The World Health Organization (WHO)’s guidelines on the management of health complications from female genital mutilation/cutting states that the “involvement of health-care providers in performing FGM is likely to confer a sense of legitimacy on the practice and could give the impression that the procedure is good for women’s health, or at least that it is harmless.” Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in India. It is difficult to rationalize how a medical professional who has taken a Hippocratic Oath to “…abstain from all intentional wrongdoing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free,” can promote khatna in India.
In one part of the world doctors from our community are tried for violating the laws of their country (United States and Australia), and then we have doctors in India who are using the argument of religious freedom to advocate for a practice that is performed for non-medical reasons on a non-consenting minor girl. We have seen letters issued by various jamaats across the world, who use the hadeeth: حُبُّ الْوَطَنِ مِنَ الإِيمَانِ (Hubbul-Watan Min al-Eemaan), which translates to “Love of one’s homeland (country) is from faith”, to denounce the practice. Contrary to this, we have supporters of khatna, in India, who wish to continue with the archaic custom, despite the Indian government taking a stand and stating laws, the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, against the practice. These are inconsistencies and we question them.
Opposition to khatna is not at all unexpected. We had anticipated it, at some level, looked forward to being able to engage in a healthy exchange of views on a democratic platform. Unfortunately, in the last week, the premise of the opposition we have heard is based on half-truths. The fact that such strong opposition exists shows that our efforts to engage the community have led people to discuss the matter and question the practice. Sahiyo will continue to work with the community to bring an end to the practice in a proactive way.
We add that that this practice is not only continued by Dawoodi Bohras. There are those from other South Asian communities who have spoken out against it too. Sahiyo focuses on engaging these communities, as well, but clearly, the largest group Sahiyo continues to engage is the Dawoodi Bohra community. We draw strength from knowing the high levels of education of women within the Dawoodi Bohras and are very hopeful that with a healthy dialogue we can re-evaluate this practice in the present day and come up with a solution that is in the best interests of all children and women.
Last but not least, we would like to say that Sahiyo is saddened to be a target of deliberate slander, especially when the messages being passed around on WhatsApp and other social media platforms are blatantly untrue. To clarify a few doubts – Sahiyo has not started a petition addressed to the Syedna and we have not filed the PIL to ban khatna in India, either. We are only trying to engage with the community to break the silence around a practice we see as a violation of child rights and human rights. We are trying to ensure that the community is able to take an informed view on a rite of passage that can be, and sometimes is, harmful to children.
We have always welcomed healthy discussion and now, more than ever, we think it is critical to be able to engage in a mature conversation on the subject. This is what we are trying to do through our advocacy campaign, Each One Reach One 2 that has been jointly launched with WeSpeakOut this Ramzan. The campaign will create means of effective communication to discuss the subject of khatna amongst various stakeholders. We hope that our brothers and sisters are able to use these and debate the issue to be able to understand the long-term and short-term pros and cons of this practice, rather than let emotion and religion alone influence their decision-making.