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.