Art: A Tool for Healing and Dialogue with Communities Affected by FGM

By Naomi Rosen

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM), although often surrounded by secrecy and taboo, is now discussed more frequently in the media. Activist groups such as Sahiyo are taking great steps to heighten awareness and dialogue, within relational, familial, and community contexts, because the practice is often hidden, shameful, and the subject is therefore avoided. In many cultures and contexts, it is already difficult to talk about women’s bodies and women’s sexuality, but when talking about FGM/C, the discomfort and silence are compounded by generations of tradition, ideas about what it means to be feminine and pure, religious beliefs, and a multitude of other reasons dependent on geographical, cultural, religious, and personal contexts.

Art is a helpful tool and medium in supporting communities affected by FGM/C to express and explore the topic of FGM/C in a way that feels less threatening and can allow for more openness and dialogue. Creative practices allow for what is secret and taboo to be brought to light. It encourages the exploration of what is unexplainable through words, and allows for the unheard to be spoken aloud, and for individuals to truly listen to and empathize with one another. Art can heal emotional wounds through the creation of meaning-making and metaphor.

This year as a German Chancellor Fellow through the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and under the guidance of Tobe Levin von Gleichen, I have been interviewing organizations and individuals in Germany but also more broadly in Europe and the United States to explore how the arts can serve as a tool for trauma healing and dialogue with communities affected by FGM/C and other forms of Gender-Based Violence.  I have learned creative practices are utilized with communities affected by FGM/C and the unique role the arts can serve.

The purpose of compiling this information through my various interviews is to create a handbook to support organizations, practitioners, and direct-service providers in utilizing art and creative approaches in their daily practice. The handbook seeks to expand the definition of “art” to include storytelling, gardening, cooking, and more. It will suggest unique ways to use the arts, from generating intergenerational dialogue to creating spaces for prevention and awareness-raising in gender violence. The resulting publication will also contain descriptions of the organizations I have interviewed and their contact information so that these organizations can be connected with one another and to other individuals for future collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

While FGM/C is a custom that for generations has been hidden, the utilization of the arts can create the opportunity for healing from potential traumatic responses as a result of the practice, as well as fostering dialogue that may not be possible otherwise.

For more information, please contact Naomi Rosen at naomirrosen@gmail.com

For more information on Tobe Levin von Gleichen and her publishing company, UnCut Voices Press, visit the blog

https://uncutvoices.wordpress.com

———————————————————————-

10667947_10202689596231590_1315759759_o-minNaomi Rosen lives in Frankfurt, Germany. After completing at B.S. in Theater at Northwestern University, she was a Northwestern University Public Interest Program Fellow (NUPIP), where she witnesses the role art and theater can play in healing and change in working with at-risk youth. She went on to pursue her Masters in Social Work at University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration where she specialized in Trauma-Informed Practice, Creative Arts Therapies, LGBTQ Affirmative Practice, and Multicultural, Multisystemic Practice with trainings at Live Oak Therapy Practice. Naomi is currently a German Chancellor Fellow through the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation where she is writing a handbook about arts-based methods to support communities affected by FGM and other forms of Gender-Based Violence.

 

The cut that pierced my life

(Trigger Warning: Below is the account of one woman’s experience with FGC. We thank her for being brave and sharing her story with us).

Age: 25
Country of residence: India

I was born in July, 1990. A rainbow baby they called me. They knew I would be different. Perhaps even arduous. My late mother often said that I would have a hard life till a certain age as my childbirth was a strenuous one – she surely did go along with some strange age old concepts.

Including that of FGM.

I was given a fairly advanced education, my parents enrolled me into one of the better schools and colleges in the city and always encouraged me to achieve more. As a child, even as an adult now, my parents are the only people I trust blindly. I never thought my mother who was extremely well educated and a super achiever herself would ever make a bad call regarding her children. She pursued so many courses and was a successful fashion designer. She chased her dreams, worked hard and set the most telling example for her daughter. My mother could do no wrong. She was my ultimate protector. Until one day I found out about how she let me succumb to FGM.

