Imagine being taken to a room in a dark, decrepit building. Imagine being pinned to the floor with your underwear being taken off. Imagine seeing a knife being heated and then slowly it moves towards your clitoris and it is cut off.
They call it the ‘haraam ki boti’ or ‘the source of sin’ and even before the young girl can make sense of what is happening to her, they have already sniped it. This is a reality for an alarming number of girls, belonging to the Muslim Bohra community in India. The women decided to get their clitoris cut in the name of tradition and religion.
In fact, according to a new study released on Monday ahead of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is observed on February 6, 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.
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”.
Essentially, the form of FGM that is practised among the Bohri 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.
21 Bohra men pledge online to fight khatna
FGM is practiced to control female sexuality, but practices and beliefs vary enormously. The general idea behind removing the clitoris is to ensure that the woman is not led “astray” by her wishes to derive physical pleasure.
Even though it’s a practice considered to be widespread among the Bohras in India, no laws have been framed in the country to counter it. In fact, recently the Centre told the Supreme Court that there was no comprehensive data available on the number of girls who have undergone FGM in India.
Masooma Ranalvi, who was cut when she was 7-year-old and is the founder of WeSpeakOut organisation against FGM, told the Indian Express, “Why is the Union government not listening to the pleas of women from our community? Eight months ago, the WCD Ministry was all set to issue an advisory on the FGM ban in all states, but they never went ahead with it. The current government has time and again said that issues of Muslim women need to be addressed. The relationship between the Syedna (a Dawoodi Bohra community leader) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is cordial. Why then, can’t the issue be taken up?”
Anti-FGM group Orchid Project lists 10 Asian countries and nine Middle Eastern countries where there is evidence of the existence of FGM which includes Pakistan, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Malaysia and Thailand.
More than 30 organisations have launched a petition calling on the United Nations to examine the impact of FGM in Asia.
Family and child protection lawyer Tavawalla views khatna as a gross violation because children are not able to protect themselves. “Laws play an essential role in bringing about social change. Gender reforms are slow and hard-fought, even more so when they involve ancient, archaic and cultural practices of a secretive and closed community like the Dawoodi Bohras,’’ she says.
Women from the community agree. The secrecy comes wrapped in deceit and betrayal. And a grave form of abuse on young minds and bodies.
World leaders have pledged to eliminate FGM by 2030 under the UN global development goals agreed in 2015.