Five things you need to know about the controversial court ruling on FGM/C in USA: Sahiyo explains

by Sahiyo

On November 20, 2018, United States District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that the US Federal Law banning Female Genital Cutting (FGC, also known as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM) is unconstitutional. With this ruling, the judge dismissed key charges of FGM against two Michigan doctors and six other people accused of practicing genital cutting on several minor girls.

However, in the same ruling, Judge Friedman acknowledged that the practice of cutting a female’s genitalia is “despicable”.

The ruling came as a shock to survivors of FGC and human rights activists advocating to end FGC, not just in the USA but all over the world. But there is more to this complex and controversial court ruling than the news headlines suggest. In order to better understand the ruling and its implications for communities that practice FGC, read Sahiyo’s comprehensive explainer below:

What is the US District Judge’s ruling on Female Genital Cutting all about?

In April 2017, the US federal government prosecuted Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife Farida Attar — all members of Michigan’s Farmington Hills Dawoodi Bohra mosque — for subjecting two minor girls from Minnesota to FGC. Subsequently, five other women from the Dawoodi Bohra community were prosecuted for performing FGC on at least nine girls in the Michigan area. This historic case was the first time that anyone had been charged under the US federal law prohibiting FGC — a law that had been introduced by the federal government back in 1996.

To understand the US District Court’s ruling in this case on November 20, it is important to understand the federal nature of the US government and its criminal justice system. Under federalism, some laws can be passed by Congress — the federal or central government — and are applicable to all states in the country. Some other laws can only come under the jurisdiction of individual state governments, and cannot apply to the whole country.

In his ruling in the FGC case, Judge Friedman of the federal-level district court stated that “as despicable as this practice may be”, FGC is technically a “local criminal activity”, and Congress (the federal government) does not have jurisdictional authority to regulate it. Even though the federal law against FGC has been in place since 1996, he stated that it is “unconstitutional.”       

Why is this ruling controversial?

The district judge states that the crime of FGC should be regulated by individual states. But the US does not actually have laws against FGC in every single state. At the moment, only 27 out of 50 US states have a state law banning FGC. There is currently a state law in Michigan banning FGC, but the law only came into effect in 2017 after the federal case involving Dr Nagarwala and Dr Attar came to light. The doctors cannot be prosecuted retrospectively under this state law.

Judge Friedman’s ruling declares the federal law against FGC to be unconstitutional based on a technicality. However, the ruling is controversial on at least two fronts.

First, prosecutors and other human rights advocates argue that FGC cannot be considered just a local criminal activity, because it often involves transporting minors across state borders to get their genitals cut by doctors who are paid to perform the ritual. In this case, for instance, two minor girls were transported from Minnesota to Michigan to get FGC done by Dr Nagarwala. Therefore, the federal law banning FGC — which Congress had passed in 1996 under the “Commerce Clause” — should be applicable in this case. Judge Friedman’s ruling does not consider this aspect.

Second, this ruling is insensitive to survivors of FGC and sends out a dangerous message to women from FGC-practicing communities: that their lives and bodies can be put at risk on the grounds of questionable technicalities.

Does this ruling put more girls at risk of being cut?

For the time being, yes: this ruling can put girls at risk of being but. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 513,000 women and girls have experienced or are at risk of FGC in the United States. And this figure is an underestimation. Many women and girls at risk live in one of the 23 States which have not passed laws against FGC.

Since the ruling puts the onus of regulating FGC only to individual states, many of these girls are at risk of being transported from states that have laws banning FGC to states that currently do not have laws banning FGC, so that they can be cut with impunity. Only 11 of the 27 States with anti-FGC laws have specific provisions banning the transportation of a child out of the State to perform FGC.

Since the US is a strong country with a high degree of influence on global cultures, this ruling also ends up unintentionally condoning genital cutting for FGC-practicing communities all over the world. We are already seeing this in the global Dawoodi Bohra community, where supporters of Female Genital Cutting have taken to social media to celebrate their “victory” in the US FGC case, and to claim that they will continue cutting girls.

Is this the end of the case, or can the ruling be appealed?

This District Court ruling is not the end of the case. This is a lower court decision which can and almost certainly will be appealed by prosecutors from the US Government, and it is possible that over time, this case will be taken to the Supreme Court.

Additionally, two charges remain against Dr Nagarwala, including conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and obstruction of justice. Her trial is set to begin in April 2019.

What is the way forward now, for those of us working to end FGC?

Laws are an important deterrent against FGC, and help to reinforce the fact that cutting female genitals is a human rights violation. In light of Judge Friedman’s ruling, activists and communities in the United States should now urge their elected representatives to pass laws banning FGC in every single state of the country. As a global leader in human rights, the US should also do this to set a precedent in many Asian countries where there are currently no laws against FGC.

However, at Sahiyo, we believe that laws can be effective only when accompanied by social change movements on the ground. We therefore encourage everyone to engage in dialogue around FGC, to break the silence around this taboo topic, listen to women’s voices and recognise that FGC is harmful to girls and women.

 

To learn about the history of the Michigan case, click here

Read more at U.S. Court’s dismissal of FGM/C charge in Michigan case is disappointing but does not condone genital cutting.

Read the Amicus Brief for Dr. Nargawala hearing on November 6, 2018, submitted by Equality Now, WeSpeakOut, Sahiyo, And Safe Hands For Girls in support of the United States.

Read the U.S. End FGM/C Network Statement on Judge’s Decision in Michigan Case.

Advertisements

Examining Female Genital Cutting and Intersectionality

By a Bohra

The recent dropping of charges against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who is accused of performing female genital cutting on underage girls in the United States, on a constitutional technicality rather than perceived criminality, solidified my thinking about the relationship between power and oppression.   

This thought was first introduced to me by Irfan Engineer, the son of Asghar Ali Engineer, a prominent activist who engaged in a decades-long battle with the Bohra orthodoxy over community reform. Irfan, a successful activist in his own right, described to me the relationship between the Indian state and the Bohra clergy. As long as the clergy declared electoral allegiance to the government, the state would turn a blind eye to the clergy’s authoritarian rule over the Bohra community. This relationship was made visible by the government’s reversal of its support for a national law against FGC, shortly after Prime Minister Modi (dis)graced the stage at one of this year’s Bohra Ashura sermons.