I studied 5 years of Law, became a licensed lawyer and knew that corporate law was not for me. I decided to pursue human rights law – specifically women’s rights law. The thing when you take up a career path like mine is that you learn several disturbing realities along the way. Every day you learn about a new violation, a new world problem and a ultimately a new way of containing/solving it. You become more aware of things you would not ordinarily know; things you are better off not knowing about. Things that won’t allow you to sleep peacefully at night. This is precisely how I understood more about Female Genital Mutilation. I haven’t stopped being angry since then, I haven’t stopped feeling grossly violated and I haven’t been able to make sense of it at all.

At my workplace there was an assignment in which we all had to prepare, present and discuss a social concern. I researched for days before stumbling upon the whole concept of FGM. This was a couple of years ago. FGM was not known of at all, nobody was talking about it, nobody made any noise about it. It was like the abandoned child in a group of bigger, cooler children who had
more scope.

I researched, read and gathered all kinds of information about the barbaric practice and suddenly it dawned upon me – I am a victim! I am a child, girl, woman, human being whose right has been violated and I did not even know about it!

Almost like a sudden time travel/flashback I was transported back to the day it all happened. I remembered it so clearly, I did not even have to try to recollect. I remembered what I was wearing, where we went, who all accompanied me. I recollected the whole ghastly event like it had just happened. The memory of being gashed had been so severely embedded and suppressed in my mind and subconscious, but clearly it was not forgotten.

I was taken to a little clinic someplace in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai (Marol, maybe, which also happens to be the chosen destination for many of the important events of the Bohra community, like Muharram etc.) I was wearing maroon shorts (probably to make the bleeding seem normal) and a beige t-shirt. I might have been all of 8 years old. A man with a blade and a beard (of course) conducted the inhumane procedure and I distinctly
remember being given tonnes of coconut water to drink thereafter. My childhood friends were also dragged. It was one big infringement picnic.

Nobody told me that I was subjected to this “nipping”. Nobody thought it was important to tell me this when I became a teenager or even an adult. I was not asked; I was not told. I was asked to pull my shorts down and got nipped in my young, sensitive lady parts, it was all as if it was perfectly normal and casual.

Years later when I learned all about the practise, the absolutely ridiculous reasoning behind it, the gross violation of our rights… I raised questions and I demanded answers!

I remember storming into the room and bombarding my mother and all she said to me was that she was sorry. She told me how she was a very young mother and did not know any better and how she did not find the understanding or courage to oppose the mutilation. She was lied to and told that the “khatna” was done for easier childbirth whilst the naked hard
truth is that it is done to apparently curb sexual desires in women (the fools think that’s how hormones work!) It is hereby the one and only grievance I ever held against my late mother.

She should have known better. I was her baby and she should have protected me. My father refuses to acknowledge it or talk about it (guilt does make one rather reserved) and my maternal grandmother and other family members just think I am the arduous rainbow baby you read about in the opening of this article, the kind of girl who just questions everything, and they often talk about how my choice of career has made me very strong-headed. Oh boy! I am so glad about that!

I still have no answers. I have raised questions regarding FGM amongst the learned in the community, with women of knowledge, women who come from the high priest’s royal family. People say that what must be done, must be done. Tradition has no reasons and must be followed. It’s a stance from the patriarchal, uneducated, uninformed age and it is scary how many people still live that kind of way of life.

I hope to clarify something loudly – If you cut your little daughter hoping for her to be a woman of virtue and not feel the urge for sexual desires, it is not the case. It didn’t decrease my sex drive at all, if anything, I am extremely fond of sex, my body, men and everything that I wish to be fond of. It probably only alters your sensitivity and ability to orgasm.

There is only one thing that disturbs and angers me, I am seething with anger as I write this article. I just will never be able to tell if I experience sex or orgasms differently from women who have not been cut. For me, what I feel is great, is normal but I know it is altered. I know that sex isn’t the same for me or even if it is, I just would not believe it. I feel incomplete, violated and infuriated. I feel like part of me was taken away – without my permission,
without any logic. I don’t think FGM is very different from the other kinds of violations against women today – be it rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment or even stalking.

