(Originally published in Scroll.in on February 16, 2016)
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
In another victory for Dawoodi Bohras campaigning for an end to the ancient practice of female genital cutting, all Bohra residents of London have been instructed to stop the practice of khatna, or female circumcision, as it is illegal in the United Kingdom.
Just last week, a similar notice was issued by community authorities to all Bohra residents of Australia, where three Bohras were recently convicted for circumcising two minor girls and now face potential jail time.
The Bohras are a small sect of Shia Muslims who hail predominantly from Gujarat but are now spread out around the world. They are the only community known to practise female genital cutting in India, but so far, there are no laws against the practice in India.
On February 15, the Anjuman-e-Burhani (London), a trust that manages the affairs of the Bohra community in London, sent out a letter to all local members informing them of a resolution passed by the trust on Saturday.
The letter clarifies that laws in the United Kingdom make all forms of Female Genital Mutilation illegal in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and that since 1985, the Bohra practice of khatna – which involves snipping off the tip of a young girl’s clitoral hood – has been illegal even if it is performed outside of the UK by or on a UK citizen.
‘Abide by the law of the land’
Like the notice issued by Australian Bohra authorities, the London letter quotes an Islamic teaching by Prophet Mohammed – “love for the land of abode is part of faith” – to emphasise the need for community members to abide by the laws of their country.
The letter then instructs community members not to engage in khatna within the UK under any circumstances, and also not to take children outside the UK for the procedure, “as that is equally prohibited in law”.
The notices issued, both in Australia and in London, indicate the impact that the conviction of the three Bohras in Sydney has had on the community.
In November 2015, the Supreme Court of New South Wales found a Bohra mother, a retired nurse and a senior clergy member called Shabbir Vaziri guilty of carrying out genital cutting on two minor sisters between 2010 and 2012, when the girls were six and seven years old respectively.
The three people could face a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. Hearings to determine the quantum of punishment began on February 5 and are expected to go on for a while.
This is the first instance of any Bohra being arrested for khatna anywhere in the world, and the London letter makes note of that: “It is noted that a number of members of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Sydney, Australia, have been convicted in November 2015 by the Supreme Court of New South Wales for undertaking khafd [khatna], which emphasises the seriousness of the crime.”
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