Country: United States
My mother is a woman of faith. The innate cultism of the Bohra community has never dissuaded her from being a part of it, attending every function on the bright, colorful Hijri calendar. For decades, that bright calendar has served as a façade to hide inexcusable darkness. I’ve been distant from this community for some time. I’ve often voiced some of the blatant ironies of our sect, particularly with the Hijri calendar. Lailutal Qadr, the holiest night in Ramadan, is now a minor blip on it, largely overshadowed by the birthday of his holiness, Mufaddal Saifuddin, which falls on the same day. She does not take my criticisms lightly and always tells me to have an open mind. She pleads with me to forget the cultism for a minute and focus on the community, the spirituality, and the power of prayer. She’s always been pious to a fault, ignoring the many uncomfortable truths of a community that has so many.
It made it shocking a couple months ago when she expressed her anger and hostility towards Khatna. Sahiyo has cast a large spotlight on this tribal and destructive practice. Growing up in a household of all boys and in a community that’s kept Khatna so hidden, I only learned of the practice through Sahiyo and the articles by so many women who have had the courage to discuss its indignities and the havoc it has caused in their lives.
But it hit home when my mom told me about her own experiences. This deeply religious woman, who has been an advocate for the Bohra community her entire life and encouraged her children to look past certain practices, was not willing to overlook this one. She told my brother and me that if she had a daughter she would never have them undergo this procedure. She told us in excruciating detail about her own experience at the tender age of seven, when she was taken to a dark basement at a neighbor’s home in India. The pain, anger, and sexual frustrations she has suffered since then were self-evident from the tears building up in her eyes. I couldn’t hold back the tears in my own. The anger I felt when reading the stories of other women, rose to a fever pitch when I realized how much it hurt the woman that brought me into this world. A woman I have loved my entire life. She forgave this community and encouraged me to be a part of it. Because, for her generation, the community is everything and the thought of becoming an outcast – that fear of being shunned from family and friends – makes you swallow your pain, frustration, and anger and accept the status quo.
The only beauty in the ugly underbelly surrounding Khatna, is the powerful options we have to confront it and other injustices of the Bohra community. For the first time in thirty years the powers that be are scared to the core. And it’s not just the fear of legal repercussions they will inevitably face in facilitating and encouraging genital mutilation. Their real fear lies in losing the plethora of financial benefits they have always valued – the envelopes filled with bundles of cash, the millions of dollars in Ziyafats, the houses, the cars, and financial control over thousands of small Bohri businesses. The more these injustices are pointed out, the more Bohris – specifically millennials – will go elsewhere for spiritual enlightenment. And with that financial loss, they can never sustain the lavish lifestyle they’ve grown so accustomed to.
But actions always speak louder than words. The first step, and it is imperative, is to find a special woman in your life affected by this practice. Sit down with that woman, talk to her, and understand what she’s been through. It will fill you with the same rage it filled me.
And that’s what we need – a whole lot of rage. We need people in our generation to be angry and to boycott this community unless it returns to serve the spiritual needs of the people it’s tasked with serving. That’s what a religious community can and should be.
I will never forget the pain I saw in my mother’s eyes the night she told me about her experience with Khatna. I will carry it with me moving forward and fight to make sure this practice ends. If we all do our part, it will stop, along with the other immoral practices of a community that has so many. All millennials should exercise the same vengeance. They can’t threaten to destroy our lives like they did to our parents. We hold all the cards here. We shouldn’t be afraid to play our collective strong hand.