All the people who advocate, stand for and practise FGM – I want to cut all your fingertips off, or cut away one finger from each hand. What does one need so many fingers for anyway? What if you feel like doing things with your hands that you shouldn’t be doing? I feel about your fingers just the way you feel about my clitoris.

Please leave our bodies alone. Please leave us alone. STOP FGM.

– The FGM victim who still loves sex and is still struggling to feel whole!

Cafe Dissensus runs a special issue on female circumcision in the Bohra community

Cafe Dissensus, an alternative magazine about dissenting art, culture, literature and politics, has run a special May issue focusing solely on female genital cutting or khatna in the Dawoodi Bohra community. Guest-edited by Australian author Rashida Murphy, the FGC-special issue features fifteen essays and deeply personal stories by survivors of khatna and women who are driving the movement against the practice in the Bohra community.

In her editorial, Murphy writes about her own escape from the cut and a tense summer in which she had to guard her young daughter from relatives who were keen to have her cut. Masooma Ranalvi, who founded Speak Out on FGM, discusses the anatomy of an unprecedented movement in the Bohra community. Dilshad and Shaheeda Tavawalla provide a comprehensive history of the Bohra faith and the fight against khatna. The many personal narratives of women who underwent the blade – Zehra, Sherebanu, Sultana, Zarine, Saleha, Fatema – reveal how long-lasting the trauma of khatna can be.

The issue also features essays by various Sahiyo co-founders: Insia Dariwala speaks of survivor’s guilt and being “uncut“, Mariya Taher seeks to understand the burden of tradition, Aarefa Johari explores the relationship women have with their clitoris and in a joint essay, Mariya and Aarefa converse about the strength that survivors draw from each other.

Read the full Cafe Dissensus issue here.

Dear daughter, I am sorry you were circumcised

A heartfelt letter from a Bohra father, who wished to remain unnamed, to his grown-up daughter:

Dear Daughter,

Many years ago, I made a mistake. Your mother came to me and said “I’m going to have our daughter circumcised”. I knew nothing about this procedure, assuming that your mother knew best. My ignorance is no excuse for what you went through.

I’ve asked your mother many times since this occurred, why an educated woman who resides in a country where this is illegal subjected her daughter to this practice? I never received a valid reason. Simply saying that “it’s in our religion” is not a good enough answer for me to accept that my daughter went through this.

When I read your account of what happened, my eyes filled with tears. For all of these years I was oblivious to the trauma that you underwent. You were an innocent child. I wonder how many other fathers are in the same position as me – finally learning about this heinous practice and unaware of how their daughters have silently struggled with this for so many years.

I remember the first time I held you in my arms and thought to myself “she’s perfect”. You were my little miracle, after years of wanting a daughter, you finally arrived. I’m sorry that something was removed from you, because there was nothing wrong with you to begin with. I know that it is your upbringing and your strong values that prevent you from sinning and nothing else.

To think that you were only 5 years old, completely oblivious to what was happening to you and frightened, I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to protect you.

Ignorance is never an excuse. Nor is it acceptable to turn a blind eye. I promise you that I will do everything in my power to support the noble cause of finally putting an end to this practice – and ensuring that other fathers become aware of what goes on behind closed doors. A crime against girls, committed by those who love them due to incorrect beliefs and reasons.

One day, when you become a mother, I will stand behind you, like I should have done years ago and ensure that this family’s next generation never has to suffer the way that you did.

All my love,

Dad

Sahiyo welcomes the new WHO guidelines to improve care for millions living with female genital cutting

The new World Health Organisation guidelines released at the Women Deliver conference, 2016, in Copenhagen is a huge win for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting activists worldwide. Sahiyo is cheering on too!

The guidelines, while defining the practice of various types of FGC, has finally put Asia and Middle East on the map of areas affected along with Africa. As the guidelines state:

‘International migration has now made the practice, prevalent in 30 countries in Africa and in a few countries in Asia and the Middle East, a global health issue.’

