My parents would not have cut me if they had the right information, says a Sri Lankan Bohra

By: Anonymous

Country: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Age: in her 50s

Circa 1970s, I was seven years old.  

I hardly have any memories of my life during this period and most are vague, but I do remember almost every waking minute of one particular day.

I woke up, I guess like any other ordinary day, had breakfast with my brother, who was very much a part of my childhood and then was told by my mother to get in the car,she was taking me somewhere. I remember it being odd as my brother was not accompanying us. We were like magnets and spent all our childhood literally pasted next to each other.

Whilst in the car, my mother who was driving, told me I should not tell anyone nor talk about where I was being taken that day. I was a fairly obedient and non-confrontational child, so obviously didn’t ask too many questions.

We arrived at a house, not too far from our own place, and I was taken in by my mum. My favourite Aunt was there too. I was happy to see her.

Next thing I remember I was in a room, laying on a table. I remember my aunt by my side, the doctor and his wife were in the room as well (I came to know that this was the doctor and his wife, later on in my life, I didn’t know this at the time). I don’t have a memory of my mother in the room, maybe it’s something I’ve blocked out, or maybe she was upset at what was going to happen and didn’t stay in the room. I remember two or more people holding down my legs. I’m not sure if I was screaming or protesting, I don’t have a memory about this, but I do remember PAIN, EXTREME PAIN, UNBEARABLE PAIN. Throughout this ordeal, my favourite aunt was by my side, obviously comforting me.

My next memory of the day was arriving home, I remember there being discomfort between my legs. I was kept in my parents room the entire day. They were exceptionally caring and sweet to me that entire day, and my naughty mischievous brother was not allowed anywhere near my vicinity.

I do not have any further memories of the immediate days that followed, which obviously would have been some sort of recovery period.

During my mid-teens is when I realised exactly what had been done to me that day as a seven year old child – circumcision, the cutting off of the clitoris, also known as female genital mutilation – FGM. As a young teenager I did not have access to much information about what a terrible act this was, but I knew enough with the trauma I went through, to know that this should never have been done to me.

At this point I would like to state that although the responsibility for this act, which we call Khatna in our community, lies solely with my parents, I DO KNOW, that if they had ACCESS to the right information, that FGM was a heinous act of violation upon the female body, they would not have gone ahead with it. (After all, it was officially banned by the UN sometime in the 1990s, so there must have been so little awareness about this in the mid 70s).

I know this, because in the late 90s, when my daughter turned seven years old, this topic arose, and we were expected to do this for her as well. Both my husband and I were vehemently against this and were not willing to budge on our decision. We explained our case to my parents and made them aware that the UN banned it, they realised then that they were not informed of these views and easily accepted our decision.

I belong to the Bohra community which has its roots in Mumbai India, and I’m the third generation born Bohra woman in Sri Lanka. The practice of FGM or Khatna has been in our community for many generations. The apologists in our community often argue that we in the Bohra community administer this in a hygienic sterile environment, performed by formally qualified MBBS doctors in our community, thus claiming that unlike the ways it’s done in Africa, where many of the cases are prone to severe infections and sometimes fatalities, we don’t have such cases. I firmly believe that FGM, regardless of how, when and where it is performed should not be done to children who have NO SAY in it. No one has the right to violate or mutilate the body of young girls and modify them permanently. Many clerics in our community claim that this is done to cull the sexual pleasure in a woman, allowing her to be more devoted and committed to her husband’s desires. From my own experience, there is no truth to that idea. Thus the whole purpose of this practice is not achieved.

I’m happy to have shared my experience, and sincerely hope that the purpose of publishing my story will be achieved with the immediate banning of FGM in Sri Lanka.

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5 thoughts on “My parents would not have cut me if they had the right information, says a Sri Lankan Bohra

  1. Reblogged this on fitdaddancing and commented:
    Since 1988, I have fought against the human rights abuse that is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I first learned of this horrific practice when I attended an African womens’ conference when I was working for the U.S. Department of State in Somalia. Since that time, I have come to understand the long-term negative impact that FGM has on girls’ and womens’ physical and mental health. It is a practice that has no religious basis, and is used as a tool of male oppression to ensure that women are “clean” and chaste before and during marriage. There are other purported reasons for it, though it’s the male oppression component of it that really burns me, with many women going along with it as if it’s normal. It’s an engrained practice that is being medicalized all around the world, including in wealthier nations. Many young girls are threatened by it, and are often sent back to their home countries for what is termed “vacation cutting,” though of course they have no idea what is going to happen to them when they board the plane in New York. Men must be involved in fighting this scourge, and so that’s what I do. As a man, father, husband, and as a citizen of the world, I am aligned with my sisters and brothers to eradicate FGM so that not one more girl has to suffer its dreadful consequences.

