In 2017, Masooma Ranalvi, one of the Dawoodi Bohra women who formed the Speak Out on FGM organisation against the inhuman practice of female genital mutilation, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue in August. In the wake of the PM’s stand against triple talaq in his speech on last year’s Independence Day, she wrote that Muslim women would only get complete independence when violence against them, in forms of rape, subjugation and other forms of torture, end. Also known as khatna or khafz, FGM is also a horrifying practice, especially prevalent in the Bohra Muslim community. It is performed on young girls by the elders at a time and situation when they do not even have the freedom to decide for themselves. Now, on February 6 (Tuesday), as the world comes together to commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance For Female Genital Mutilation, here are the basics on what the practice is about and the issues surrounding it.
What is FGM?
According to the United Nations website, the practice is universally accepted as that curbing the human rights of women and girls. Considered a norm in the Dawoodi Bohra community, it perpetuates discrimination against women of an extreme level. It refers to the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, in an attempt to keep their sexual urges and desired curbed and under check. Four kinds of FGM are recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).
* Clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and in rare cases, the removal of the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris, called the prepuce.
* Excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner folds of the vulva called the labia minora, with or without the removal of the outer fold of vulva skin, called the labia majora.
* Infibulation: Creating a seal by cuttind and repositioning labia minora and labia majora through stitching, with or without clitoridectomy, to narrow the vaginal opening.
* Other harmful procedures like scraping, piercing, incising, cauterizing and pricking the female genitalia for non-medical purposes
More often than not, these processes are done without proper anaesthesia or optimal medical supervision.
What are the problems caused by FGM?
In the short-term, FGM can cause bleeding, pain, infections, high fever and shock. In the long term, the practice might result in vaginal infections, urinary and vaginal problems, extreme pain during intercourse and problems during childbirth. In extreme cases, it can be fatal. The discriminating practice stems from and results in further perpetuating gender inequality and the subjugation of females. Because this is carried out on minor girls who have no agency of their own, this is also a serious violation of their human rights, such as their right to privacy, right of security of person, right to bodily integrity, etc.
A bench headed by former chief justice Jagdish Singh Khehar had issued notices to states like Gujarat, Delhi, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, wherein people of the Shia Muslim sect practice the act in more prevalence. However, even though the incumbent government in India passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, SpeakOutOnFGM’s petition asking for its ban continues to be in limbo.
While that is the case in India, more than 23 states across the world have banned the practice and made it a punishable under law. The United States, UK, Australia, France, Sri Lanka, are some of them. Countering those who are against this horrific practice are those finding shelter under the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Associartion for Religious Freedom, who have maintained that khatna causes no physical harm to the women and are carried out as part of a religious belief.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development recently filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court which said, “It is respectfully submitted that at present there is no official data or study (by NCRB etc) which supports the existence of FGM in India.” However, according to a petition by Speak Out on FGM, at least 90,000 women from the Bohra Muslim community have maintained that they have been cut and demands for the practice to end.
India, however, remain committed to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of ending FGM after the General Assembly adopted a resolution by consensus to weed the practice out from all parts of the world.