I have been speaking to Bohra family and friends about khatna for a few years now, but in the past 18 days, having khatna conversations as part of the Each One Reach One campaign has been a very different, heart-warming, emotional experience. Initially, when I approached Bohra relatives, the response was unenthusiastic – I was mostly just ignored. Then the Sydney Bohra jamaat decided to issue a landmark notice asking Australian Bohras to obey the nation’s laws and stop practicing khatna. This proved to be the trigger that dozens of Bohras needed to respond to khatna conversations, and suddenly, a number of cousins and friends reached out to me themselves, offering words of support.
My mother was reaching out too, by sending news articles about khatna and the Sydney jamaat decision to her own Bohra circles. Responses have been varied – some believe that the issue is insignificant, some see it as a religious tradition that must be followed, some asked questions to know more about the impact of the practice. A Bohra father told me he would never let khatna happen to his daughter.
The Each One Reach One campaign has also given me an opportunity to bond with relatives I barely spoke to before – I found myself having long conversations about traditions, religion, society and patriarchy with cousins who I have not even met yet. And I discovered that there are many others who share my views and care about critically evaluating the world.
The question of khatna is essentially a question of women’s rights within religion, and it has been particularly heart-warming to see that many of those who had conversations about khatna also spoke to me about iddat – the practice of making widows mourn in isolation, dressed in white and cut off from male company for more than four months.
This has been the most rewarding part of the Each One Reach One campaign. The Bohra community, like most other religious groups, desperately needs a woman’s movement. And thanks to these conversations, a debate has been triggered somewhere in minds that had so far not even given a thought to these issues.