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  2. [In response to the above article]
    As a Bohra living in Sri Lanka, I truly empathize with the writer of this article.
    However, I would like to clarify to a few points mentioned in it.

    1) ISLAMIC FC: Islamic female circumcision practiced by Muslims (Shafii, Hanbali, Ismalis & Dawoodi Bohras) is performed only on the foreskin covering the clitoris. The clitoris is NOT and should NEVER be touched (this is very clearly mentioned in all the Islamic books of jurisprudence). Islamic FC is labeled as Type 1a by the WHO – whom, till date, have not been able to prove even one instance of harm associated with Type 1a.

    2) WRONG PRACTICE: The writer states that she underwent “the cutting off of the clitoris”. This is NOT the Islamic practice. According to Islam, this is mutilation, and is labeled as Type 1b by the WHO.
    Hence, if the procedure was incorrectly performed on her, then, as a well-wisher of the community, she should bring this matter up with the local authorities and hold the doctor responsible, thus preventing any future malpractice. Is it justifiable to ban the entire practice of based on the malpractice of one doctor?

    3) PAIN: Unlike the anecdotal stories of rusted blades and dark dingy rooms, the writer acknowledges that in Sri Lanka, the procedure is carried out under medical supervision. As a Muslim, we should be focusing our energies on medicalizing the procedure using anesthetics (like male circumcision), to ensure the Islamic tenets are upheld, and at the same time, ensure pain reduction, health and safety. Is this pain any more than an ear piercing or tonsil removal? Should we ban all procedures and surgeries because they are painful?

    4) CONSENT: Despite it being carried out under medical supervision in Sri Lanka, the writer then brings up the issue of consent – “regardless of how, when and where it is performed should not be done to children who have NO SAY in it”. At the same time, she is silent on the fate of her brother. He too would have been circumcised as an infant boy, who obviously had “NO SAY in it” either. So why does she remain silent with regards to male circumcision – which is a more invasive and potentially harmful procedure?

    5) PLEASURE: The writer talks about the Islamic justification for female circumcision. She says:
    “Many clerics in our community claim that this is done to cull the sexual pleasure in a woman, allowing her to be more devoted and committed to her husband’s desires. From my own experience, there is no truth to that idea.”
    Any cleric that says that FC is performed to curb sexual pleasure is WRONG. This rumour – passed on by misinformed individuals – has no basis in Islam. And this is where I agree with the writer when she says, “From my own experience, there is no truth to that idea.” Every Bohra or Classical Islamic text very clearly states that FC is performed to ENHANCE sexual pleasure in women. This is why the procedure of Clitoral Unhooding is “performed to allow women to experience heightened arousal” (http://www.clitoralunhooding.com/), or how the Play Girl Magazine article refers to female circumcision as a “$100 Surgery for a Million-Dollar Sex Life”.

    6) As for the legalities, many have accused the UN & WHO of being racist, sexist, and culturally biased when it comes to female circumcision. (Richard A. Shweder, The goose and the gander). They seek to ban an UN-HARMFUL practice done for religious reasons, but are silent when 9 year old British girls undergo Labiaplasty for COSMETIC reasons (http://www.bbc.com/news/health-40410459).

