FGM is sanctioned by Islamic law: “Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) (by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the bazr ‘clitoris’ [this is called khufaadh ‘female circumcision’]).” — ‘Umdat al-Salik e4.3, translated by Mark Durie, The Third Choice, p. 64
According to Reza Aslan, female genital mutilation is “not an Islamic problem. It’s an African problem….It’s a Central African problem. Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.” Aside from his idiotic view that Eritrea and Ethiopia are in Central Africa, Aslan is proven wrong yet again by this piece. Or maybe he thinks that India is in Central Africa as well.
“India’s Dark Secret,” by Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times, n.d.:
…The cruel practice of female genital cutting or female genital mutilation (FGM) is not happening only in far away Africa. It’s not just being practised in tribal societies. Young girls aged six and seven are regularly being cut right here, in India. Mumbai abounds with untrained midwives who continue to scar young girls from the Bohra community, a Shia sub sect.
For long, FGM or khatna as the Bohras call it remained a well-kept secret, a taboo, a subject never to be discussed. But now a few women – victims at the hands of the Bohra tradition – are choosing to speak out and create awareness. Masooma Ranalvi, a Delhi-based publisher – who has put her name to an online petition against the practice along with 17 other women – has decided it’s time to come out in the open. The pain has become a trigger and the passion to save other girls from being cut have made her and the others fearless.
Masooma was cut 42 years ago but says the day is etched in her mind. She narrates her personal story haltingly but with clarity. “My mum told me come; I’ll take you out and buy you chocolates. I happily went with her. She took me to Bohri mohalla (in Mumbai), a cluster where 90% Bohras live. We went into this dark decrepit building. I remember being taken into a room. The curtains were drawn. She said lie down. Like an obedient child, I lay. My grandmother was holding my hands. An oldish woman pulled down my pants… I started crying. Grandmom said don’t worry, it will be over in a jiffy. I shrieked in pain… I experienced a sharp, shooting pain and she put some black powder there… I came home and cried and cried and cried…”
For a long time, Masooma did not understand what had happened to her or why she had been cut. The realisation that she had been so betrayed shattered her. The reasons why khatna is so common in the community shocked her.
“I experienced a sharp, shooting pain and she put some black powder there…”
Aarefa Johari, a young, articulate journalist is another petitioner. Like most women in the two million-strong Bohra community, Aarefa was cut too. Without consent and without too much thought. Why, she asked herself for a long time. The answer to that question is stark: Tradition is not easy to slay. Slaying young girls is easier.
Masooma and Aarefa were both cut because their mothers were pressured into taking their daughters to Bhindi Bazaar in Mumbai by older women in the family; either by aunts or mothers-in-law. The beliefs that the clitoral head is ‘unwanted skin’, that it is a ‘source of sin’ that will make them ‘stray’ out of their marriages are reasons that lie at the heart of a practice that predates Islam but thrives amongst Bohras. One woman this reporter spoke to referred to the clitoral head as ‘haraam ki boti’ or immoral lump of flesh.
The sad truth to this painful process is the fact that it is a practice being done to women by other women. Most women we spoke with blamed their mothers initially. Till they realised they too were victims of the same mindless tradition. “There was pain and I cried. I was aware that there is a thing called khatna and the main intention is to curb sexual desire… The first target of my anger was my mother,” said Aarefa.
Aarefa, like other women, has had long conversations with her mother who now supports her in her fight against FGM. “When I got it done for my daughter, I did it because it was a custom to be followed,’’ says Aarefa’s mother Sophie Johari. She read an article by a Bohra woman some years later and made Aarefa read it too. “It struck me that I should have thought about it more. I’m a science student. I really should have thought about it,’’ says Sophie who now lends support to her daughter’s campaign on Facebook.
“I did it for my daughter because i was told it is a custom. I regret it now.”…
Few will be able to answer a question so relevant because there are no medical norms to determine the cut. Untrained midwives use blades and knives that recently left a seven-year-old bleeding for six days. “She had to use a sanitary pad,’’ an aunt told us on condition of anonymity.
The aunt, like Zehra, fails to understand the dichotomy between the regressive practice in an otherwise progressive community. Bohra girls are educated and have travelled the world. Shaheeda Kirtane, a researcher in public health and policy, was protected by her mother, Dilshad Tavawalla, afamily and child protection lawyer based in Canada.
She was lucky to escape being put under the knife and has joined the fight against FGM to try and stop her community from betraying its daughters. “I’m not able to explain to myself. It’s so ingrained in culture. They unquestioningly do it to be part of the community. If you openly declare you won’t do it, the backlash is considerable and many just won’t do business with you,’’ she says….
The abuse leaves women physically, psychologically and sexually damaged. Boston-based Mariya Taher is pursuing a career in social work and domestic violence because of her own personal experience. Is she emotionally damaged? “It’s something I had to come to terms with. It took a long time for me to be okay. It is something that has affected me; it’s affected the kind of work I do. I am a social worker and my work revolves around gender violence. It’s made me the kind of person that I am.”…
They are analysing the results of an online survey in which 80% of 400 respondents said they had been cut. Non-Bohra women are joining the fight too. Priya Goswami, director of a documentary titled ‘A pinch of skin’ is one of them. “When I saw the film on the big screen, I realised I couldn’t move away from it. It’s great that we have formed a coalition of sorts to try and end khatna.”…