They use a finger nail, women speak up on FGM in Bohra community
On Friday, a group which claimed to represent 69,000 Dawood Bohra women, under the banner of Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom, filed an application in the Supreme Court stating that the ritual, Khatna, is not mutilation but circumcision. The Government had recently asked to Supreme Court to look into curbing the practice of khatna or FGM in Bohra community. The apex court is currently hearing a public interest litigation currently filed with it which states that the practice has no religious sanction and should be considered a non bailable offence.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM is considered violation of girls’ and women’s human rights.
Organisations like WeSpeakOut and Sahiyo have been battling this practice which is often conducted without anaesthesia and by non medically trained persons, leading to trauma and often medical complications for the young girls it is carried out on.
We spoke to members of the Dawoodi Bohra community to understand why this practice continues to get the support it does, despite the trauma it causes the young girls who undergo this, and what is it that makes the community resistant to stopping it.
Yes, I did undergo the procedure myself. I was very young at the time, perhaps six or seven and I had no clue what was happening to me. It was all very hush hush, my mother and grandmother took me into a closed room, and a dai did it with no medical implement but her very sharp nail. I remember I bled for quite a while, and I was extremely traumatised by what had happened to me but was told to keep quiet and never mention it to the any of the menfolk in the family, including my father.
It was all very hush hush, my mother and grandmother took me into a closed room, and a dai did it with no medical implement but her very sharp nail
Within the community, the women folk kept it within the women folk, the men often weren’t even aware of what was done to the girls. For instance my father who was a very progressive and educated man did not even know this was done to his daughters. My mother and grandmother never mentioned it and I was told I was to never talk about it ever to anyone. I think none of the men even realised what was happening to the girls, they just didn’t know the extent of what was happening behind closed doors.
I don’t have daughters, but I do have nieces and we’re not going to do this to them. We won’t speak about it though. I don’t want to see them undergoing what I have.
In the big cities they might do it in a sterile environment with perhaps even a medically trained person or a doctor doing it now, but outside the cities it is quite terrible. It is often done without anaesthesia, by a dai who uses either a sharpened finger nail or a blade to make a nick in the clitoris.
While there is a strong movement against this practice, there is also a simultaneous pressure from the leadership to have it continue. The power of the leadership (of the Bohra community) is immense.
While there is a strong movement against this practice, there is also a simultaneous pressure from the leadership to have it continue. The power of the leadership is immense. I would even call it brainwashing about why this practice is necessary and has religious sanction. No one will dare speak out openly because of how strong the community is and how everyone is terrified of being excommunicated. Whether they like it or not most women go along with it in public, in private they might decry it.
You must understand how powerful the community is and how it controls almost every aspect of your life. Going against the community not just impacts you but also your family and most people won’t dare do so because it will affect everything from their social standing to their family circles.
The thought process is that this has been going on for so many centuries so how can it be wrong
Most of them support the community and the Syedna (titular heads) and won’t dare to go against them. Also the thought process is that this has been going on for so many centuries so how can it be wrong. Surely it is mandated by religion they convince themselves. It is purely a question of faith. 80 percent of the people won’t question its necessity but just get it done blindly.
While I did have it done when I was young, I was lucky it happened in a doctor’s clinic and I had anaesthesia, so I didn’t really suffer too much but I hear from my cousins and friends about their experiences and I wonder why this continues the way it does.
You must understand it’s a very tightly knit clannish community, the threat of being ex communicated is very, very strong. For those who speak up their families also get affected. Even though I’ve been out of the community for many years now, I still worry if any action of mine can affect my family who are still part of the community.
The only independent thinking and speaking you will see is from those who are at some distance from the community or who have stepped out of it. Blind faith is is terribly strong a factor here and medical logic plays no part.
Within the community, everything you do is strictly monitored, all your social life is centred around the community. The mere threat of being ex-communicated is something that quite terrifies most of them, so they will not go against the dictats of the community leadership. The only independent thinking and speaking you will see is from those who are at some distance from the community or who have stepped out of it. Blind faith is is terribly strong a factor here and medical logic plays no part.
In the Dawoodi Bohra community, we have something known as the e-jamaat cards which are our id cards, rather like the aadhar card which is our identity within the community. The biggest fear is that of social ostracism, it is immensely strong, no one dares speak up for fear of this ostracism. Signatures can be easily garnered, there is so much brainwashing that goes on. Every Friday at the mosque, you’re told that the women who are asking for FGM to be banned are defaming the community, you come to believe it. Even highly educated women bow down to the pressure just to continue being part of the community and not rocking the boat.
Every Friday at the mosque, you’re told that the women who are asking for FGM to be banned are defaming the community, you come to believe it
I know women who have children who say, I’ve had it done to me but I won’t get it done for my daughter but they won’t say it openly. Also it is done so early to them, that the mind blocks much of the childhood trauma, and it is only much later when you join the dots that you realise the issues you are suffering, whether physical, emotional or sexual, are possibly the result of khatna. It often takes counselling with a psychologist for some to unravel the trauma and the resultant dysfunction caused by this practice for some girls.
Ashraf Engineer, 42 (a father)
Female Genital Cutting is yet another manifestation of patriarchy – an attempt to control every aspect of a woman’s life, including her sexuality. FGC is a serious human rights issue – a practice that’s prevalent but rarely talked about even by the victims. Like marital rape and abuse, it exists around us but is rarely addressed. According to WHO data, there are at least 200 million girls and women across 30 countries who have been cut. If they were to form a country, it would be the sixth most populous in the world. In India it is prevalent in the Dawoodi Bohra community, of which I am a part.
According to data, there are at least 200 million girls and women across 30 countries who have been cut. If they were to form a country, it would be the sixth most populous in the world.
It’s a misconception that there is fierce resistance to its abolition from Dawoodi Bohra women itself. It’s the fear of social boycott and family pressure that makes them undergo it. Few women would like to be cut or have their daughters cut. The little girls who are cut have no say in the matter and are, in fact, unable to even understand what is happening to them.
Since the root of the problem is a social system in which males are all-powerful and wield great authority over women, men must become an integral part of the solution. It’s time for men – especially the fathers – to speak out against this practice. It’s their duty, and their collective voice will matter. This will help men too. Secure, happier women are necessary for stronger, fulfilling relationships and a progressive society.
These first person stories tell us there is a deep sense of pain and disgust at the way ‘traditions’ are continued. This practise been documented in over 30 countries around the world. If you have a view on this we would love to hear from you. Please choose the comments section to share your views.