‘You have no right over your body’: Things khatna supporters have told me

By Saleha Paatwala

Age: 23

Country: India

After watching ‘Reflecting Her’(a film on FGC) that gave me strength to fight, it has now been six months since I set out on this mission to end the hazardous practice of Khatna. In these months, I have had discussions with numerous individuals including my relatives, some of whom have been against the practice and some of whom have been in support of it. From my discussions, I have learned why some individuals support this practice and continue following it.

At first, I was extremely apprehensive to begin discussing this topic in my family group, but I knew that I had to. After my conversation with them, I realized my own relatives were living with misguided knowledge on the topic.

Below are a few reasons given by individuals who support the practice. I have also included my answers to their reasons:

  • Cousin – It is Rasullah’s sunnah (the Prophet’s preaching for the benefit of people, not a compulsion) which has been taken after.
    My response – If Khatna is Sunnah, why has it been made obligatory on all ladies, then?
  • Friend – It is Allah who has made us and as a dedication to him, we should give him something.
    My response – If he has made us, why does he need us to give something back to him? Also, if he truly needs some kind of devotion from us, why not cut a hand or a leg and give him, may be?
  • Grandmother – Women get to be devout and clean.
    My response – Why would Allah send us to earth impious and impure?  So are those who haven’t experienced this practice corrupt and debase?
  • Cousin – If not done on time, she may become promiscuous and destroy her life.
    My response – How does a piece of her body lead her to promiscuity? Doesn’t that depend on her upbringing and not her clitoris?
  • Cousin – You have no right over your body.
    My response – Yes, according to ‘you’, women have no privilege to explore her sexuality. People can touch her without her consent & cut any part of her because she has no right on her own body.
  • Cousin– If she has undergone this practice, she will be faithful to her husband.
    My response – Are women born just to keep her better half fulfilled, to make due in this patriarchal society?

One comment which was made by a relative still echoes in my ears. “I will soon give birth to a girl, make her undergo khatna before you, and you won’t be able to stop me from doing it”. In the twenty-first century, where ideas are developing rapidly, holding on to such patriarchal thinking is pointless.

I was stunned to hear one of my friend’s thoughts on this issue. He said, “It’s good to make Allah happy by giving him something”. Many people consider it a religious practice. They think it is written in the holy book, the ‘Quran’. But when I ask them to show me where it is written, they provide me no answer.  Many of those who I asked, told me not to go further into this issue as it will lead to my alienation. According to them, I am squandering my time trying to end this practice.

Yet I know that it is imperative to understand the outcomes of this practice when it is considered to be a part of your religion and when it is done on young girls who have no clue why it is being performed on them. It maddens me to imagine that we were sliced just to control our sexuality. Why not permit ladies to live as they are and explore their sexuality without putting confinements on them.

A little seven-year-old girl, who doesn’t yet understand what sexuality is, is taken through this insidious practice which later gives her the feeling of betrayal by her own family members. This cruelty is so important that if she hasn’t got cut in her younger age, she gets asked by her in-laws at the time of marriage to undergo it so that she becomes pious, before the marriage. Many women still can’t speak out against this practice even if they want to do so because patriarchal traditions still consider women as servants of her in-laws and her husband.

From the Twitter debate in July, organized by Sahiyo, numerous arguments came forward that supported Khatna. One such lady said, “I had experienced it and I don’t considerably recall the agony. It was managed without harming me and I have no unforgiving memory of it”. She continued, “I also gave consent to my parents to have my ears pierced & it didn’t harm too”.  I have heard many arguments comparing khatna to ear or nose piercing. While ear piercing doesn’t remove any skin, FGC in the Bohra community includes partial or complete removal of the clitoral hood.

If I didn’t have the support of my folks, it would have been difficult to speak out against this practice. My mom, who couldn’t stop her mother from taking her and us to have this practice performed, now strictly condemns this act and wants me to fight FGC until it ends.

Khatna was considered a secretive act and so I never spoke about it to anyone, not even with my sisters. After gathering more courage, I spoke about it to my father and he said “yes, I knew about this act. Your grandmother was so stubborn that she didn’t listen to me at all.”

When my father tried to stop her, my grandmother told him, “Don’t you want your girl to be pious? Do you want her to become promiscuous?”

He lost that argument which is what prompted my sisters to get circumcised as well. He also now wants me to speak out against the practice so that no other girl goes through such a practice which is neither religiously based nor has any health benefits.

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