Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Roshan Kokane

Roshan Kokane is based in India and has been Sahiyo’s social media intern since July 2017. He is a journalist and web editor by profession and graduated in journalism from the University of Mumbai. He plans to continue his education in the field of journalism, human rights, public policy and public health to build a career and life in which he can effectively support every cause he believes in. To learn more about how he has supported our work at Sahiyo, read his interview below.
Roshan Kokane - 1.jpg

1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
I first got involved with Sahiyo in mid-2016 when I interviewed one of their co-founders for the article I was working on. Luckily, I got really intrigued upon chatting with them and knowing what they do and instantly felt the need to support the project. I have no first-hand experience of undergoing genital cutting and neither does someone from my family but when I first read about it in my college, it affected me. I knew I had to support the project somehow and began working with Sahiyo. I still help them out whenever I can and in whatever capacity they find me useful in.

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?
I have started working on Sahiyo’s social media channels. I want to help the organisation in amplifying its reach and get more people to understand the impacts of Female Genital Cutting on survivors. I also look forward to helping Sahiyo with their website and reporting.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?
I have really learned a lot from the little time I have spent working with Sahiyo. The co-founders are extremely humble and come with great knowledge and understanding of the subject. They have the right kind of treatment mapped under their objectives for everyone who seeks involvement. The recent investigation had a tremendous impact on the policies around Female Genital Cutting in Kerala and they work the organisation does is truly inspiring for me. Through my involvement, there has been a lot of learnings on human rights, violation of human rights, abuse, trauma, survivors’ strength and compassion for each other.

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?
Please support Sahiyo in every way you can. This is the social innovation (creating change and impact through conversations) we need to ensure that every human being deserves their right to live and no power can bring anyone to do something that’s not just abuse but a severely traumatic practice under the pretext of curbing their sexual desires or citing religious or health benefits. Sahiyo does a commendable job in proving that there are no medical benefits to female genital cutting and is very ethical and strong as a group with its values to end Female Genital Cutting worldwide.

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‘Can I Check Your Khatna?’

by Anonymous

Age: 32
Country: Bahrain

One of my male cousins married a lady who is not Bohra and not Muslim. He had a court marriage with her in the country where he resides, while his mom (my aunt), lived in Bahrain. For the sake of his mom’s happiness, he decided to get a nikah done by the bhai saab of the Bahrain Dawoodi Bohra masjid.

When my aunt went to this bhai saab to inquire about what needs to be done and how to go about it, the bhai saab told her that the girl should have ‘sunnat’ done to her. Meaning, khatna. How creepy! Being a man and asking that a young girl’s genitals be cut. My aunt was really irritated by this but she said nothing. She decided that she’d just go back to the bhai saab a few days later and tell him that it was done, without actually doing it of course, and sparing her daughter-in-law the trauma and humiliation.

When my aunt went back to the bhai saab to say it was done, guess what he said this time? He said that the ben saab (his wife) would need to check that it was done to the bride. Yes! He actually said that his wife would have to check a grown woman’s genitals to make sure she had undergone the process of female genital cutting.

Needless to say, my aunt was enraged by now and my cousin dropped the idea of getting the nikah done by the Bohra masjid in Bahrain. According to my cousin, this happened in either 2011 or 2012.

Female genital cutting or khatna, as it is known in the Dawoodi Bohra community, is already rampant and is done to girls as young as 6 years old, without their consent. This in itself is horrifying. It is sexual abuse and child abuse.

But to ask a grown adult woman who isn’t from your community or religion that she needs to undergo a process that’s traumatizing, humiliating, and completely unnecessary, JUST so she can be a part of the community, and as if the khatna is the only thing that makes us Bohra this borders on cult behaviour! As if getting khatna done is the way for the bride to prove that she will do anything to be a part of the community ‘legally by nikah’ (even though they are already legally married). But what’s more disgusting is that the bhai saab had the gall to ask that his wife check whether the girl’s khatna was done or not.

Sometimes I wonder if these priests even know what they’re asking, and how would they like it if the situation were reversed? Would they be willing to show their private parts to a higher priest to check if they were circumcised properly when they were children? Or show their private parts for any other reason, to someone who is not even a medical professional, just a high ranking person within the community?

No, right? Then how can they ask that for a woman?

And then the bigger question:

What does this have to do with the girl’s nikah or being a part of the community? Nothing. It has nothing to do with it. They could have asked my cousin sister-in-law to recite something, or done any other simple ritual like the misaaq (which just involves answering a few questions and confirming that you’ll be a part of the community, follow its rules, etc) that doesn’t involve having any part of her body cut, let alone a part of her clitoris! How dare you think you have any right over a woman’s body and what has to be done to it?