Modi extolled the virtues of the economically and educationally advanced Bohras, who were allegedly setting a great example for their impoverished and persecuted Muslim countrymen. Seeing Modi on stage, Bohra Muslims could almost forget the carnage inflicted in Gujarat in 2002, and Modi’s rampant Islamophobia since. The Bohra community has probably been shielded from Islamophobic violence because of the clergy’s close relationship with the ruling right-wing BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its ideological parent, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

Even I was willing to overlook the fact that the Indian government’s attempt at criminalising FGC was based more on criminalising Muslims rather than empowering women. Yet, I thought, maybe the ends will justify the means. I was wrong. Modi’s relationship with the Bohra clergy makes it clear that we cannot rely on the Indian government to end FGC in our community. Even if the Supreme Court rules in favour of criminalising FGC, we can be certain that the government will do nothing to enforce the ruling.

This violent relationship between the state and vulnerable women is not restricted to the Indian context. I am reminded of the first FGC case to be prosecuted in Australia, where three people were sent to jail after being proven guilty. An appeals court, however, acquitted them all after new evidence was released that showed that “the tip of the clitoris was still visible in each girl”. The reduction of the emotional, physical and ideological violence of FGC down to a visual assessment of a pinch of skin shows the weakness of even Western legal systems in protecting marginalised women. It is similar to the victim blaming that is still a routine in rape trials, and the inability of the state to protect women who report honour-based violence. Whether through negligence or structural misogyny, Western and non-Western governments have failed women.

If the government is not an ally, could I turn instead to ‘reformists’ within my own community?

I am in contact with certain Bohras who are not part of the mainstream community, and reject the leadership of the current clergy. They believe that the current leaders have deviated from the true message of the Imams,  and that we must educate ourselves by going back to the original sources of our tradition. I thought that this group of people (mostly men), espousing rationality and critical inquiry, would immediately be against FGC. I was wrong. The emphasis on going back to the original sources means that they accept, uncritically, the infamous book by Qadi Numan (Da’im Al Islam) that advocates for girls to be ‘circumcised’ once they are older than 7 years old. Any debate, often started by the few women in the WhatsApp group, about the necessity of this practice in our modern context, or even about the issue of consent, is shut down. I thought that a shared experience of living under a tyrannical religious clergy might force these men to be more critical of existing power structures and hear the voices of marginalised women. Once again, I was wrong. I learned that the patriarchy, embodied by these ‘reformist’ men, can never be leveraged to end violence against women.

I learned that it is not worth compromising my core values in order to ally with fickle powers that do not center marginalised voices and their struggles. Real change can only happen from the ground up. This is why the work done by organisations such as Sahiyo is vital. By reaching out to individuals, and creating a space to share our stories, Sahiyo creates sustainable change within the community, and rebalances the power structures that exist within.

 

Female Genital Cutting charges dismissed but our work continues: Global reactions to Michigan case news

By Sahiyo

On November 20, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the female genital cutting charges in the historic Michigan case involving girls from the Dawoodi Bohra sect, emphasizing that FGC should be regulated by states as a “local criminal activity.” Congress enacted the 22-year-old federal law banning FGC in 1996 — the law Judge Friedman has declared unconstitutional.

Charges were dropped against two Michigan doctors, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and Dr. Fakhuruddin Attar, and six others accused of subjecting at least nine minor girls to FGC. However, Dr. Nagarwala, Dr. Attar and his wife, Farida, and a mother remain charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Dr. Nagarwala is also charged with conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

In light of these developments, we would like to share the responses of many Bohras and other activists working to end FGC.

“What is so disappointing to me is that justice will be delayed in this case. There is a growing, global movement against khafz/FGC and we need positive judgments to send a strong message to our community that this practice is harmful and illegal. We must protect future generations of Bohra girls.”
~ Farzana Doctor, Canada  

“By declaring the federal ban on FGM/C unconstitutional, Judge Friedman opens the door for parents to do exactly what was done in this case — take their daughters from states that ban FGM/C to states that don’t so they can be cut.”
~ Umme Kulsoom Arif, USA

“The ruling on the jurisdiction of this case is giving some folks a perceived green light to proudly say that khatna/khafz/FGM/C is not illegal in the US after being afraid to say it out loud after Nagarwala was arrested. But people should understand that there are many state laws still in place (including in Michigan now) and the judge said that FGM/C is a ‘criminal activity’ so parents beware. This does not give you permission to cut your daughters. It will be a regrettable time in history if there is an uptick in the practice of FGM/C in the US because of this technicality in the jurisdiction of this case.”
~ Zehra Patwa, United States

“Shameful really! While 30 other countries have made FGM illegal, US, the supposed defender of human rights, has just shown the world what American justice is…women’s rights are not just not important for the federal court.”
~ Saleha, Canada

“Shocking judgment. But at the same time judgment gave us more spirit to work hard and achieve the desired goal to end FGC. To bring social change takes time but nothing is impossible. I’m sure through our collective efforts we will achieve our goal one day.”
~ Chandni Shiyal, India

“While on our climb towards the summit, we are going to face slips and stumbles but the climb must go on…..this judgement though disappointing is a mere stumble or slip….”
~ Fakhera, India

“This judgment is clearly based on a technicality of the federal versus the state jurisdiction. Irrespective, FGC still continues to be a violent act against 7-year old girls. Are we disappointed to hear this decision? Most certainly. However, it’s only a matter of time until people open their eyes and see the truth. Tradition without any logic can only hold its ground so long. Sati used to be tradition too, in this very land. Look where we are now.”
~ Alifya Thingna, India

“One of the most disheartening outcomes of this case is the lack of outrage among our elected officials. Two, recently elected, Muslim women representatives from Michigan and Minnesota (the two states involved) have failed to use their platforms to proactively address this issue. FGM is an issue that affects the safety of women and girls, and constituents in their communities. This decision (and the lack of public outrage) sends a signal to communities who practice FGM that there will be no accountability.”
~ Maryum Saifee, United States

