Instead of bringing any legislation banning female genital mutilation, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has decided to use provisions in existing laws to crack down on the practice mainly prevalent in the Dawoodi Bohra community. Minister Maneka Gandhi will write to the Syedna, the spiritual leader of the community, asking him to enforce a ban on the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) as it is illegal.
Maneka told The Indian Express that the ministry had drafted an advisory listing provisions under the IPC and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act under which the practice is illegal. “We drafted the advisory after we received representations from women of the community who are victims themselves, seeking our help in abolishing the practice. I will be sending a letter along with a copy of the advisory to the Syedna requesting him to step in so as to ensure a ban on FGM. It is best when change is initiated from within the community,” she said.
While the NDA government has been vocal about its stance on outlawing triple talaq, sources said it is expected to tread more cautiously on female genital mutilation. This is because Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys a very strong support from the Syedna and in the community, both in India and in the diaspora.
As per the advisory, perpetrators — including parents of the girl child — can be punished with imprisonment of one year to life, depending on the gravity of the offence. The genital mutilation procedure is done on girls at the age of seven years. India is home to about half a million Dawoodi Bohras, a Shia sub-sect of traders hailing from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, with large numbers settled in the UK, US, East African countries, Australia and Pakistan.
The advisory, which will be attached with the letter to the Syedna, states that parents of the child as well as practitioners who perform the khatna can be punished under Sections 321 to 326 of the IPC dealing with voluntarily causing hurt or grievous hurt. It also lists POCSO Act Sections 3 (penetrative sexual assault), 5 (aggravated penetrative sexual assault) and 9 (aggravated sexual assault) which entail imprisonment of up to life term. “We will also be sending the advisory to all state chief secretaries, health secretaries and home secretaries to ensure its enforceability,” said an official.
In 2016, in response to arrests and trial in a case in Australia, the Bohra clergy in several countries issued letters to the community seeking a stop to the practice. The ministry hopes the Syedna will issue similar orders in India.