by Insia Jaliwala
The experience of khatna, not only the actual act but the implications of the practice, was a gradual revelation for me. In the vague haze of childhood memories, that particular day stands out. I must have been around 6 or 7 years old. My parents told me I could miss school that day and were taking me out, I was obviously very ecstatic.
I was taken to a ‘lady doctor’; a gynecologist who applied a red serum on my hand with a cotton bud and asked if it burned. It did. She then proceeded to do the same to my genitalia. I remember the moment when she told me to remove my pants and lie down on the bed. “It’ll be over in a minute,” she said while holding a scalpel in her hand.
There wasn’t much bleeding and I don’t even remember the pain. What I do remember is an inhibiting confusion and fear. That day isn’t registered in my memory as a traumatic event, but a day I associate with a sense of loss. That day an important part of my womanhood was snatched away from me. That day my body was mutilated without my consent.
The reality of the twisted practice struck me only a few years ago when I got into a conversation with my elder sister who told me about her experience, which was much worse and painful. After, I started to explore the subject more. I read about female circumcision and came across the horrifying stories from Africa. I stumbled into many stories of khatna told by the women around me.
I had started to understand the terrifying implications of the practice which differed from person to person and the physical and mental trauma some of my own sisters and close friends had to go through, and are still going through. I also came across many justifications for the practice, some from my family elders which went along the lines of, “This is done to curb a girl’s sexual desire so that she can put her mind to other things”, among many others.
All of this left me with an overwhelming sense of betrayal. My family, my community, had failed me. As I dwelled into it more, I realized that this act of oppression had (as with any other social issue or phenomenon) multiple dimensions and was woven in a convoluted fabric of culture, custom and tradition.
Earlier this year, as a film project for college, I decided to make a documentary on Khatna. During my research for the film I came across Sahiyo and was amazed by the fact that so many women were willing to share their stories on this platform.
My initial thought when I decided to make the film was that no woman would want to talk about this on camera. To my surprise and glee many women around me agreed to be a part of it. There are hundreds of women (and men) out there who want this barbaric practice to stop. There needs to be a discussion about this on a communal level and people of the community need to realise that they have an alternative, they can choose not to impose this upon their young ones.