“It’s a sad day for silent seven-year-old girls when there is no clear US law to protect what is truly theirs!”
~ Rashida Rangwala, United States

“I am so disheartened by this decision! It’s actually shocking. I thought at least USA law would give justice to innocent girls.”
~ Alifya Sulemanji, United States

“No little girl in this world should have to go through the trauma of female genital cutting. Cultures should not be empowered to take away the human rights of their members.”
~ Renee Bergstrom, United States

“I feel angry and deeply disappointed. This isn’t over but it’s incredibly discouraging to see our legal system disrespect and let down girls and women being violated in this country.”
~ Lara Kingstone, United States

“यह केस 23 US राज्यो में FGM कानून के अभाव में जीता गया है। यह एक ही टेक्निकल ग्राउंड है। अब यह केस अमेरिकन सुप्रीम कोर्ट में जाएगा। UN कानून के तहत अमेरिका बाध्य है। अब वहां सुप्रीम के आदेश पर फेडरल कानून बन सकता है। कोई भी संघर्स लंबा समय मांगता है कभी जीत कभी हार होती है। हरेक निष्फलता अगली सफलता का बेज़ (फाउंडेशन) बनता है। भारत के कोई राज्य में ऐसा FGM कानून नही है। मगर हम भी UN के सदश्य है। भारत मे भी ऐसा कानून आज नही तो कल बनेगा।”
~ Ibrahim Patel, India

“There are many practices which have been blindly followed from decades. Some of them have been changed, modified or amended in the course of time, with the advancement of research and scientific development. We are just trying to tell the world the actual fact that women undergo suffering with no fault of their own because of FGC.”
~ Insiya Ganjifrockwala, India

“Regardless of the impending appeal, this decision may inevitably embolden many to continue cutting girls. We should take this opportunity to continue to pressure our leaders to stand against FGC as a human rights violation, to bring awareness to the issue, and to protect our girls.”
~ Jenny Cordle, United States

“I would call this verdict as a legislative failure as no justice has been given to the child, and this gives a loophole to people in that country to keep practicing FGC.”
~ Insiya Lokhandwala, India

“It’s sad to note that technicalities can overshadow fundamental human rights. Hoping to strive for a mature treatment of this issue.”
~ Shabana Mashraki, India

“This is horrible! As a victim of FGC myself, I really wanted to see this doctor punished and her punishment to set a strong example for others in the community who practice FGC/ khatna thinking it’s the right thing to do. I feel like we women are never going to get justice for the wrongs done to us. What’s more, these wrongs will continue to go on and little girls will continue to be traumatized. It’s so frustrating and just makes me want to scream.”
~ Shabana Feroze, Bahrain

“I am shocked and deeply disappointed that a Federal judge in the USA has lifted the ban on FGM. It is so, so important that the USA as a world leader takes an unequivocal stand on this human rights issue afflicting women and the girl child.”
~ Zarina Patel, Kenya

“As I was reading, ‘Judge dismisses female genital mutilation charges in historic case.’ My blood was boiling. Where’s the justice for these women? What message is our federal government sending out to all doctors, mothers, and members who carry out this act? That it’s okay for them to violate girls without any real consequences. And what message are they sending out to our young girls? That their bodies are up for grabs? Or that what they’re going through doesn’t matter to us. Sad day to say the least!
~ Aisha Yusuf, United States

“I wasn’t sure what to expect from the  Michigan trial but I never dreamed it would get dismissed on a technicality about federal vs state jurisdiction! I don’t know enough about the law to know if the judge’s ruling was correct but I know I’m not going to let this setback keep me from fighting. Let’s all work together to get legislation passed in the 23 states that don’t yet have a law against FGM so this never has to happen again!”
~ Maryah Haidery, United States

Read more at U.S. Court’s dismissal of FGM/C charge in Michigan case is disappointing but does not condone genital cutting.

Read the Amicus Brief for Dr. Nargawala hearing on November 6, 2018, submitted by Equality Now, WeSpeakOut, Sahiyo, And Safe Hands For Girls in support of the United States.

Read the U.S. End FGM/C Network Statement on Judge’s Decision in Michigan Case.

 

Why Won’t Massachusetts Pass A Law Against Female Genital Cutting?

Today, FGM/C is banned under federal law, yet, only 26 states in the U.S. have laws against it. Massachusetts is not one of them. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that over half a million girls and women in the United States are at risk. Massachusetts ranks 12th in the nation for at-risk populations with an estimated 14,591 women and girls. Since 2012, the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association has tried to advocate over and over again for a state law criminalizing FGM/C. Yet, to this day, no law has been put into place. The current bills, S.788, and H.2333 have been sent to a committee for study and most likely will not move forward either.

Photo 2

In an effort to raise more awareness on the issue and to prompt community action to encourage Massachusetts state legislature to pass such a law, Mariya Taher, Aisha Yusuf (both survivors of FGM/C) and Hanna Stern (an advocate against FGM/C), started a change.org petition calling on Governor Charlie Baker, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, and President of the Senate Harriette Chandler, to take action and protect all girls in Massachusetts, as FGM/C is nearly always carried out on minors, is a violation of the rights of children, and reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes that constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.

Massachusetts needs a bill that unequivocally reiterates that female genital mutilation/cutting is a form of violence. There are laws against domestic violence and sexual assault. We need a law against FGM/C as well.

Read more:

Learn which U.S. states have FGM/C laws.

ફિમેલ જેનિટલ કટિંગનો અંત કરવાના આપણા લક્ષ્યમાં આપણે ડેટ્રોઈટના ડૉક્ટરને બદનામ કરવા નથી

આ આર્ટિકલ પહેલા સહિયો દ્વારા તારીખ 24 એપ્રિલ 2017ના રોજ અંગ્રેજીમાં પ્રકાશિત કરવામાં આવ્યો હતો. Read the English version here.