The thought that angers me the most is that this story has only just reached my ears now. Other Bohras probably don’t even know about the creepy thing this bhai saab demanded, or about the fact that my aunt didn’t get enraged and yell at him for asking such a thing for her daughter-in-law. It also angers me that so many other Bohras would have probably still continued to follow his words even if they came to know of this story.

A priest from your community should NOT be telling you that the women in your community need to have their genitals cut. And if they are, why would you still listen to another word they’re saying or follow any other advice they’re giving you? I’m sure you have a capable enough brain and conscience to know what’s right and wrong, and to act upon it. It’s high time you stop letting bhai saabs get away with things like this.

 

Furore about Female Genital Cutting in Kerala: Impact of Sahiyo’s investigation

by Aysha Mahmood

On August 14, 2017, Sahiyo published a preliminary investigative report pointing to evidence that Female Genital Cutting (FGC) – a practice so far associated only with the Bohras in India – is also being practiced in Kozhikode, Kerala. The report was published in both English (here) and Malayalam (here) and it was followed by a furore within the media and social media circles of Kerala.

Sahiyo’s report was picked up by all the prominent media houses in the state. Mathrubhoomi, a major Malayalam newspaper, conducted a follow-up undercover investigation at the same FGC clinic that Sahiyo had visited, and confirmed the Sahiyo report. Mathrubhumi’s report of August 27 also provided some additional information about the way that clinic has been performing and propagating Female Genital Cutting:

  • The doctors at the clinic mentioned the presence of a middleman named Ansari who brings women to them for FGC.

  • Mathrubhumi claims to have communicated with some people online who offered to take them to clinics that conduct FGC and also offered contacts of traditional “Ossathis” or cutters.

Considering Mathrubhumi is one of the two leading newspapers in Kerala, what followed was an uproar, to put it mildly.

Prominent religious leaders came out denouncing FGC and made statements against the practice.

The health minister of Kerala, KK Shailaja, has ordered the District Medical Officer and Health Department Director of Kozhikode (Calicut) for a probe into the matter, and has asked them to submit a report at the earliest. The minister has stated that any clinic or doctor found practicing FGC will immediately be punished.

On August 27, the Youth League of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) marched to the Kozhikode clinic in question with slogans and placards, and in the presence of the media, proceeded to close the clinic. The clinic is now dysfunctional.

Kerala IMA statement
Kerala IMA’s press statement condemning FGC

On August 28, the Kerala branch of the Indian Medical Association also issued a press release taking a strong stance against FGC. The Association described the practice as “unscientific and against medical ethics”.

The Kozhikode police is also investigating the matter. The city police commissioner has said that it is possible to file a criminal case against the perpetrators of FGC if its victims are ready to do so.

In general, all the major political and religious institutions in Kerala have condemned the act and promised support to put an end to such a practice.

The former state minister for social welfare, Dr. MK Muneer of the IUML party, has said, “It is very shocking news to hear that something we only thought existed among African tribes, exists also in Kerala. Strict action should be taken against such activities.”

A Malayali student, Shani SS, wrote about her personal experience of having undergone FGC, becoming perhaps the first woman from Kerala to publicly share her story of being cut. Her story was published in Mathrubhumi, and mentioned not only her own FGC but also that of her mother, several years ago.

Responses on social media

Malayalam social media has been buzzing with debates on FGC and the reports in Sahiyo and Mathrubhumi, but people’s reactions have been a mixed bag.

The main reaction has largely been disbelief and the usual conspiracy theories of “This is paid news to defame Muslims”, or “because we have not heard of this ever in our lives, it does not exist”. For some, the reaction has been, “to each his own”.

But there is also a comparatively large group of people of social media who have openly supported FGC and are doling out religious texts and Fatwas.

Most of these people are religious scholars from the Shafi sect of Islam and are quite influential in the interior pockets of Kerala. Some of them have openly attacked the religious leaders who spoke against FGC in the media. One of the prominent faces of Kerala politics and its religious front, Sayyid Munavvar Ali Shihab Thangal (the son of IUML’s former president) was forced to take down his Facebook status that spoke against FGC. Supporters of the practice made fun of his “ignorance of Islamic texts and foregoing his religion for admiration from the ignorant”.

Another small-time religious scholar and moulavi, Maniyoor Abdul Kadir Al Kassimi, has been circulating a Fatwa with a Hadith and details on why circumcision is equally compulsory for men and women. This has been found doing rounds on Whatsapp and Facebook and some blogs.

The same emotion can be seen reflected in many Facebook posts and comments by Muslim scholars and moulavis from the same sect and community. These have been liked and shared by many people. It is a reason to be concerned that there is at least some level of acceptance and support for FGC amongst a considerable number of followers.

Not surprisingly, almost all the voices defending FGC on Malayalam social media are those of men. Women’s voices are nowhere to be heard.