This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Mia Simon. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

AN OUTSIDER’S VIEW OF THE DAWOODI BOHRA COMMUNITY/WOMEN

The Dawoodi Bohra community has co-existed in India for over six-hundred years, and one constant for them has been to contribute to the Great Indian Story. This commitment is rooted in the love for their religion, their culture, their beliefs along with accepting and celebrating other cultures and traditions that are woven into the complex fabric that is spun across the length and breadth of this country.

My name is Mia Simon; I was born to parents who are third generation south Indian Christians and we live in Marol, which is in the western suburbs of Mumbai. I grew up in an apartment where I had a majority of the Dawoodi Bohra community people for neighbours. I’ve seen and experienced their lives, traditions and beliefs first hand. My family never restricted me from talking to our neighbours because they practised a different religion, instead, given that most of us hailed from nuclear families we played the role of first respondents to the other in both good and bad times. Whether it was a birthday, wedding or even a death in the family the support provided was reassuring and came out of love and care.

A simple example would be that, during Ramadan I would look forward to the Iftar snacks that Arwa aunty would bring us every day, while we obviously were not a part of breaking the fast, the food would come home like clockwork for the 30 days of Ramadan. In return, the Christmas goodies that were sent by my mom to Arwa aunty were always relished by her family. The same holds good for all occasions, be it birthdays or anniversaries.

Arwa auntie’s daughters Insiya and Zahraa, studied with me in a catholic school and now have grown up to become a doctor and teacher respectively. The reason they were sent to a catholic school was so they would learn to mingle with kids from other communities and to give them a broader perspective of the world outside. Arwa aunty was a working mother just like my mom and juggled home and work like any other person. So, regardless of what certain people say about the community being backward or oppressed I’ve seen and lived with these women who have proved otherwise.

Today, all of us are happily married and have kids and I’ve been part of the Nikaah ceremony, Chatti (Birth and Naming Ceremony), Mehndi and many other functions. As friends we’ve never questioned the traditions or beliefs that were practiced because being a part of it was more important. Also, religious choices are personal to each one and the reasons for doing them or practising them are personal too.

Knowing the people of the Dawoodi Bohra community closely, I am aware of some of the practices within the community that have come under the scrutiny of many. It is unfortunate that despite having cemented their position as business leaders, responsible citizens, loving mothers, and homemakers, in a highly educated and gender-equal community, they have come under fire for their harmless practice of female circumcision. Khafz or Khatna, has been a practice within the community for over 1,400 years. It involves a harmless nicking on the prepuce, a small hood of superficial skin above the clitoris. The allegations about this practise are based on its comparison to Female Genital Mutilation “FGM”. There is a huge difference between Khafz and FGM and the former, as practised by them is a harmless procedure unlike FGM.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution says, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health.” Further, Article 26 says that all denominations can manage their own affairs in matters of religion. The women of the Dawoodi Bohra community are empowered and encouraged to build careers for themselves, do good for the community and others alike, so why are their practices of traditions and beliefs questioned, why do you or I get to decide for them? Tenets in every religion are followed by people to bring them closer to their faith. This is an act of faith and there should not be an iota of doubt surrounding the practice of Khafz. As a forward thinking yet culturally-rooted community, they are only trying to preserve their religious practice, as devout Dawoodi Bohras.

 

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