Bohras divided, Government silent over female genetic mutilation in India

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Amanjeet Singh-

New Delhi:  As seventy-five percent women among estimated half million Dawoodi Bohras in India being at risk of genital cutting, central government has failed to bring strict Anti-Female Genital Cutting (FGC) law, prompting survivors and activists to launch strong campaign.

A qualitative research on FGC released in February directly questions the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in the Supreme Court in December last year. Study reveals three quarters of women among India’s Dawoodi Bohra sect have undergone genital cutting specifically during pre-teens while government affidavit says no data on FGC is available in India.

With no known health benefits, World health organisation (WHO) says Female Genetic mutilation is harmful.

“The removal of or damage to healthy, normal genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body. FGM can cause excessive bleeding, swelling of genital tissue and problems urinating, and severe infections that can lead to shock and in some cases, death, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of prenatal deaths,”  a report by WHO reads.

Dawoodi Bohra women’s association for religious freedom (DBWRF) – a group in the community believes khafz (female circumcision) is a harmless cultural and religious practice, and it is different from mutilation,”

“Our religious books are clear that as far as circumcision is concerned, only the prepuce can be nicked or cut. No other part of the genitalia can be touched. So any surgery or cutting done on the clitoris, labia minora or labia majora is prohibited in our religion,” members of pro- female circumcision group DBWRF believe.

 Dr. Sujaat Vali, consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist associated with Lara Mother Health Care Center in Gujarat were sizeable population of Bohra community dwells, conducted a study on 20 Bohra women establishing that Khatna practise is harmful.

“The practice of khatna does tamper with women’s genitals. It is, without any doubt, mutilation,” Vali said. He explains: “It is almost impossible to cut the skin of the prepuce without affecting the clitoris as there is an extremely narrow space between the two.”

 Dr Vali who is an invitro fertilisation specialist says even the trained hand of a surgeon cannot achieve what traditional cutters in the community tend to achieve. His findings have revealed that 30% of women, who visited her, had more than half of their clitoris cut. In the remaining patients, less than half of the clitoris was cut. The survivors of FGM complain that sex is not desirable to them due to an abnormal feeling, Dr Vali says

Masooma Ranavali, who is spearheading anti-FGM campaign in the country, and herself a survivor of this practise, says the condition in which this exercise is conducted is traumatic, harmful and painful and women are subjected to situation where possibility to something going wrong is very high.

“The traditional circumcisers, who perform this, have no understanding of woman body and physiology,” Ranavali says.  Contrarily, pro-circumcisers activists claim that more Bohras are now following medical procedure of circumcision.

“The number of people who have the procedure done by a trained doctor is increasing in the cities, while in the rural areas and among lower income groups, many still get the procedure done by traditional circumcisers who are trained by older circumcisers. We are slowly training our doctors and encouraging more families to get it done in hospitals run for Dawoodi Bohra community, free of cost, this way hygiene and post khafz care is much easier,” reads a post on DBWRF website.

A survivor group, WeSpeakOut which commissioned the study titled “The Clitoral Hood A Contested Site,” said the stories on genital cutting are “heartwrenching” and it is extremely unfortunate that government has failed to uphold the rights of Bohra women community.

Since there are no laws against the practise, police or any other agency cannot file a case against genital mutilation, anti- circumcision activists say.

“The government of India has completely ignored the voices of such women who have been subjected to FGC.  India, despite signatory to international treaties like UN resolution to eliminate FGC, has not done enough to stop the practise,” Masooma Ranavali said

The Campaign– #EndFGM (Female genetic mutilation) — started by ‘Speak Out on FGM’ on Change.org in 2015 has garnered 85,000 signatures.

“We are fighting from three years. There is PIL in the Supreme Court in which we are going to intervene, we have conducted a study which clearly outlines the impact of type-1 FGM on physical, psychology and sexual health,” Ranalvi said.

 Ranalvi said they are now approaching medical boards like Indian Medical Association to raise awareness among doctors to help in curbing such practises. Since government has maintained a casual approach, we will increase our awareness campaigns

Ranalvi believes misconceptions around this practise and associating it with religious texts have alleviated the problem. Activists say they will employ every resource to continue their struggle against FGC.

Minister for women and child development last year warned of banning FGM if Bohras themselves restrained from this practise. Since then, ministry has not spoken on the issue.

 The chairperson National Commission for Women did not respond on the issue.

“You should write to Delhi Commission for Women for your news story,” she said

In February, the UN Secretary-General warned that the number of girls subjected to FGM worldwide could rise to 68 million by 2030 unless preventative action is taken.

More than 200 million women and girls living in 30 countries are currently believed to have undergone the procedure.

 Earlier this month, UK court has banned an Indian-origin family from flying their baby daughter to India because she is at risk of being subjected to an “utterly unacceptable” genital mutilation procedure.

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