Stressing on the need for health care, the guidelines aim to empower health workers acknowledging the crucial role they play, while also acknowledging the gap between health workers’ training and the knowledge of how to tackle the health complications of FGC. 

As the report states, “Access to the right information and good training can help prevent new cases and ensure that the millions of women who have undergone FGM get the help they need.”

Another great aspect touched upon by the guidelines is so called “medicalization” of the practice of FGC – parents asking medical doctors to perform genital cutting because they think it will be less harmful. This is a phenomenon that we, at Sahiyo, have often observed among those who seek to justify Khatna. Several Bohras, particularly in urban spaces, now approach gynaecologists or other doctors within the community to have their daughters cut, and as the WHO guidelines point out, getting healthcare workers to stop participating in this practice is a big challenge. 

The guidelines have highlighted the need for evidence-based practice and creation of protocols and manuals including ‘what to do when faced with requests from parents or family members to perform FGM on girls’.

Some of the focus areas in the report include:

  • Mental health including cognitive behavioral therapy and psychological support to treat depression and anxiety disorders
  • Female sexual health covering sexual counselling to prevent or treat female sexual dysfunction
  • Information and education for all women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation, and health education and information on de-infibulation, where appropriate, for both health-care providers and for women and girls

In conclusion, this is a great set of guidelines incorporating Asia and Middle East and incisively addressing pseudo-scientific practices that often come in the way of dealing with problems that may arise from FGC. It is also significant that the guidelines make a specific mention on the effect of FGC on mental health, since that is a ground much need to be covered by FGC activists and counselors, and is particularly relevant in the context of khatna as practiced by the Bohras.

Read the full WHO report here.

Mariya Taher to represent Sahiyo at Women Deliver Conference

 

Sahiyo is proud to report that cofounder Mariya Taher has been invited by the Orchid photo (3)Project to attend the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark and speak at a side event on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, title Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Achieving the Global Goal, Together.  Detailed information on side event below:

Name of Event: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Achieving the Global Goal, Together

Organizers: Orchid Project

Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Time: 18:00 – 20:00

Description: In partnership, Orchid Project and The Girl Generation will host an interactive panel event to highlight prevalence of FGM/C in countries worldwide and discuss strategies for achieving progress against Global Goals target 5.3. Diverse speakers from practising countries will unite to share their personal experiences, bringing local activism to the global stage. Audience members will be encouraged to share and compare learnings from different contexts, discussing effective current methods and strategies for ending FGC. Together we aim to take advantage of the recently enshrined target in the Global Goals to hold governments to account and work towards a world free from FGM/C.

Speakers Include:

  • Dr Linah Jebill Kilimo, Chair of Anti-FGM Board, Kenya
  • Mariya Taher, Sahiyo, India and United States
  • Kelechukwu Nwachukwu, Nigerian youth activists
  • Filzah Sumartono, Singaporean youth activists from AWARE

CHAIRS:

  • Julia Lalla-Maharajh, Orchid Project
  • Faith MWangi-Powell, The Girl Generation

ABOUT WOMEN DELIVER CONFERENCE:

Women Deliver, the world’s largest conference on the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women in the last decade, will be held on May 16-19th. The conference will bring together diverse voices and interests to drive progress in maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and human rights. Allies from around the world will come together to build capacity, share solutions, and forge partnerships, together creating coalitions, communications, and action that spark political commitment and investment in girls and women.

The work of Women Deliver will include:

  • Convening global and regional conferences
  • Engaging new allies in the movement
  • Building the next generation of advocates
  • Developing advocacy tools and resources.

