I will not support khatna even if my in-laws pressurise me

by Ummehani

Age: 28

Country: India

I was all of five and do not remember much. What I do remember is my mum and my sister taking me to some Aunty’s house on the pretext of meeting a relative. That unknown Aunty made me sleep on a soft table kind of a thing and asked me not to worry at all. She then pulled my panties down and had some knife sort of thing. I am not sure what it was.

She prayed something and cut some part of my genitals…again, I’m not sure what. She put some medicine on a cotton ball, put it down there and made me wear my panty. She asked my mum to feed me coconut water thrice a day for two days.

As far as I remember, I didn’t ask my mum or my sister anything about what had happened to me. I was so shocked and taken aback.

The next day, my panty was stained. My mum made me wear a new one and I guess it stopped bleeding thereafter. I don’t think I had difficulty peeing – of course, there must have been a little discomfort for sure but I have no vivid memories of it.

People of our Bohra Muslim community say that khatna is a mandatory ritual and we have to carry it out for every little girl and boy. They say it’s a dirty part that needs to be cut. I don’t know how far this is true.

I also don’t know whether girls from other communities enjoy better sex or not. There have been many reports about this that I am unsure of. There is actually a lot of vagueness on this topic that I would like to have some clarification on.  

I am married and my husband is pretty cool and modern. I would not want khatna for my daughter, but I don’t know if my in-laws and my parents would agree if I differed with them on this ritual. Even if they insist on having it done, I still don’t support the practice. I will not do it for my daughter.

I am grateful I was able to talk to a therapist about my khatna

(First published on January 6, 2016)

by Anonymous

Age: 30

Country: United States

I was not more than seven years old when I recall going into a medical complex on a quiet Sunday afternoon accompanied by my mother and our family friend. My mother told me it was time for my “khatna” or circumcision. She explained it as a rite of passage, something all the little girls in our Dawoodi Bohra community had to do. I remember feeling scared but I didn’t know exactly why. I just had a feeling something terrible was about to happen to me as our friend unlocked the building with her keys and we continued into her desolate practice. We went into one of the brightly colored rooms where alphabet wallpaper boarded me in. I started crying before it even happened while she crooned, “all I’m going to do is remove a liiiitle piece of skin.” Totally exposed, I was asked to relax and read the wallpapered alphabet backwards. My mother helped hold me still while I was flat on my back and in hysterics. The snip which took maybe half a second was followed by a sharp-shooting pain that seemed to last in that moment, for eternity. I bled for three days and then it was over.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen, the end of my freshman year in college that I stumbled upon an article from one of my classes, describing the experience of a woman who had been a victim of FGM, or female genital mutilation. After reading the article once, I was immediately reminded of that Sunday afternoon twelve years prior. There was no way the same thing could have been done to me. My seven-year-old perspective of a little piece of skin being removed was analogous to that of a piece of skin from the top layer of the palm of a hand. My cousin used to stick a needle through that top layer and tell me it was magic that the needle was sticking there. She eventually revealed her secret and showed me the protective top layer that separated her hand from the skin. I guess like that layer, I always figured it would grow back. Still, the feeling of uncertainty drove me to call a couple of peers and academics in my community to ask whether our “khatna” was in fact, a partial removal of my clitoris. Their answer confirmed the worst of my fears. My next concern of “how much?” tormented me, and after a frantic visit to the school nurse, I got my answer: “There’s only a remnant left,” said the nurse practitioner who examined me.

***

I don’t believe my discovery was adequately addressed the first time as the rest of my college experience was consumed by bouts of grief, rage, frustration, insecurity, and depression. My feelings only grew stronger as I got older and had more encounters with the opposite sex. My overcompensating, defensive attitude permeated all aspects of my life—friends, family, work, and academics. It wasn’t until my mid-20s when I shared with my gynecologist during a routine visit what happened to me, that I was given three names of specialized therapists in the area with whom I could speak about my concerns. My insurance provider at the time would not cover therapy. Fortunately, one of three therapists agreed to see me for a discounted out-of-pocket fee because she was interested in my case.

