On July 10, judges of the Supreme Court of India observed that the “bodily integrity of a woman” cannot be violated while hearing a petition about Female Genital Cutting. The Court made this observation while hearing the arguments of a petition filed by the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom, which claims that FGC, as practiced by the Bohra community, is not “FGM” but “circumcision”, and is an essential religious practice that they have the constitutional right to follow.
In response to these arguments, made by DBWRF’s lawyer, Abhishek Singhvi, Justice Chandrachud said, “Why should the bodily integrity of a woman be subject to some external authority? One’s genitals is (sic) an extremely private affair.” The judges also observed that the practice cannot be imposed on those who do not want it.
This is not the final verdict of the Court, and the hearings in the case on FGC in India will continue.
On June 27, India’s Ministry for Women and Child Development denied the prevalence of Female Genital Cutting in the country – it’s second U-turn on the issue in the past 13 months. This denial came after a perception poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women, based on a variety of parameters that included the practice of FGC. The Indian government responded to this poll by issuing a press release refuting and dismissing its methodology. In the press release, the Government also stated that “Female Genital Mutilation” is “not practiced in India”.
This is clearly at odds with the stand that the Central Government took in the Supreme Court just two months ago when it stated that FGC is “already an offence” under Indian law and asked the Court for guidelines on how to tackle the challenge of FGC.
This is not the first time that the government has made contradictory statements about FGC. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had first publicly acknowledged the practice of FGC in India, and the need to ban it, in May 2017. In December 2017, however, the Government dismissed the testimonies of several women who have spoken out about their FGC experiences by claiming, in the Supreme Court, that there is no “official data” to support the existence of FGC in India.
Such flip-flops leave FGC survivors in the lurch, unsure of whether their government is likely to support the end of a practice that continues to harm so many women and girls in India.
Sahiyo comment – An appeal to Maneka Gandhi: Stop the flip-flops on Female Genital Cutting
The problem with the Indian Government denying the existence of Female Genital Mutilation in India: Priya Goswami