To learn more about the conference, you can visit http://www.womendeliver.org/

Sahiyo infringing copyright privilege of Anjuman-e-Burhani Trust of Sydney or an instance of online harassment and limiting blogging rights- A case of Sahiyo VS the Trust

  • Just in case you are wondering how the page on the resolutions banning FGC (Khatna) in Australia, United Kingdom and United States vanished from our website – read on

Since 2015, Sahiyo has been operating a website to inform the public about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna occurring amongst Dawoodi Bohra communities in India and many other countries around the globe. Our website was created with the intention to have it act as educational tool regarding the traumatic and harmful consequences of performing FGC. We also understood the importance of storytelling in engaging in social change, and allowed our blog to be a healing platform in which others can voice their own experiences of from  FGC. There is strength in numbers, and we were dedicated to empowering others to be agents of social change.

The website was also a resource where the general community could come to find out the latest news regarding FGC in the Bohra community, including country legislation banning FGC, human rights doctrines condemning FGC, research studies speaking on the harmful effects of FGC,interventions used to stop FGC, as well as media reports regarding the practice of FGC in various parts of the world.

On February 8th, 2016, the Anjuman-e-Burhani Trust of Sydney released a notice to all members of the Dawoodi Bohra community in their jurisdiction to honor the laws of the land in which they reside and, accordingly, instructed them to refrain from carrying out the practice of ‘khafd’ or ‘khanta’ on their daughters. To see more, click here. Soon after, many additional Dawoodi Bohra jamaats in different cities around the world began issuing letters to their members, asking them to stop practicing FGC because it was against the law in those countries.

Receiving these resolutions seemed like a tremendous victory, and showed that religious leaders were finally acknowledging that FGC was a harmful practice. To support the religious leaders and show the positive steps being taken by the community, Sahiyo made a page on our website to share all of the public resolutions that we were receiving from various Dawoodi Bohra jammats (congregations) throughout the world.

However, in March 2016, Sahiyo received a cease and desist letter, a threat to serve legal notice to WordPress (under which www.sahiyo.com is registered) and to sue all the five co-founders individually under the breach of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for publishing resolution by the Anjuman-e-Burhani Trust of Sydney on banning Khatna in Australia, the letter stated that it was a copyright infringement on Sahiyo’s part to publish this resolution on our website www.sahiyo.com.

Even though the letters did not refute Sahiyo and it’s co-founders’ right to free speech, specifically mentioning that we may go ahead and summarise the contents of the resolution, it clearly stated that we must take the letter down as it was an infringement of copyright protected by the DMCA:

“The Letter is an original work, copyright in which subsists and belongs to the Trust and the contents of which are non-trivial.”

The DMCA has been notoriously famous for being used against blogger rights and restricting their content. Many respectable organizations of international repute have fought the threat to serve DMCA or the DMCA notice in their own capacity. (Read about one such case OPG VS Diebold  won by Electronic Frontier Foundation safeguarding blogger’s interest) .

Receiving the letter was of course concerning for us, as we were only sharing what materials had been shared with us and continues to be shared through social media channels both in private (Whatsapp groups and e-mail) and public (Facebook, Twitter). What was more concerning was the question regarding why the religious authorities issuing these resolution letters would be concerned with sharing the good progress in ending FGC publicly?

Unfortunately in April 2016, we received our informal answer. Sadly, the comments by Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin in his most recent wa’az (sermon) in Mumbai showed that perhaps the issuing of such letters was not made in the most sincere of efforts to end FGC. The Syenda’s pro-khatna remarks indicated that the public resolutions letters were applicable to the diaspora Dawoodi Bohras in Australia, United Kingdom, and United States, only on paper. Read more here. With Sahiyo receiving the  Cease and Desist Notice, an attempt to re-silence the practice of khatna had been made.

While our content is what could be termed as within terms of Fair Use Policy, meant for non-commercial, educational purposes only; circumventing any legal exchange any further, we took the page consisting of the letters down. Perhaps, it was indeed something that we couldn’t legally publish on our website. Perhaps, Sahiyo had a window through WordPress’s fair use policy. The matter was not such to press further as the all pervasive social media had already guaranteed outreach of the resolutions.

By shedding light on what our tiny/fledgling organization has faced, we hope to bring up other questions as well. Is this a copyright infringement or an example of limiting blogger rights? Why is it okay to have these letters widely published on the social media and not okay to have them consolidated on our website? This may be a legal conundrum that Sahiyo has accidentally stumbled into, but it is an important question for all of us to learn from.

