80% Bohra Women Said They Had Undergone FGC: Zehra Patwa
Among a lot of voices demanding to end the social conundrum of female genital mutilation in India, We Speak Out is a prominent one. The platform brings together women activists across the world with an aim to ban this heinous practice and help Bohra women get equal rights in all spheres of life.
SheThePeople.Tv spoke to We Speak Out’s Zehra Patwa about their endeavour to put a blanket ban to this practice and the success they have achieved so far.
Excerpts from the interview:
How grave is the problem of Khatna in the community, is it still as widespread as it was?
Khatna is not only rampant in the Dawoodi Bohra community, but also among other Bohra groups like Sulaimani and Alvi Bohras. It is necessary to understand that for a particular practice or ritual to end in any community, awareness and resistance is the key, both of which were non-existent, until We Speak Out and Sahiyo spoke about them.
Our primary focus right now is to get this practice banned in India, so that we are in a better position to spread awareness. For that, we recently released a blueprint for a law against FGM, drafted along with the Lawyers’ Collective in Delhi
According to an online survey conducted by Sahiyo, 80% of the Bohra women they interviewed had undergone FGC/M. While there is no way of maintaining a record of the girls who undergo FGM since it’s practised in absolute secrecy; two doctors openly endorsing Khatna and trying to garner support to continue this practice indicates its prevalence in the community.
What are the various initiatives your organisation is taking to raise awareness and to end this practice?
For the second year in a row, We Speak Out and Sahiyo have collaborated for the ‘Each One Reach One Campaign’. The first time around, we resolved to break the silence around this practice in our community. This time we have urged like-minded people to consciously reach out to at least one Bohra, and have a meaningful discussion on Khatna, strictly keeping it friendly, respectful and non-judgmental. In fact, we have a guide on how a sensitive subject like this can be broached with different members and types of people, For example, friends, brothers, mothers and fathers.
But our primary focus right now is to get this practice banned in India, so that we are in a better position to spread awareness. For that, we recently released a blueprint for a law against FGM, drafted along with the Lawyers’ Collective in Delhi.
What kind of resistance are you facing from within the community itself, how are you countering these?
The Syedna is extremely wealthy and powerful. Six women, close to the Syedna’s office have started a pro-khatna campaign in the name of religious freedom. They are supported by all institutions run by the Syedna’s office, and especially women working or connected with those institutions.
Suddenly, there is so much false information about our cause on all social media platforms, especially WhatsApp. Two members of our group have received threats. Instead of starting a dialogue on Khatna, it’s all about defaming women who have spoken out against the practice. 90 per cent of us speaking out today were subjected to the cutting. We are up against an empire that is castigating us for speaking out against an archaic and unjust practice.
What positive results have you seen through your efforts so far?
Well, as I said earlier, there was very little awareness about this practice, in fact most of our parents didn’t know why it was being done, and therefore fell in line when they were forced. While hundreds of women and men have pledged not to do this to their children after reading about our campaign, many have joined us anonymously. No one is making any money out of this, so our campaign has expanded because of people joining hands with us.
What about the men from the community, what has their response been to your initiative?
Getting Khafz/Khatna done has always been the decision of older women in the family, with men usually keeping away from the discussion. Despite this, we are glad that we have managed to break the silence and many men have vowed not to hurt their little girls. In fact, fathers have even blogged on our website, explaining why they wouldn’t do this to their children.
According to an online survey conducted by Sahiyo, 80% of the Bohra women they interviewed had undergone FGC/M
Do you think the government needs to step in to end this practice, what is your response to Maneka Gandhi’s recent statement?
It does need to step in. Maneka Gandhi’s statement is a huge victory for us. This statement came after our petition — to end this practice through change.org — received more than 90,000 signatures. At the moment, Khafz/Khatna is being practised rampantly and a law against the practice is imperative. It’s the first step towards abolishing the practice completely.
Charvi Is An Intern With SheThePeople.TV