લેખક: અનામી

દેશ : અમેરિકા
ઉંમર : 34

મારા સાતમાં જન્મદિવસ પછી તુરત જ હું મારી દાદીને મળવા ન્યૂયોર્ક ગઈ. મારી માંએ મને કહ્યું કે આ એક ખાસ મુલાકાત બની જશે અને મારી સાથે એક “મહત્વની પ્રક્રિયા” કરવાની હતી. મને કેહવામાં આવ્યું કે “દરેક દીકરી સાત વર્ષની થાય ત્યારે તેણી પર આ પ્રક્રિયા કરવાની હોય છે” જેમ, મારા પહેલા મારી મોટી બહેને કરાવી હતી તેમ. મારી માંએ કહ્યું કે હું જ્યારે મોટી થાવ ત્યારે મારા “સુખી લગ્ન જીવન” માટે આ પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવે છે. સાત વર્ષની ઉંમરે આ સફાઈ મારા માટે સંતોષપૂર્ણ હતી. આ સફાઈને મેં સર્વસામાન્ય માની અને એવું માની લીધું કે બધા ધર્મો અને સંસ્કૃતિઓના બૈરાઓમાં આવી પ્રક્રિયા કરવાનો રીવાજ હશે. ત્યારે મને એ વાતનો ખ્યાલ નહોતો કે એ દિવસ ઘણી બધી રીતે મારી જીંદગીને બદલી નાખશે.

એ પ્રક્રિયાથી મને ઈજા થઈ. સ્વાભાવિક રીતે જ, આ પ્રક્રિયા અમારા સમાજની મેડિકલ ટ્રેનિંગ લીધા વિના ની એક વૃદ્ધ બૈરી દ્વારા બેસમેન્ટ ફ્લોર પર બેદરકારીપૂર્વક કરવામાં આવી હતી. પંરતુ, તે દિવસે મને એવો મેસેજ આપવામાં આવ્યો કે “આના કારણે તારૂં લગ્ન જીવન સુખી થશે” અને ત્યારબાદ મારા સંપૂર્ણ જીવન દરમિયાન મને એવા મેસેજો આપવામાં આવ્યા કે “બૈરી તેની ઉત્તેજનાને નિયંત્રણમાં રાખી શકે એટલા માટે આ પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવે છે”, “તમે તામારા પતિ પ્રત્યે વફાદાર રહો તેની ખાતરી માટે આવી પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવે છે”, “બૈરાઓએ તેમના પતિઓને ખુશ રાખવા જરૂરી છે”. ખરેખર, આવા મેસેજોએ સૌથી વધુ માનસિક ત્રાસ આપ્યો. આવા મેસેજો ને કારણે હું એવું જીવન જીવી જેમાં, હું મને મારા જીવનસાથી સામે નીચલા દરજ્જાની મહેસુસ કરતી હતી અને આવું જ મેં મારી કુદરતી ઉત્તેજનાઓ/લાગણીઓ પ્રત્યે પણ મહેસુસ કર્યું.

જેમ હું મોટી થઈ તેમ મને સમજાયું કે એ દિવસની મારાપર કેવી અસર પડી, હું અસ્વસ્થ અને ખૂબ જ ગુસ્સે થઈ ગઈ. મને જે પ્રક્રિયા કરવા માટે ફરજ પાડવામાં આવી એ બાબતને લઈ હું ખૂબ જ ગુસ્સા માં હતી અને સતત વિચાર કરતી કે જો એ દિવસ મારી જીંદગીમાં ક્યારેય ના આવ્યો હોત તો કેટલુ સારૂં હોત. બેશક, આ પ્રક્રિયા હેઠળથી પસાર થવું પડશે તેવી અન્ય નાનકડી દીકરીઓનો જ્યારે હું વિચાર કરું છું ત્યારે મારૂં મન ગુસ્સો, દુઃખ અને અસહાયતાની લાગણીથી ભરાઈ જાય છે. મેં આશા રાખી કે આપણા સમાજના લોકો, નિર્દોષ દીકરીઓને આ પ્રથાનો ભોગ બનતા અટકાવશે. મેં આશા રાખી કે લોકો જાગશે અને મહેસુસ કરશે કે તેઓ દીકરીના જીવનને સુખી નહિં પરંતુ વધારે દુખી બનાવી રહ્યાં છે. તેઓ મેહસુસ કરશે કે આ પ્રથા અપનાવી તેમણે કોઈ સારૂં કાર્ય કર્યું નથી.

થોડા દિવસો પહેલા, ડેટ્રોઈટની એક મહિલા ડૉક્ટરના સમાચાર આવ્યા, જેના પર ગેરકાયદેસર રીતે બે જુવાન દીકરીઓ પર એફ.જી.એમ. ની પ્રક્રિયા કરવાનો આરોપ લગાવવામાં આવ્યો છે. આ પ્રથાનો વિરોધ કરતા અન્ય લોકોની જેમ, મારી પણ પહેલી પ્રતિક્રિયા “ન્યાય મળ્યો” એવી હતી. અંતે આ પ્રથા માટે કોઈને તો જવાબદાર માનવામાં આવ્યા હતા. આ એક ગંભીર સમસ્યા છે, એ બાબતથી ફક્ત વિદેશોના જ નહિં પરંતુ કદાચ અહીં અમેરિકાના લોકો પણ માહિતગાર થશે. મેં એમ પણ વિચાર્યું કે જે લોકો એફ.સી.જી.ની પ્રક્રિયા કરાવવાનું વિચારી રહ્યાં છે તેવા લોકોમાં આ કેસને કારણે ડર પેદા થશે.