‘Everyone’s business’: Representing Dawoodi Bohras at the No FGM Australia panel discussion in Sydney

by Mubina Jamdar 

Female Genital Mutilation is child abuse and a form of gender-based violence in the name of religion: This was the clear message that emerged from the panel discussion held at The Australian Human Rights Commission office in Sydney on April 29, 2016. The event, hosted by No FGM Australia, was titled “FGM is Everyone’s Business”, and I had the honour of speaking on the panel on the subject of khatna (female circumcision) in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

FGM is illegal in many countries around the world, including Australia. In November 2015, in one of the first convictions under Australia’s anti-FGM law, three Dawoodi Bohras were held guilty of circumcising two minor girls. Since the Bohra community predominantly comes from India, it is time for India to ban this practice and protect young girls from this barbaric practice.

At the Sydney event, speakers included internationally-renowned Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Felicity Gerry QC, international expert in FGM law, and other FGM experts including researchers, health professionals, educators, law enforcement agency and social workers.

Here is a summary of key points that the panel raised:

  • FGM, depending on the severity of the cutting, can lead to many serious health issues, even death.
  • It causes lifelong psychological scars and for some, it leads to serious mental health issues.
  • It’s easy to stop the practice in the family if the man takes a firm stand. Women often find it difficult to convince in-laws. Therefore, educating men is equally important.
  • No Islamic scholar has cited any Quranic injunction advising female genital cutting. It’s a cultural practice that existed long before Islam.
  • FGM is an issue of child abuse and child protection. For that reason, this should be made illegal under the same provisions.
  • Australia has a large population from African countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, middle eastern countries and many other countries where FGM is prevalent.
  • Education is the key, at the school level and in the affected community.
  • Spiritual leaders around the world need to give a joint statement to stop the practice.
  • FGM is everyone’s business.

My speech was aimed at educators, community workers and law enforcement agencies. I gave them insights into the community culture to help design future educational programs. I suggested the need to emphasize in education programs that FGM is not a teaching of the Quran or the Prophet, Rasulullah. Since this community is tightly controlled by the clergy and its head office in Mumbai, it is not sufficient to educate community members. Amils (Priests) should be held  responsible by law to discourage community members from practicing FGM. They must report incidents of FGM to the police.

How can you help?

Please sign the petition to make FGM illegal in India, addressed to the Minister of Women and Child Welfare. It was launched by “Speak out on FGM” on Change.org:
https://www.change.org/p/end-female-genital-mutilation-in-india

[Photo courtesy: No FGM Australia]

Joint statement on Syedna Taher Fakhruddin’s stand against khatna

Sahiyo and Speak Out On FGM welcome the statement by Syedna Taher Fakhruddin of the Fatemi Dawat, which calls for the disallowing of FGC/khatna of the girl child.

FGC exists in Bohras in India and worldwide. There are various sects within the Bohras: Dawoodis, Sulemanis, Alvis, and within Dawoodis itself there is a current power struggle going on, which does not concern us. Speak Out on FGM and Sahiyo have representation of Bohra women from all these sects and are exclusively concerned about the welfare of the girl child and women (they may belong to any sect, religion or region/country) and are opposed to FGC/khatna on the girl child as it constitutes a severe human rights violation.

In this context we welcome the disallowing of khatna of minor girls. What their statement also says is that the CDH (clitoral de-hooding) procedure will be an elective procedure for the legal adult woman and not compulsory or enforced. We also would like to emphasise that it is not generally a medical necessity and can be done only if necessary on medical advice.

We also appeal to all the leaders of the other Bohra sects to pay heed to the voices of so many women and call for an end to FGM/FGC/khatna.

IMG-20160509-WA0002
Office of the 54th Dai al-Mutlaq – His Holiness Syedna Taher Fakhruddin Press Statement

Bohra men must speak up to save their daughters from female circumcision

Name: Yusuf
Country: India

The fatwa given during the Zikra majlis by Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin in favor of female genital cutting dug up the wound that exists in my heart which makes me write this post.

