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.
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.