આ સમાચાર પરની લોકોની પ્રતિક્રિયા જોઈ મારૂં સમર્થન નિરાશામાં પરિવર્તિત થઈ ગયું. લોકો કઠોરતાપૂર્વક આ પ્રથા અને ઈસ્લામનો વિરોધ કરવા લાગ્યા, લોકોએ આ ડૉક્ટરને એક ક્રૂર નિર્દય સેક્સ્યૂઅલ પ્રિડેટર તરીકે બદનામ કરવા લાગ્યા. પરંતુ, મને તેણીમાં એવુ કંઈ દેખાયુ નહિં. મને તેણી, મારી માં, માસી અથવા દાદીમાં જેવી ફ્કત એક સામાન્ય બૈરી દેખાઈ. એક બૈરી, એક માંને, જે બાબત શ્રેષ્ઠ લાગી રહી હતી તે કરવાનો પ્રયત્ન કરી રહી હતી.

મારી માં મને નુક્શાન પહોંચાડવાના ખરાબ ઈરાદા સાથે મને આ પ્રક્રિયા કરાવવા માટે નહોતી લઈ ગઈ. જે રીતે આપણે આપણા બચ્ચાઓને રસી મુકાવવા, જરૂરી શસ્ત્રક્રિયા કરાવવા અથવા છોકરાની સુન્નત કરાવવા લઈ જઈએ છીએ, તેવા ઈરાદા સાથે તેણી મને આ પ્રક્રિયા કરાવવા લઈ ગઈ હતી. આપણા બચ્ચાઓપર કોઈપણ પીડાકરક પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવે તેનું આપણને દુઃખ થાય છે પરંતુ, એ તેમના સારા માટે કરવામાં આવતુ હોવાનું માની આપણે આવુ કાર્ય કરીએ છીએ. આપણે આપણા તબીબી વ્યાવસાયિકોના માર્ગદર્શન પર વિશ્વાસ મુકીએ છીએ કારણ કે, તે ક્ષેત્રના નિષ્ણાત રૂપે તેમનું સન્માન અને વિશ્વાસ કરવામાં આવે છે. તેજ રીતે, બોહરા સમાજના લોકો – ખાસ કરી સાથે રહેતા એક સમાન આસ્થાવાળા લોકો – તેમના ધાર્મિક આગેવાનોના માર્ગદર્શન પર વિશ્વાસ મુકે છે. તેમની દુનિયામાં, આવા આગેવાનોને વિશ્વાસપાત્ર “નિષ્ણાતો” તરીકે સ્વીકારવામાં આવે છે, જે આપણા દરેક ઈન્સાન માટે શું શ્રેષ્ઠ છે તે જાણે છે. તેમના માટે, આવા આગેવાનો દ્વારા નક્કી કરવામાં આવેલા પવિત્ર નિયમો તબીબી સમુદાયો અથવા રાજકારણીઓ દ્વારા નિર્ધારીત ધોરણોથી ઉપર હોય છે.

તેથી હું જ્યારે આ મહિલા ડૉક્ટરને જોઉં છું ત્યારે મને તેણીમાં ખલનાયિકા નહિં પરંતુ એક વિક્ટિમ દેખાય છે. મારા પોતાના જેવી એક વિક્ટિમ, જેણે નાનપણમાં ગેરકાયદેસર રીતે આ પ્રક્રિયા કરાવી છે. એવી બૈરી જેનો ભૂતકાળમાં શારિરીક ગેર ઉપયોગ કરવામાં આવ્યો એટલું જ નહિં પરંતુ, સારા ઈરાદા સાથે પ્રક્રિયા કરવા માટે આજે પણ તેણીને માનસિક ત્રાસ આપવામાં આવી રહ્યો છે. તેણીએ કરેલા કાર્યમાટે હું તેણીને સંપૂર્ણપણે દોષમુક્ત નથી કરતી પરંતુ, જો દરેક ઈન્સાને તેમના કાર્યોની જવાબદારી લીધી હોત તો તેણીએ કદાચ આવું કાર્ય ના કર્યું હોત. હું ફક્ત તેણીનો પક્ષ રાખવાનો પ્રયત્ન કરી રહી છું, તેણીની દ્રષ્ટિથી જોઈએ તો એમ લાગે છે કે કદાચ તેણી પાસે અન્ય કોઈ ચોઈસ નહોતી.

તેથી, તેણીને ખલનાયિકા બનાવી અને દંડ આપી તમે બીજા થોડા ડૉક્ટરોને આવી પ્રક્રિયા ના કરવા માટે ડરાવી શકો. તેમના બચ્ચાઓ પર આવી પ્રક્રિયા ના કરાવવા માટે તમે અન્ય થોડી માંઓને રોકી શકો છો પંરતુ, તેણીને દંડ આપવાથી, દુરૂપયોગ કરતા લોકોને દંડ મળશે નહિં. જ્યાંસુધી આ મરદ આગેવાનો આવી પ્રથાનું સમર્થન કરતા રહેશે અને તેમના ધાર્મિક ઉપદેશનું મહત્વ જાળવી રાખશે ત્યાંસુધી સમર્થકો તેમના આદરણીય આગેવાનોના માર્ગદર્શનને અનુસરતા રહેશે. મને વધારે ડર એ બાબતનો છે કે આપણા સમાજ માંથી એફ.જી.સી.ના સમર્થનમાં આવતા સતત મેસેજની સાથે-સાથે આ જાહેર કેસ, આ પ્રથાને છૂપી રીતે વધારે અનુસરવા તરફ લઈ જશે. તેથી, ડૉક્ટરોના સ્વચ્છ ક્લિનીકોમાં કલાકો સુધી ગેરકાયદેસર પ્રક્રિયા કરવાના બદલે, મારી સાથે થયુ તેમ, આપણી દીકરીઓ પર ગંદા અને ઠંડા બેસમેન્ટ ફ્લોર પર આ પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવશે.

ફીમેલ જેનિટલ કટિંગની આ પ્રથાને ફક્ત એકલા કાયદા દ્વારા જ સમાપ્ત કરી શકાય નહિં

આ આર્ટિકલ પહેલા સહિયો દ્વારા તારીખ 26 એપ્રિલ 2017ના રોજ અંગ્રેજીમાં પ્રકાશિત કરવામાં આવ્યો હતો. Read the English version here.