To this day, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to talk through what happened to me in a safe space as such resources and treatment were unavailable to me at home or in my community. I learned it was ok to talk about sex, explore my sexuality, and sexual feelings. I was even prescribed homework to assist me in doing so. At the time of the therapy, I had been sexually active and my partner, who was incredibly supportive, was also invited to participate in one of my sessions. When growing up, I never thought I would have sex before marriage. The idea behind the circumcision was to curb any sexual appetite I might have. Ironically, once I learned this had happened, I wanted nothing more than to have sex to see what my capabilities were. While I was incredibly nervous and insecure about having sex, I was more open to losing my virginity in the context of a serious relationship, which is how it happened for me.

One of my main insecurities about sex was that I felt like I was driving without the headlights on. Often times, I didn’t know where to go or how to guide my driver. I felt like a failure. To this day, I still have not experienced orgasm. While sex is enjoyable for me and I could describe what I can achieve as a “mini-climax”, I am bothered by the fact that I may never get to experience this wonderful part of life. While it’s no secret many women who have not been “circumcised” struggle with the same issues, a part of me will always wonder if that would have been true for me had this not happened. I will never know.

I was spared from khatna because my Dadi happened to pass away

by Anonymous

Age: 34

Country: India

I came to know about the practice when I was seven years old, but all I knew was that khatna means removing something from your body.

My two elder sisters have undergone khatna, but I was not cut. The reason for this is that my dadi (grandmother) passed away before it was my turn to be cut. My parents had got my sisters’ khatna done because of pressure from my dadi – otherwise they never wanted to perform khatna on any of their daughters.

I was in the 7th standard when I first discussed khatna with my mother. After coming from school, I told my mother about a class we had had on sex education, menstruation, puberty and bodily changes. My mom brought up khatna during this talk. She told me it is done to reduce sexual pleasure.

Innocently, I asked her, “Mummy, maru pan khatna thavanu chhe?” (Will khatna happen to me also?) She said no, and I was very happy then.

One of my sisters has a daughter, but she has decided she will not have khatna performed on her. I do not support this practice either. Such a tradition that harms women’s sexuality and rights should be stopped.

I don’t remember my khatna. But it feels like a violation

(First published on February 23, 2016)

Zehra Patwa

Age: 45

Country: United States

In 2014, I saw a video that changed my life.  My husband sat me down, told me that this was going to be upsetting and showed me a video.  It was a documentary from Australia featuring my cousin’s wife recounting her experience of being cut at the age of 7 in a dingy apartment in India by an old woman. Her telling of the story horrified me, which is the same reaction I have always had about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) but what threw me was the fact that this was a Bohra woman, like me.  She said this happens to all Bohra girls around the age of 7 and that it had happened to her sister, too.  For a moment, I refused to believe it but as she kept talking, I realized that it could have been done to me too.

I grew up in the UK and moved to the US in 1994.  I immediately recalled that summer trip to India at the tender age of 7 to attend my uncle’s wedding.  My mother had made me new dresses and I had matching hats and headpieces to go with them.  It was going to be so much fun.

What I couldn’t recall, though, was the actual khatna, but I have since received confirmation from my family that it was done to me. Even then, the reality did not sink in. How could I not remember it?  Maybe it wasn’t done to me after all, maybe it was all a ruse to “save face”.  What I’ve learned since is that some women erase the memory of the traumatic event completely and utterly.  Sometimes, it can be restored and other times it can’t.  I still haven’t accepted if it’s better to know or to not know.  Either way, it feels like a violation.

I cannot stand by quietly and let other girls in our Bohra community be subjected to this terrible practice.  I will not be silent. Even though I do not recall my personal khatna, I feel lasting psychological damage has been done just knowing that it happened to me. I can only imagine the physical and psychological damage done to those girls and women who, to this day, have vivid memories of it.

