Belying the government’s admission to the Supreme Court that there is no data on the existence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in India, a new qualitative study shows that 75 per cent of 94 respondents interviewed had subjected their daughters to the practice.
The study titled “The Clitoral Hood A Contested Site”, was released Monday before International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM. The detailed study was conducted by independent researchers Lakshmi Anantnarayan, Shabana Diler and Natasha Menon along with WeSpeakOut, a coalition of Bohra women against FGM and the women’s rights organisation Nari Samata Manch.
The research also showed that 97 per cent of the female respondents, who remembered their own FGM as children, recalled it being very painful. Also known as khafz in the Bohra community (a Shia Muslim sect), the procedure involves partial or complete removal of the clitoral hood or the clitoris once the girl is seven years old.
While 33 per cent of female respondents said FGM has had an adverse impact on their sexual life, 10 per cent of the women reported having frequent urinary tract infections, and incontinence, with one reported case of excessive bleeding. A majority of the female respondents reported they felt low self-esteem, shame, betrayal, anger, and suffered from depression as a direct consequence of FGM.
The Indian Express had reported on December 28, 2017, that the WCD ministry, in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, has said that there is no official data or study …
The study released on Monday comprises in-depth interviews with 83 women and 11 men – both proponents and opponents of FGM – from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Kerala (where a few Sunni Muslim families were found practising FGM) as well as from the United States, Canada and United Arab Emirates, countries with significant Bohra diaspora.
88 respondents said they cumulatively knew 1,248 women in their families who had undergone khafz. Also, the prevalence of the practice varied from 64 per cent in upper income groups to 100 per cent among poorer families. “This only shows that lower income groups are more vulnerable to pressure and surveillance from religious heads,” said Anantnarayan, one of the researchers.
The study also debunks the myth that men from the community are oblivious to the practice and shows they are involved in the perpetuation of the practice on political and personal levels with many insisting on marrying women who have been “cut”.
Masooma Ranalvi, an FGM survivor and founder of WeSpeakOut, said there was a move to ban FGM across the world. “Why is the Union government not listening to pleas of women from our community? Eight months ago, the WCD Ministry was all set to issue an advisory on the FGM ban to all states but they never went ahead with it. The current government has time and again said that issues of Muslim women need to be addressed. The relationship between the Syedna (a Dawoodi Bohra community leader) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is cordial. Why then, can’t the issue be taken up?” she said.
Durga Nandini of Change.org, India said that first public evidence on the existence of FGM came in December 2015 in the form of an online petition asking for its ban supported by over 1 lakh people.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who released the FGM report Monday said the government has chosen to go only after triple talaq “so as to score political points” instead of taking on the “politically more challenging” issue of FGM among Bohras.
“In this particular case (FGM), it is a specific wrong done within a specific community…Therefore, it should be seen as a human rights issue involving the rights and dignity of Indian women. It doesn’t matter to me which community is doing it,” said Tharoor.
The Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom (DBWRF), who are in favour of the practice, also issued a statement Monday disapproving the study. Samina Kanchwala, Secretary, DBWRF said khafz is circumcision and not mutilation. “Khafz is a harmless cultural/religious practice unique to the Dawoodi Bohra community. We reiterate that there is no place for any kind of mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra religion and culture.”