લેખક : સબિહા બસરાઈ

દેશ : કેલિફોર્નિયા, અમેરિકા
ઉંમર : 34 વર્ષ

એફ.જી.સી. અથવા બોહરા સમાજ જેને ખતના તરીકે ઓળખે છે, તે મુદ્દો અંધકાર માંથી બહાર આવ્યો છે અને લોકો તેના વિષે ખુલ્લેઆમ વાત કરે છે એ મહત્વનું છે. ઘણા લોકો જાણતા નથી કે આ પ્રથા કેટલી ક્રૂર છે અને બૈરાઓની સેક્સ્યૂઆલિટી સંબંધી શરમને કારણે તેમજ મરદપ્રધાન સમાજની રચના દ્વારા લાગુ કરવામાં આવેલ રીપ્રોડક્ટિવ હેલ્થ (પ્રજનનક્ષમ સ્વાસ્થ્ય)ને કારણે લોકો એ વિષે વાત કરવાનું ટાળે છે. હું આશા રાખુ છું કે નાની દીકરીઓ પર એફ.જી.સી. ની પ્રક્રિયા કરવાના આરોપ હેઠળ એક બોહરા ડૉક્ટરને ગિરફ્તાર કરવામાં આવ્યા હોવાનો ડેટ્રોઈટનો કેસ ઘણાં કુટુંબોને આ પ્રથા ના અપનાવવા માટે પ્રોત્સાહિત કરશે જેથી, નવી પેઢીની નાની દીકરીઓને આવી પ્રથાઓ હેઠળથી પસાર ના થવું પડે.

આ હાનિકારક પ્રથાનો મુદ્દો ધાર્મિક અથવા અધાર્મિક હોવું નથી. આ મુદ્દો સાચા અથવા ખોટા હોવાનો પણ નથી. પરંતુ, ખરી વાત એ છે કે ખતના પ્રક્રિયા એક અનુચિત કાર્ય છે.

જો કે, ડેટ્રોઈટના કેસમાં બન્યું તેમ, અમેરિકન મુસ્લિમ પરની દેખરેખ ચિંતાઓ ઊભી કરે છે. આપણી મસ્જિદો અને કમ્યૂનિટિ સેન્ટરો પર પહેલાથી જ સરકારી એજન્સીઓ દેખરેખ રાખી રહી છે, જે આપણને જાતીભેદ કરીને આપણા સામાજીક અધિકારોનો ભંગ કરે છે. બધા બોહરાઓએ તે સમજવું મહત્વપૂર્ણ છે કે સરકારી એજન્સીઓના મનમાં આપણું હિત જ હોય એ જરૂરી નથી અને ખતનાના મુદ્દાનો લાભ ઉઠાવી તેઓ વધારે ત્રાસ આપવાનું અને આપણા સમાજ પર વધારે દેખરેખ રાખવાનું ઉચિત માની શકે છે. ખતના પ્રથા સમાપ્ત થવી જોઈએ પરંતુ, મારૂં માનવું છે કે સમાજને શિક્ષિત કરવા દ્વારા અને જમાતો (બોહરા સમાજની સભાઓ)ના આયોજનો દ્વારા જ આ પ્રથાનો સાચો અંત થશે.

આપણામાંથી કોઈ ઈચ્છતું નથી કે આપણા સમાજમાં જબરદસ્તી કરવામાં આવે પરંતુ, આપણે સમજવું જોઈએ કે ફક્ત કાયદા દ્વારા જ તેનું સમાધાન થઈ શકે નહિં અને કેટલાક કિસ્સાઓમાં, સરકારી એજન્સીના અમુક અધિકારીઓની નકારાત્મક કાર્યવાહી આપણા સમાજની સુરક્ષા અને સલામતી માટે હાનિકારક રહી છે. તેથી, અમેરિકામાં રહેતા બધા બોહરાઓને હું સાવચેત કરું છું કે વકીલની હાજરી વિના સરકારી એજન્સીઓ સાથે ક્યારે વાત કરવી નહિં અને આપણા સમાજે સાથે મળી ખતના જેવી હાનિકારક પ્રથાઓને બંધ કરવાના માર્ગ શોધવા માટે પણ હું બધા બોહરાઓને પ્રોત્સાહિત કરવા માગુ છું.

ડેટ્રોઈટના ડૉક્ટરની ગિરફ્તારી, ખતના વિષે વાતચીત કરવા માટેની એક તક છે

(આ આર્ટિકલ પહેલા સહિયો દ્વારા તારીખ 14 મે 2017ના રોજ અંગ્રેજીમાં પ્રકાશિત કરવામાં આવ્યો હતો. Read the English version here.)

લેખક: અનામી

ઉંમર : 33
દેશ : પુણે, ભારત

મારા પર ‘ખતના’ની પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવી હોવાનું મને સ્પષ્ટ રીતે યાદ હોવા છતાં મેં મિસાક લીધા પછી, દાઉદી બોહરા સમાજમાં અપનાવવામાં આવતી આ પ્રથા વિષે મેં પ્રશ્ન કરવાની શરૂઆત કરી. આ પ્રથા હંમેશા ખોટી લાગતી હતી પરંતુ, જો મારી માં, બહેન અને સમાજના લગભગ બધા જ લોકો આ પ્રથાને અપનાવતા હોય ત્યારે હું કેવી રીતે પ્રશ્ન ઉઠાવી શકું?

