Calls for zero tolerance towards Female Genital Mutilation get louder as election nears 

There are many terms and acronyms to describe female genital mutilation (FGM); female genital cutting (FGC), female circumcision (FC), Khatna and Khafz. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 24, 2019, 04.23 PM (IST) Nagen Singh

The United Nations (UN) declared February 6 as International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) this year. FGM, is defined by the World Health Organisation as “the total or partial removal of external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”, is widely prevalent in the Bohra Community and some other minority communities in India.

Amid allegations that Dawoodi Bohra women are oppressed, mute spectators of a patriarchal system, the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom (DBWRF) comprising over 72,000 practising Dawoodi Bohra women set the record straight about their practices and the community in light of International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.

Bohra Woman's association claims that Dawoodi Bohra women are among the most progressive and educated in India, having a near 100 per cent literacy rate. The representative from the community claims that the women from the community enjoy positions of power across various sectors such as IT, law, medicine, education, engineering, architecture and retail businesses among others, and are empowered and in fact encouraged to build careers for themselves.

In fact, DBWRF claims that women of the community are deeply pained 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 scrutiny for their harmless practice of female circumcision (khafz). The same has been wrongly labelled as female genital mutilation by those with an agenda against the community.

Yasmeen vividly remembers being taken by her mom, maternal grandmother and another female relative, when she was seven, to some chawl in Bhendi Baazar called the Bohri moholla. 

"I was lying down, my frock was held up…then I don’t remember anything. Just that there was intense pain as I walked back and I was told to keep myself clean, using Dettol water for istinja (wash after urination)," she said as she recalled the trauma she had to undergo on that horrific day.

"I cried a lot. It was not just that. I think it did affect my sexual performance. College days when young girls were too busy trying to get male attention, I was called The Ice Maiden. I went to a convent and then to women’s universities. I had a love marriage but my husband was not happy. He repeatedly told me (jokingly) that my father was to blame for having me circumcised and taking away his pleasure," Says Yasmeen.

Till today she can't figure out, whether it’s a dysfunction of a physical, psychological or emotional nature. Now she has two grown-up boys and she doesn't care much about herself but will surely want to extend all her support to the next generation can see a change.

There are many terms and acronyms to describe female genital mutilation (FGM); female genital cutting (FGC), female circumcision (FC), Khatna and Khafz. In the Bohra Community specifically, it involves the cutting of a seven-year-old girl’s clitoral hood. Ending FGM’s terminology barrier is the specific goal this year of a women survivor lead organisation, WeSpeakOut. "Khafz is FGM.” says Masooma Ranalvi, convener of WeSpeakOut while speaking to WION.

“There is an attempt to confuse and obfuscate the gravity of the practice of FGM by using differing terminologies, claiming that FGM is barbaric while Khafz is more civilized. This use of different terms is only meant to belittle the harm caused by Khafz, by glorifying it,” says Masooma.

As the country faces general elections, women opposing female circumcision call upon all Indian political leaders to heed to their appeal and want the new government to step in to end FGM’s terminology barrier, and to take a categorical stand to end the practice. The practice of FGM is condemned by international human rights treaties to which India is a party. 

India has also pledged to eliminate FGM as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Story highlights

Yasmeen vividly remembers being taken by her mom, maternal grandmother and another female relative, when she was seven, to some chawl in Bhendi Baazar called the Bohri moholla.