    CONCLUDING: I empathize with the pain and suffering experienced by the writer, but at the same time, urge her to reach out to her own community members first and clarify these misconceptions.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ruqaiyah Decor, for your response and your empathy towards the author of this article. The points you have raised are worth considering, and here is our response: If female circumcision was truly an Islamic practice, it would have been mentioned in the Quran, but it is not. Circumcision, both male and female, is mentioned only in Hadiths, and reflects the fact that it was already an existing practice at the time of the Prophet. The Prophet may not have opposed it then, but that doesn’t mean we should not question it today. There are many social practices that existed in those days, like child marriage or slavery, which we now no longer follow because we know better. Yes, we do need a lot more research on the impact of Type 1a female circumcision, and that will happen, but in the meantime, we can all at least listen to the stories of the women who HAVE faced negative consequences of this type of cutting, be it physical, emotional or sexual. Let’s not assume they have all been cut in the ‘wrong’ manner, because if we truly listen to the details of their stories – as Sahiyo has been doing for a few years – we will see that there are myriad women have been cut the ‘right’ way but were still affected in a number of ways, as well as women who weren’t. Comparing female circumcision to other kinds of surgeries is misleading – khatna is a totally NON-MEDICAL practice that is done purely for cultural reasons. There is no NEED to do it, unlike medical surgeries. It is a practice with no known benefits, but has negatively affected many women in many ways. It is also not the same as clitoral unhooding, because clitoral unhooding is a proper medical surgery that adult, sexually-active women may choose IF they find that they have too much prepuce tissue, or too small a clitoral glans, which hinders their ability to orgasm. It is not done on ALL girl children without consent, the way khatna is. And if minors are undergoing labiaplasties and other genital surgeries for cosmetic purposes, then yes – that should very much be included within the definition of Female Genital Cutting, and we should all speak out against it and put a stop to it. Regarding your point about pleasure: ever since the movement against Female Genital Cutting has gathered steam, some Bohra women have been publicly defending the practice by saying that it is done not to CURB sexual desire, but rather to ENHANCE pleasure. They claim that this is mentioned in the religious texts. But is it, really? Daim al-Islam and some other Hadiths merely indicate that it is good for the woman IF SHE IS NOT CUT TOO SEVERELY. It’s a caution against cutting too much, but that doesn’t mean that the purpose of cutting is to enhance pleasure. On the ground, among communities that practice FGC, there is no one single or ‘real’ reason for cutting girls. Different families in the same community cite different reasons, and the fact is that one of the most common reasons given is to curb or moderate sexual desire. We can argue whether it is the right or wrong reason, but that won’t change the fact that millions of girls over several generations have but cut because their families believed it would keep them chaste. And finally, consent: do infant boys consent to being circumcised? No, and by all means, we can raise our voices against that too. Our movement focuses on Female Genital Cutting because it is a far more insidious practice rooted in patriarchy, but we whole-heartedly support those speaking out against male circumcision too.

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    2. The author of the article above, namely “My parents would not have cut me if they had the right information, says a Sri Lankan Bohra”, reached out to Sahiyo and asked us to post this in response to Ruqaiyah Doctor’s comment:

      “Before I respond to each of the individual points cited here in the comments, I would like to state that this account is the writer’s own personal experience with khatna and NOT written from a RELIGIOUS POINT OF VIEW. So the religious decree cited here in the comments is irrelevant and the writer stands FIRMLY that this practice which has NO proven scientific or medical benefits, and should NOT BE DONE to any child who has no say to Consent. THANK YOU.

      1. In response to Ruqaiyah Doctor’s comment that ‘Islamic female circumcision practiced by Muslims…is performed only on the foreskin covering the clitoris. The clitoris is NOT and should NEVER be touched’ and that WHO has till date ‘not been able to prove even one instance of harm associated with Type 1a’:

      Even if there is no proof of any harm associated with the practice…. the writer would really like to know what PROVEN MEDICAL OR SCIENTIFIC BENEFIT there is of this practice ? This account is the writers own experience with Khatna, and has not been written to be debated on a religious point of view, so the Islamic decree is irrelevant.

      Is there is a single Pediatrician or OBGYN, who will publicly certify or validate that the foreskin covering the clitoris can be removed without ever touching the clitoris (especially in the manner the procedure is done on small 7 year old girls who undergo this without proper anesthesia).

      Furthermore, why don’t doctors of the community in SRI LANKA who are continuing to do this practice to date, come out OPENLY and VALIDATE the benefits of this practice. If the argument is that they cannot speak out because it is an illegal practice, but they conforming to the religious decree behind it… One must then question the doctors code of ethics and their adherence to the hypocritic oath.

      2. In response to the commenter’s statement that the cutting off of the clitoris is ‘wrong’, ‘not Islamic’ and that ‘she should bring this matter up with the local authorities and hold the doctor responsible’:

      Firstly – cutting/nicking/pricking – whatever is actually done to ANY PART of the female genitalia without the consent of the victim (and children cannot give consent), is a heinous violation upon the female body, regardless of it being the right or wrong way as per the Islamic practice.