હું -મસ્જિદમાં જતી, ઉપવાસ કરતી અને મારા પાસે જેવી અપેક્ષા રાખવામાં આવે તે બધું જ કરતી એક નાની આજ્ઞાકારી બોહરા દીકરી હતી.મિસાક લીધા પછી, એક બોહરા બૈરા તરીકે મારા પરની કઠોર મર્યાદાઓમાં વધારો થવા લાગ્યો. ‘ખતના’ વિષે જાણવાની મારી ઉત્સુક્તાને કારણે હું તે વિષેની માહિતી શોધવા લાગી. પરંતુ પ્રામાણિક્તાથી કહું તો ગુગલમાં શું ટાઈપ કરવું તે પણ મને ખબર નહોતી. અંતે ગમે તેમ કરી જ્યારે મેં તે માહિતી શોધી ત્યારે, આફ્રિકામાં થતાં બૈરાઓના જેનિટલ મ્યુટિલેશનના લોહીલુહાણ ફોટાઓથી મારા કૉમ્પ્યુટરની સ્ક્રીન ભરાઈ ગઈ પરંતુ, બોહરા સમાજમાં આ પ્રથા અપનાવવામાં આવી રહી છે તે વિષે બહુ જ થોડી માહિતી હતી અથવા તો તેવી માહિતી ઉપલબ્ધ જ નહોતી. સ્પષ્ટ છે કે બોહરા સમાજમાં આ બાબત વિષે વાત કરવાની મનાઈ હતી પરંતુ, મારી કૉલેજની એક સહિ હતી જે મારી ઉંમરની બોહરા દીકરી હતી અને મનેતેના પર વિશ્વાસ હતો. તેણીએ કહ્યું કે “મને લાગે છે કે જ્યારે આપણે મોટા થશું ત્યારે આપણને કોઈ સમસ્યા આવી શકે છે અને કદાચ આપણે ક્યારેય સેક્સનો આનંદ નહિં લઈ શકીએ.” એ તેણીના જ્ઞાનની મર્યાદા હતી અને તેણી પણ મારા જેટલી જ કનફ્યુઝ હતી. મારા ગુસ્સામાં વધારો થઈ રહ્યો હતો કારણ કેસમાજના ઘણા નિયમો ખાસ કરીને, બૈરાઓ માટેના નિયમો લોજિક વિનાના, જૂનવાણી અને એકદમ બિનજરૂરી હતા અને તે બધામાં ‘ખતના’ પ્રથા સૌથી વધુ ક્રૂર હતી.

મારા પોતાના અનુભવ કરતા, મારી મોટી બહેનની દીકરી જ્યારે સાત વર્ષ (જે ઉંમરે ‘ખતના’ની પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવે છે)ની થઈ તે સમય મારા માટે ખૂબ જ કઠીન હતો. એ બાબત સ્પષ્ટ હતી કે મારી બહેન અને માં બન્ને આ પરંપરાને ચાલુ રાખવાની યોજના કરી રહ્યાં હતા. મારી માસુમ ભત્રીજીને ડરતી જોઈહું એકદમ અસહાય અને નિરાશા મેહસુસ કરી રહી હતી. અંગને કાપ્યાની પછીની રાત્રીએ તેણીને પીડામાં જોઈને મને ખૂબ જ દુઃખ થયું. આ ક્રૂર પ્રથાની આસ્થા ધાર્મિક અને સંસ્કૃતિક રીતે એટલી બધી ઊંડે સુધી છે કે તેને ઉખાડી ફેંકવી ખૂબ જ મૂશ્કેલ છે. જો કોઈ બદલાવ આવવો જોઈએ તો તે સમાજની અંદરથી જ આવવો જોઈએ. પરંતુ, જ્યારે કોઈ એ વિષે બોલવા જ તૈયાર ના હોય તો, કેવી રીતે બદલાવ આવી શકે?

અમેરિકામાં નાની દીકરીઓ પર ‘ખતના’ પ્રક્રિયા કરતા ત્રણ ડૉક્ટરોની ગિરફ્તારીના સમચાર ફેલાઈ રહ્યાં હોય, આપણા માટે એ ખૂબ જ અગત્યનું અને મહત્વપૂર્ણ બની જાય છે કે આપણે સમાજની અંદર તે વિષે એકબીજા સાથે વાત કરીએ. મને ખાતરી છે કે આપણા સમાજની અંદર એક પણ બૈરી એવી નહિં હોય જેણે ક્યારેય આ પ્રથા સામે પ્રશ્ન ઉઠાવ્યો ના હોય. અંતે, કેવી રીતે કોઈ માં ઈચ્છાપૂર્વક પોતાની દીકરીને આવી પીડા સહન કરવા દે? મોઢું ફેરવી લઈ, મિશિગનમાં જે કંઈ થયું તેનાથી આપણે કંઈ લેવા-દેવા નથી એવું માનવાના બદલે, આપણે તે વિષે વાત કરી અને પ્રશ્ન ઉઠાવી, તેનો એક તક તરીકે ઉપયોગ કરવો જરૂરી છે.

આ સમાજમાં હું મોટી થઈ હોવાથી, હું આ સમસ્યાના દરેક પાસાઓને સારી રીતે સમજું છું, કોઈપણ બોહરા આ બાબતમાં વાત કરવા ઈચ્છતા નથી કારણ કે તે ગુપ્ત અંગો અને બૈરીઓના જાતીય અંગોવિષેની વાત છે અને સેક્સ વિષે વાત કરવાનીમનાઈ છે. પરંતુ, કુટુંબીજનો અને મિત્રોના નાના-નાના સમૂહોમાં સાથે મળી આપણે આ જૂનવાણી પ્રથાને ફરી તપાસવી જરૂરી છે. હવે સહિયો જેવી નોન-પ્રોફિટ સંસ્થાઓ ઉપલબ્ધ છે, જે સમાજના લોકોને માહિતગાર અને શિક્ષિત કરવા વચનબદ્ધ છે. એવા ઘણા વૈજ્ઞાનિક ડૅટા ઉપલબ્ધ છે જે સાબિત કરે છે કે આ પ્રથા અપનાવાથી કોઈપણ પ્રકારનો લાભ થતો નથી. આપણાંમાથી જે લોકો ઈચ્છતા હોય તેમણે, મદરસા અને કૉલેજો, અન્ય સામાજીક સંસ્થાઓ અથવા પીટિશન પર સહી કરવા દ્વારા આપણા અનુભવોને શેર કરવાના માર્ગ શોધવા જરૂરી છે. એવી વ્યવસ્થા સામે આપણે આપણો અવાજ બુલંદ કરવો જરૂરી છે, જે સમાજના લોકો માટે ઘાતક હોય અને ‘ખતના’ જેવી ક્રૂર પ્રથા સમાજના લોકો માટે લાભદાયક છે તેવું બ્રેનવૉશ કરે.

