By Shaima Bohari
I don’t remember how old I was. I remember just that I was a very young girl. My family and I were vacationing in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, in a small house not far from my maternal grandmother’s in Noorani Nagar. My mother called me, told me to change and said my grandmother was going to take me out for a little while. Me being the weird kid I was, I got excited.
So we set out, my nani and I, on a little walk around the block. She explained to me that we were going to see an older lady who was going to help me with something that was for my own benefit. When we reached the house, my nani talked to this lady and introduced me to her. We went into a room in the back where three other older ladies were present. I was told to remove my pants and lie down on a mat laid out on the floor. I felt afraid and naked and my nani told me to just relax and held my hand. The women around me held down my arms and legs, keeping my legs apart. The lady of the house came in with something sharp in one hand and a cloth in the other, and she knelt down beside my legs. She used something like a glass to make a small cut and then pinched something near my vagina. I vividly remember screaming my lungs out and hitting and punching whoever was near my hands, flailing around like I was possessed. It was a short ordeal but it felt like hours had gone by since I’d left the house.
I was told to get up and get dressed. As far as I can remember I wasn’t bandaged or covered with anything but the clothes that I came with. My nani gave me an envelope with some money and asked me to give it as salam to the lady who had mutilated me just minutes before. I was crying even as I kissed her hand and then left with my nani for the walk back, in my blood-stained clothes. After we came home, my mom laid me down on the bed on a set of sheets. Again I was naked from the waist down, and was told to stay there until the bleeding had stopped.
I pushed that memory down and out, or at least I tried to. I could never really forget it though, and now I’m not sure I want to. It was a barbaric and horrible event that I had to go through, but I don’t want to repress it because clearly, that hasn’t worked until now.
I suffer from a myriad problems because of that one incident in my life. I still don’t know how to deal with it. I suffer from pain in my vagina, I can’t look at myself naked, I have self-esteem and body issues because every time I look at myself I feel dirty and violated. I doubt I will ever be able to have a relationship with my future spouse if I decide to get married because I can’t imagine it. I suffer from severe depression which, at least partly, stems from this.
To all the men who have the audacity to tell me that this barbaric mutilation of the female form is inconsequential and alright because it is a religious act: it’s easy for you to say this since you haven’t gone through the trauma. Also as we all know, this systematic, brainwashing and torturing of women is a weapon in your hands.
To all the women who defend female genital mutilation, I want you to know that you are an insult and a curse to all the women who have suffered from the traumas of FGM, and it is YOU who make it okay for men to abuse us. You give them the power to mutilate and oppress us when you stand against other women. Although I cannot speak for any higher power out there, you will find no forgiveness from me.
I also want to point out that although I do blame my grandmother, and my mother, and every member of my family who didn’t stop them, and those who let their own daughters, nieces, cousins, and granddaughters be mutilated, I understand that the majority of the blame lies with the institution that made them believe that this is righteous.
Finally, I ask anyone who reads this to talk to any woman you know about this. Tell them they’re not alone, and that it doesn’t make them any less of a human for having gone through this. Talk to other people, raise awareness about this inhuman practice, so that it is no longer a taboo topic. So that women everywhere are able to open up about their horrific past and know it wasn’t their fault.