      Secondly, for those who may want to take consideration of the ISLAMIC point of view of the practice, (and here the writer is speaking of the Borah community) this is not administered legally in hospitals or medical clinics anywhere in the world, and there are NO OFFICIAL RECORDS of this ever being done, other than the witnesses present. Even here in Sri Lanka, they are performed by doctors in confidentiality within the community. So in the event it has been WRONGLY – (As per the Islamic Practice) administered to you, as you point out in your comment above, TO BE ABLE TO SUE A DOCTOR FOR WRONG DOING, there has to be a record of such procedures, and maybe some forms of consent duly signed by the patient or in this instance the guardian, for this matter to be taken up in a court of law. When these practices are carried out in INTENSE SECRECY, with no record of it, how is this even possible? Also as this is performed usually in our community at the age of 7, the realization of the victim arises several years later, when she is an adult. I’m sure even the statutes of limitations for Mal Practice suites, may have expired by then.

      3. On the point about pain and the comparison to ear piercing and tonsil removal:

      Local anesthesia is never administered, because the child when placed on the table is already struggling and not cooperating, so there is no time to do both, as a result, it has to be a quick action, and this is what’s argued by many medical professionals, that the haste in performing it, whilst trying to hold down an already struggling child who’s probably involuntarily trying to close her legs as much as she can, can take off too much or too little of the intended genitalia.

      I’m in SHOCK that the commenter can equate the ear lobe/tonsils to a VITAL part of the body – the female genitalia. This is such a significant and important function, both Psychologically and Physiologically, of the FEMALE BODY AND BEING.

      4. On the point about male circumcision:

      Yes, there has been very little awareness of this all these years, though it has NOT BEEN formally banned by any International or national medical body as injurious to health as FGC has been the world over. However, it’s important that more awareness is created and if necessary a categorical ban on this is made as well. In fact I read recently, one of the Scandinavian countries just banned this procedure to be administered on minor boys. The whole purpose of writing this article was to create awareness of this practice on the female body, and if banning Male circumcision on minors is the criteria to stop Female circumcision on minors, then SO BE IT.

      When the writer is more well versed and has more knowledge on the subject, she may consider writing an article on it as well.

      5. In response to the claim that the reason of ‘curbing sexual pleasure’ is a ‘rumour’, and that FC is equal to clitoral unhooding:

      Some important content from the website you cite above are included below, (see http://www.clitoralunhooding.com/clitoral-unhooding.htm):

      ‘Who Are The Best Candidates?
      WOMEN who believe they have a difficult time reaching sexual climax (or not at all), or those who often demonstrate enlarged labia, which can be indicative of excess tissue in the Clitoral Hood. Hoodectomy is also called Female Clitoral Circumcision, in that it is representative of a common male procedure that some doctors say can be comparative. There is no stereotypical woman to describe the physical characteristics of a candidate for Hoodectomy. The decision to have this procedure done is largely an elective one, depending on the desires of the individual. Generally, woman in average physical condition or good health can be a candidate for Clitoral Unhooding surgery.
      About the Procedure and Recovery Time:
      To begin, your surgeon might choose to perform a series of tests to determine if there is an actual need for the procedure. Sometimes, the problem can lie with a hormonal imbalance and the sexual dysfunction may not require a surgery at all.’

      HOW ON EARTH is a seven year old little girl to determine, or what gives her parents the right to determine that she may be a suitable candidate?????? Please also note the excerpt and the whole article very clearly mentions WOMAN in citing the criteria/benefits and negatives of this procedure. We are referring to A SEVEN YEAR OLD LITTLE GIRL- I’m appalled that this could even be mentioned as an argument to the content of this story.

      If the claim that clerics are promoting this supposedly wrong practice, is in fact a rumour… then it must be corrected, and clerics should come out strongly explaining the procedure and its benefits OPENLY. Because khatna is done in so much secrecy these are the undercurrent messages being circulated around within the community. The Borah community worldwide receives regular communiques and newsletters – Why hasn’t ONE such communique voiced the so called benefits and religious aspects of this practice or specified the ‘right way’?.

      6. On the ‘silence’ around labiaplasties:

      As Sahiyo rightfully replied to your comment on this, I stand firmly on this as well. Yes these underage children should not be allowed to perform such surgeries. This must be addressed strongly. And your claim that authorities are silent on this issue, this is not so. I’m appending two links here that by ACOG (American College of Gynaecologists) who explicitly state the medical unsafety on such practices.

      https://www.acog.org/-/media/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/co686.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20171008T1943214724

      https://www.acog.org/-/media/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Gynecologic-Practice/co378.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20171008T1942372536

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