The Bohra jamaats in Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and, now, London in the UK have banned khatna (khafd).  Why do our sisters from all over the Bohra diaspora still have to suffer when our sisters in Australia and London are spared?  Are Bohra women valued more in some countries than others?  All Bohra women are subject to the same rules and edicts from Aqa Maula, why is this any different?

Khatna is illegal under Female Genital Mutilation laws in the US (18 U.S. Code § 116 – Female genital mutilation) but if khatna should not be done by some Bohras, shouldn’t it be extended to all Bohras regardless of the law in that country?  If you had a daughter in Dubai, would you still consider subjecting them to khatna if your sisters in Australia and the UK are specifically told not to?

I was cut, my daughter too, but it stops with my granddaughter

Age: 58

Country: India

I was 7 years old when my grandmother told me that she is taking me out. I was so happy and dressed up quickly, expecting to be given some goodies. Instead, I was taken to the house of a strange lady who frightened me when she pinned me down. And after that, what I remember is howling, crying, acute pain and everyone around pacifying me. The whole day passed with agony and I was afraid to pass urine because of the pain.

I kept on asking my mother and grandmother about what was done to me. The only answers I got: it was for my good and I would be fine soon.

However, as I grew up, I was enlightened about “Khatna” as an Islamic tradition, which was also performed on my younger brother. Later, when it was my daughter’s turn, I had to quietly go along with our religious tenets.

Now, my granddaughter is 6 years old, and for her I will not support the practice of khatna. Now I am convinced that female circumcision only results in agony and pain for a girl child, with none of the benefits it is claimed to have. Also, not all Muslim communities practice it.

Moreover, I am happy that NGOs like Sahiyo have brought this issue to the forefront and are getting worldwide support.

Why this Bohra father is guilty about his daughter’s Khatna

(First published on May 5, 2016)

Name: Yusuf

Country: India

The fatwa given during the Zikra majlis by Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin in favor of female genital cutting dug up the wound that exists in my heart which makes me write this post.

Looking at parts from the audio clip leaked from the majlis, at one point, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin says what translates to English as:

“It must be done. If it is a man, it can be done openly and if it is a woman it must be discreet. But the act must be done. Do you understand what I am saying? Let people say what they want.”

The Syedna made no direct mention of the word “khatna” or “khafz”, but asks that the act be done discreetly for girls so that the community does not get tangled in any legal trouble. He cryptically says, “Do you understand what I am saying?” It was a clear reference to female genital mutilation (FGM). It is obvious that this was in response to the raging debate on FGM that has occurred in public after three Bohras were convicted in Australia for practicing khatna on two minor girls. No one from the clergy has come forward to participate in this debate, and the Syedna in his fatwa said, “We are not willing to talk to anyone on this issue”.

The reason this issue dug up a wound in my heart is that a couple of years ago my daughter was made to undergo this barbaric ritual, against my wishes, under pressure from family elders and the ladies in particular.

A year before my daughter turned seven, my wife told me that when our daughter turns seven we have to do her khatna. Unlike most men in the community, I was aware of what khatna or FGM is and I told her that I will not allow this. I told her this practice was started centuries ago by Bohras who wanted to curb the sexual desire of their women, as they frequently travelled for business.

I told her that there is no scientific/medical basis for khatna or FGM. There is no mention of it in the Quran and that other Muslim sects do not practice it. I even told her that it is illegal in the western world and has been declared a violation of human rights by the United Nations.

What I also did was initiate a discussion within my close Bohra friends group. I raised the issue as to why a girl who doesn’t understand what is going on or what’s being done to her has to go through this, especially when the ones taking her for the cut are people she trusts.

One reply I received from a female friend in the group is etched in my memory. She said, “Would you want your daughter to have multiple sex partners and have extra marital affairs?”

I was taken aback by the reply, particularly as this friend is a well-educated person otherwise! It left me in despair on realizing the extent of falsehoods that have been propagated within the community, with people being brainwashed into believing something as barbaric as khatna, which has no scientific basis and is a violation of human rights. Forcibly doing something that is thought to curb sexual desire is in itself a violation of human rights. If educated young women of the community think in this manner, what to say of the elders who still dominate decision making in the majority of Bohra households?

