“Why Should Bodily Integrity Of A Woman Be Subject To A Religious Practice”: SC On Female Genital Mutilation
Coming down heavily on the barbaric practice of Female Genital Mutilation or FGM, the Supreme Court on July 9 and asked, “Why should bodily integrity of a woman be subject to a religious practice.” With this, the apex court has made its stance on religious practices clear.
Additionally, the apex court also announced that it had accepted the petition which seeks to ban the practice of FGM and is set to hear it on July 16. Advocate Sunita Tiwari filed the petition in 2017, who put forth the point that the practice of ‘khatna’ which is performed on girl children belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community, does not have any reference in the Quran. Additionally, it is also carried out without any medical reasoning.
The Times Of India reported that while agreeing with the petitioner’s arguments, a bench consisting of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud, said, “Such a religious practice is covered by the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and it explicitly states that touching the genitals of a girl under 18 years of age is an offence.” The Centre on April 20, had conveyed the same information to the SC.
However, the members of the Dawoodi Bohra community has contested the petitioner’s argument on the grounds that the custom should be allowed to be practised as the Constitution guarantees right to religious freedom under Article 25, reported Moneycontrol.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
The World Health Organization defines FGM as “all procedures that involve the altering or injuring of female genitalia for non-medical purposes and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women”.
Primarily, the form of FGM that is practised among the Bohra Muslims involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoral hood or clitoris of women, usually when they are seven or eight-years-old. The Dawoodi Bohras are the only Muslim community in India to practise FGM. Although it is not mentioned in the Quran, the Bohras consider it a religious obligation.
Additionally, these procedures are usually carried out in decrepit buildings, in unhygienic conditions, by midwives and without proper medical supervision. This can pose serious health issues for the young girls who have to undergo this procedure.
Fight against FGM in India
In fact, according to a new study released on February 2018, ahead of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), almost 75% of the 94 respondents in India had subjected their daughters to FGM. The study, titled “The Clitoral Hood A Contested Site”, was conducted by independent researchers Lakshmi Anantnarayan, Shabana Diler and Natasha Menon, in collaboration with WeSpeakOut, which is a coalition of Bohra women against FGM and the women’s rights organisation Nari Samata Manch.
For the study, researchers interviewed 83 women and 11 men belonging to the Bohri community ( a Shia Muslim sect) from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Some of the participants were also from the United States, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, where a significant number of Bohra community members are settled, The Indian Express reported.
The archaic practice of FGM, which is referred to as ‘khatna’ or ‘khafz’ in the Bohri community, is also practised in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. As per the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, around 200 million girls worldwide have undergone FGM, which often causes severe physical and psychological problems.
However, the fight against FGM in India is more complicated than it appears. As on one side, Dawoodi Bohra women are fighting to stop this practice, another group of women from the same community under the banner of Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom (DBWRF) have filed an application to the Supreme Court stating that the ritual is a circumcision and not mutilation, reported Mumbai Mirror. Abhishek Singhvi, the lawyer who is representing DBWRF, has said that the thousand-year-old practice is as harmless as male circumcision.
Reportedly, the Attorney General K K Venugopal said that FGM has some health risks associated with it, unlike male circumcisions. Additionally, the practice is already banned in countries like USA, UK, Australia, France and 27 African nations as well. World leaders have pledged to eliminate FGM by 2030 under the UN global development goals agreed in 2015.