Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Female Genital Circumcision (FGC) are practices that are under fire, and rightly so, for being extremely discriminatory towards women. While these practices continue, there is a change in attitude in the way we look at it today. There are women who have come out in the open to talk about this issue which gives us a pool of stories to deliberate upon. Dawoodi Bohra community is one of the most famous communities in India that openly agrees to circumcision.

OnInternational Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, (Feb 6) SheThePeople.TV talked to a religious organisation from India’s Dawoodi Bohra community—Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom (DBWRF)—to understand its view on the subject.

DBWRF is a trust that was established to bring together Dawoodi Bohra women in India on a common platform. It aims to preserve and protect the beliefs, customs, culture and religious rights of the community. They have over 65,000 practising Dawoodi Bohra women on the platform and work towards giving a voice to their opinions.

Difference between Khafz and Khitaan

Talking about Mutilation and circumcision and its difference, Samina Kanchwala, secretary of DBWRF says, “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Female Circumcision (FC) – also known as Khafz are entirely different from each other. Khafz is a harmless cultural/religious practice of the Dawoodi Bohra community. It does not in any way damage the female genitalia.  The procedure does not cause any psychological, physiological or biological problems.  In fact, there is not a single clinical study to show that Khafz leads to any harm whatsoever.”

She reiterates that Circumcision (khitaan), is a cultural and religious practice of the Dawoodi Bohra community. Kanchwala calls circumcision as an act of gender equality. “It includes khafz (female circumcision) and khatna (male circumcision). Both are practised in the community and therefore we see it as an act of gender parity, rather than discriminative.”

ALSO READ: Maneka Gandhi Warns Bohra Community To End FGM

At the same time, the organisation also says, “There is no place for any kind of mutilation in our religion or culture. We strongly oppose any act or practice that oppresses, demeans or subjugate our women”.

Is it a Cultural or Circumstantial practice?

Kanchwala stresses that the community supports and practices khafz as it is part of the very fabric of their culture/religion and belief. “Our right to practice has to be respected like we respect the practices of other sects, cultures, religions.”

ALSO READ: ‘Haraam Ki Boti’ Is What Dawoodi Bohra Community Calls The Clitoris Before The Cut

However, Alka Raza, an anti-FGM activist who has written a book on this issue—Myths of Female Genital Mutilation, a research-based study/work on this harmful traditional practice—says, “Anything which is related to a woman’s vagina is not permitted to be touched by anybody. Any culture, practice like such should not be accepted.”

“The thing is there is nothing called female circumcision because what are we circumcising here? Male circumcision is medically proved to avoid fungal diseases. There is no such female organ that needs to be circumcised. Under no circumstances does the United Nation accept such convention or belief system and is totally against FGM and FGC,” adds Raza who has 10 years of research on this subject.

She maintains that this is a circumstantial practice. “These are practices which have run for generations in the community. Of course, the community is very liberal and forthcoming today but that doesn’t mean that they have won the battle to defy the cultural ritual. We have very educated people in India but they still demand dowry from daughter-in-law, this is exactly the same case. It will take time and lots of reforms and movements for us to completely evade this practice.”

“We do not have a major issue of FGM or FGC. Here, we are talking about a few hundreds of families. It is not a widespread problem even in the Bohra community. India is not essentially an FGM practising country. It is not as bad as it is in Indonesia, Egypt, South Africa, etc.”

FGC in India

But Raza is very optimistic about the whole issue. She calls it progressive of the people and women from the community to have begun talking about this issue.

Talking about FGC in India and how widespread it is, she says, “We do not have a major issue of FGM or FGC. Here we are talking about a few hundreds of families. It is not a widespread problem even in the Bohra community. India is not essentially an FGM practising country. It is not as bad as it is in Indonesia, Egypt, South Africa, etc.”

Dawoodi Bohra women feel that the media has played a role in tarnishing their image.

Even though it is not as widespread, Dawoodi Bohra women feel that the media has played a role in tarnishing their image. “Time and again, media has stereotyped and misrepresented Dawoodi Bohra women. They have not allowed us to speak in defence of our own cultural practices and traditions. We have stayed silent for too long, and this has allowed the narrative to build up against us. Even studies on Khafz, have left out the views of the majority of the Dawoodi Bohra. This is a recurrent theme in messages that the proponents of those who equate FGM as khafz share,” said Kanchwala.

She weighs on the fact that women from this community are well-read and progressive. Kanchwala justifies, “Within the community, you would find that the percentage of women obtaining college degrees is substantially higher than the country average. Not only do our women pursue professional careers but many are also successful entrepreneurs.”

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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