My wife agreed with me and was reluctant to put our daughter through the horror. She told my mom and her mom that I was against the decision. She was told by both that there would be no argument and that this centuries-old practice has to continue just like how they went through it.

Being the only son, I live with my parents. My wife was torn between me on one side and my mother and her mother on the other. Talking to my parents did not help and ended with the usual invocation that it’s a “religious obligation”, Moula, tears, emotions etc.

My wife and I left the matter there hoping that when the time came, we could fake it. But, when my daughter turned seven, my mom said she would accompany us to take our daughter to get her khatna. She wouldn’t let us go alone. She made sure the appointment with a Bohra gynecologist (sigh!) was made.

My daughter was put under the blade. The fault is mine. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough or forceful enough then to prevent that atrocity on my daughter. But, now that there is a perfidious attitude where on one hand there is this fatwa in favor of the practice, while on the other hand, jamaats in Western countries have issued letters telling citizens to refrain from the practice, I thought it is time we men from the community spoke out against it. It is time for Bohra men to be informed about this evil practice and come out against it to save their daughters.

As it is well-known that the consequences of openly raising your voice against the Syedna has dire consequences, it is going to be difficult to get rid of this practice by mobilizing support from within the community. Some people may be against it, but they don’t say it openly.

In my opinion, building support in the larger civil society and legal recourse is the best way to end the practice. Maybe a public interest litigation (PIL) in India will get positive result. There is already a raging debate in India over triple talaq after a lady filed a PIL against it, and it has got larger public attention and support.

I commend the members of Sahiyo who are fighting against FGM. This post is my small contribution in support of their effort for a common good.

~ Written by Yusuf, a guilt-ridden and remorseful father belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community. 

Of tattoos, female circumcision and hypocrisy

by Azra Adenwala

Age: 21

Country: United States / India

(Read the Hindi translation of this article here.)

I never truly thought about my khatna (circumcision) until a while ago when I came across the organization Sahiyo. To be honest, I had no idea what it meant in the first place. It was when I started reading articles by other women who had experienced khatna that I realized that I, too, was a victim of this gruesome practice. I had simply buried this memory deep for I could not fathom what it meant or where it stemmed from.

aden-tattoo

I was probably 5 or 6 years old. I was with my family on vacation – somewhere in Gujarat, as far as I can recall. I do not remember anything else from this trip, except certain painful bits and pieces. I remember being taken into a dingy bathroom, with a man or a woman in all white. I remember seeing scissors, and I remember seeing blood. I remember crying, as a bandage was applied to my genitals. I do not remember anyone telling me why or what had just happened to me. Everything seemed to go on as usual, as if nothing out of the blue occurred and I simply accepted this as it was for, I had no idea what had been done to my body.

I have not really been scarred due to my khatna and it has not altered my life in any way. However, what makes me cringe is the fact that this was my body, and no one had or has the right to make any changes to it, especially such unhealthy ones just because “it is how it is”.  

I remember, three years back, when I got my first tattoo. When one of my extended family members saw this tattoo on my body, they told me, “You are a Muslim, and our religion dictates that your body must be returned to its grave exactly how it came out from the mother’s womb”. In other words, we must not make any alterations to our body and accept it as it has been given to us by god. If this is the case, then why were my genitals mutilated? What sort of hypocrisy is this?

A religion cannot create rules based on what suits it. At some point, we need to realize the fact that it is us who have created religion in the first place. And we need to stop following rituals just because “tradition demands it”. We live in a modern society and we got to where we are right now because we embraced change. Female genital circumcision cannot dictate a woman’s faith in Islam. I find it extremely shallow, and I do not think anyone should be subjected to this practice, especially little children who have no idea what is happening to them.

I might not have been adversely affected, but there are a number of women out there who have. Every woman must have the right to her own body for there is no point in having faith in a god that apparently condones such a horrible and inhuman practice.