rabbi or Muslim maulvi at home with the help of a knife. Thirdly, a lot of people have no real idea about what is actually done during circumcision. I recently came to know that one of my friends thought the entire male sexual organ is amputated during circumcision. This is not true. During circumcision, the foreskin on the male penis is surgically removed with due inspection and caution.
Now that circumcision as a medical practice has been clearly defined, let me enumerate on the various health benefits which come along with it. Circumcision helps in preventing men from contracting the HIV virus. France’s National AIDS Research Agency conducted a study in South Africa between 2002 & 2005 on the effects which circumcision has in combating AIDS. It concluded that HIV virus was 8 to 10 times higher in those men who were not circumcised. It has been claimed that circumcision can prevent 6 to 7 out of 10 potential HIV infections. Many of the Muslim majority countries have an incredibly low rate of people suffering from AIDS. In Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan, the number of people who are HIV+ is 0.1%, the figure is 0.2% in Bangladesh and 0.4% in Malaysia whereas in Hindu majority India, the figure stands at 0.92%. Richard Feachem, Former Under Secretary General of the United Nations & Executive Director of Global Fund to Fight AIDS had once passed a controversial remark in Paris stating that he expected the epidemic of AIDS to grow faster among Hindus as they did not practise circumcision. India’s leading English daily ‘Times of India’ carried a report in its August 4, 2005 edition titled “Circumcision: It suits Hindus also” in which it strongly advocated in favour of the practice but said that the government was reluctant on embracing it since it would be viewed as appeasement of Muslims by hardliners in India’s political spectrum.
Besides combating AIDS, circumcision also helps in preventing penile cancer in heterosexual men. A study titled ‘Male Circumcision and Penile Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis’ concluded “childhood/adolescent circumcision is preventive against invasive penile cancer. This effect could be meditated partly through an effect on phimosis. Circumcision services among adults are currently being expanded as an HIV prevention strategy and neonatal/infant circumcision is emerging as a cost effective long-term HIV prevention strategy. Some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa experience higher incidence of penile cancer as compared to Western countries and expansion of circumcision services in this region provides an opportunity to reduce penile cancer as well as HIV in men.” Several ongoing researches have only validated the medical effectiveness of circumcision and have held it as genuinely productive in preventing urinary tract infections.
The last argument revolving around the circumcision debate is concerning human rights. Some human rights activists have argued that subjecting the child to a surgery and amputating a particular body organ of his without taking the child’s consent is a criminal act. These human rights activists should understand that the surgery which is being performed on the child is for his own benefit. Parents have to make certain decisions for the well being of their children. The child doesn’t decide which school he would go to, the parents do. In the larger interest of a child’s health, parents should have the right to decide whether or not their child should be circumcised. Plus, the contemporary medical market has in its possession several instruments and devices which facilitate non surgical circumcision. Despite the taboo surrounding circumcision, it is increasingly being accepted by the Westerners. It is said that 25% of the men in Europe are circumcised. However, I would like to end on a note of warning. While there is enough scientific evidence in favour of male circumcision, there is equally or more scientific evidence against female genital mutilation which is practised actively in different parts of the world. It is in the interest of mankind that this practice is done away with as soon as possible. Even religious leaders seem to have begun understanding the problems associated with FGM and this has led to issuing of many fatwas denouncing it.