Looking at parts from the audio clip leaked from the majlis, at one point, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin says what translates to English as:

“It must be done. If it is a man, it can be done openly and if it is a woman it must be discreet. But the act must be done. Do you understand what I am saying? Let people say what they want.”

The Syedna made no direct mention of the word “khatna” or “khafz”, but asks that the act be done discreetly for girls so that the community does not get tangled in any legal trouble. He cryptically says, “Do you understand what I am saying?” It was a clear reference to female genital mutilation (FGM). It is obvious that this was in response to the raging debate on FGM that has occurred in public after three Bohras were convicted in Australia for practicing khatna on two minor girls. No one from the clergy has come forward to participate in this debate, and the Syedna in his fatwa said, “We are not willing to talk to anyone on this issue”.

The reason this issue dug up a wound in my heart is that a couple of years ago my daughter was made to undergo this barbaric ritual, against my wishes, under pressure from family elders and the ladies in particular.

A year before my daughter turned seven, my wife told me that when our daughter turns seven we have to do her khatna. Unlike most men in the community, I was aware of what khatna or FGM is and I told her that I will not allow this. I told her this practice was started centuries ago by Bohras who wanted to curb the sexual desire of their women, as they frequently travelled for business.

I told her that there is no scientific/medical basis for khatna or FGM. There is no mention of it in the Quran and that other Muslim sects do not practice it. I even told her that it is illegal in the western world and has been declared a violation of human rights by the United Nations.

What I also did was initiate a discussion within my close Bohra friends group. I raised the issue as to why a girl who doesn’t understand what is going on or what’s being done to her has to go through this, especially when the ones taking her for the cut are people she trusts.

One reply I received from a female friend in the group is etched in my memory. She said, “Would you want your daughter to have multiple sex partners and have extra marital affairs?”

I was taken aback by the reply, particularly as this friend is a well-educated person otherwise! It left me in despair on realizing the extent of falsehoods that have been propagated within the community, with people being brainwashed into believing something as barbaric as khatna, which has no scientific basis and is a violation of human rights. Forcibly doing something that is thought to curb sexual desire is in itself a violation of human rights. If educated young women of the community think in this manner, what to say of the elders who still dominate decision making in the majority of Bohra households?

My wife agreed with me and was reluctant to put our daughter through the horror. She told my mom and her mom that I was against the decision. She was told by both that there would be no argument and that this centuries-old practice has to continue just like how they went through it.

I being the only son, live with my parents. My wife was torn between me on one side and my mother and her mother on the other. Talking to my parents did not help and ended with the usual invocation that it’s a “religious obligation”, Moula, tears, emotions etc.

My wife and I left the matter there hoping that when the time came, we could fake it. But, when my daughter turned seven, my mom said she would accompany us to take our daughter to get her khatna. She wouldn’t let us go alone. She made sure the appointment with a Bohra gynecologist (sigh!) was made.

My daughter was put under the blade. The fault is mine. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough or forceful enough then to prevent that atrocity on my daughter. But, now that there is a perfidious attitude where on one hand there is this fatwa in favor of the practice, while on the other hand, jamaats in Western countries have issued letters telling citizens to refrain from the practice, I thought it is time we men from the community spoke out against it. It is time for Bohra men to be informed about this evil practice and come out against it to save their daughters.

As it is well-known that the consequences of openly raising your voice against the Syedna has dire consequences, it is going to be difficult to get rid of this practice by mobilizing support from within the community. Some people may be against it, but they don’t say it openly.

In my opinion, building support in the larger civil society and legal recourse is the best way to end the practice. Maybe a public interest litigation (PIL) in India will get positive result. There is already a raging debate in India over triple talaq after a lady filed a PIL against it, and it has got larger public attention and support.

I commend the members of Sahiyo who are fighting against FGM. This post is my small contribution in support of their effort for a common good.

~ Written by Yusuf, a guilt-ridden and remorseful father belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community