પૂરા વિશ્વમાં મારી ઘણી એવીસહિયો છે જેમને નાની-નાની દીકરીઓ છે અથવા તો નજીકના ભવિષ્યમાં તેમને ત્યાં નાના બચ્ચાઓ જન્મ લેશે. અવશ્ય તેઓ તેમની દીકરીઓને પ્રેમ કરે છે અને તેમને આવી ક્રૂરતાનો ભોગ બનવા દેવાનું પસંદ નહિં કરે પરંતુ, રિતરીવાજનું પાલન કરવાની તલવાર માથા પર લટકી રહી હોવાથી, તેની વિરૂદ્ધ ઉભા રહેવાની તાકત બહુ ઓછા લોકોમાં છે. સ્વતંત્ર રીતે વિચાર કરવાનો આપણો અધિકાર છીનવી લેવામાં આવી રહ્યો છે અને આપણે આપણા ધાર્મિક આગેવાનોને પ્રશ્ન કરવાની હિંમત કરતા નથી.પ્રત્યેક દિવસે, વિશ્વભરમાં અનેક દીકરીઓ આ પીડામાંથી પસાર થાય છે અને હંમેશા માટે તેમના જીવનમાં અસરો છોડી જાય છે.સમય ઝડપથી પસાર થઈ રહ્યો છે અને આવી પ્રથા સામે આપણે આપણો અવાજ બુલંદ કરવો જરૂરી છે તેમજ હવે, આ પ્રથાને બંધ કરવા આપણે આપણા ધાર્મિક આગેવાનો સામે માંગ કરવી જરૂરી છે.

‘Far from enhancing my marital bliss, khatna had all but devastated it’

by: Anonymous

Age: 30
Country: United States

I first learned that khatna had been performed on me when I was 11 years old. My mother told me, and even then the hair on my neck rose and I had a clear instinct that what had happened wasn’t right. I asked my mother why Bohra girls were cut when there was no evidence that it had the same benefits as male circumcision. She responded with the familiar refrain: hygiene, marital bliss.

At that time, I had no idea what a clitoris was supposed to look like. My mother described it to me, never using that word, but saying that it was a “long thread of flesh” that hung out of the vaginal hood. It had to be cut because it would otherwise rub constantly against my underwear. For the Potterheads out there, the image that sprang to my mind was of an Extendable Ear in my panties, a long flesh-colored string that had to be snipped to curb continuous arousal. I had never seen a picture of a clitoris, nor could I. I’d grown up in a country where the Internet was heavily censored and the chapter on reproduction was ripped out of our Biology textbooks. That image of the clitoris as a long flesh-colored string stayed with me until I looked at cartoon pornography as a teenager in the United States. But let me be clear, because this detail about my education is a gateway to Orientalism: I had an excellent primary education, and I was far better prepared for graduate school than many of my US-educated peers. The fact that schools in that region refused to include human reproduction in the curriculum was shortsighted and foolish, but not unlike the abstinence-only curriculum I’ve learned about since moving to the US.

But let me return to that moment my mother told me I’d been cut: since it never crossed my mind that I would or could be sexually active before marriage, I only thought about khatna once or twice a year until I was married. And that’s when I realized that sexual intercourse was extraordinarily difficult for me. My vagina would convulse, and even the thought of using a tampon triggered these convulsions. My condition went undiagnosed until years later, when my OB/GYN attempted to do a pelvic exam. She had no warning because I did not tell her about my difficulty with intercourse. Peering over the stirrups, she apologized for causing me pain, and asked me to breathe deeply while apologizing rapidly: “Just one finger, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry almost done almost done and relax.” I learned that I had vaginismus, and needed physical therapy.

As I talked through my condition with my wonderful doctor, I learned that an early childhood trauma was likely the cause for my vaginismus. The symptoms pointed towards a psychological trigger rather than physical limitations, and the more I reflected on my condition the clearer it became that I had always been unable to tolerate even the idea of penetration from around the age khatna had happened to me. Any kind of insertion seemed laughable to me as a teenager, whether I was washing myself in the shower or attempting to masturbate. This points to the idea that women who don’t consider themselves victims – and I certainly didn’t and don’t – can experience long-term effects of khatna that we may not even (or ever) be aware of.

When I eventually saw a picture of a healthy and anatomically accurate clitoris for the first time, what I’d already suspected was confirmed: there was no hygiene-related reason to snip it, and far from enhancing my “marital bliss” it had all but devastated it.

But learning about khatna revealed something about me to myself: even as a child, I recognized the value of empirical research when it came to making decisions about altering bodies – particularly female bodies, which have historically always been more vulnerable. Even as an 11 year old, I knew the benefits of male circumcision – I had just learned about trench warfare during World War II, and the infections that raged among uncircumcised men living in those filthy conditions. And as I reflect on that moment when I was 11, it makes perfect sense to me that I chose a career in research.

Another thing I recognized is that not only is the term “victim” disempowering when referring to women who have experienced khatna, but also entirely inaccurate. Activists have argued against the term “victim” for decades, particularly when it comes to describing women and gender-queer survivors of physical abuse. However, the term is misleading too. It is an easy label assigned by the status quo, and a particularly effective way for those in power to demonstrate their investment in “women’s issues.” It is a gateway to continued imperialism, where the narratives of marginalized groups are stripped of nuance, or hidden entirely.

It has been incredibly easy, even comforting, to vilify Dr. Jumana Nagarwala for performing khatna in the US. But let us not buy into the clash-of-civilizations narrative. Each time a US news outlet says the practice will not be “tolerated in the US,” there is an implied comparison to those “backward” countries that tacitly endorse it. Additionally, it implies a wounded nationalism, where (White, male) individuals are almost more outraged that it is happening in the United States than that it is happening at all. And so we are forced to view the practice through an imperial lens. We must not let khatna become a political talking point for US politicians to show how they have “zero tolerance” for “brutal” practices while forwarding a facile concern for women’s rights.  We must not forget that khatna is endorsed by the largely male leadership of the Bohra jamaat. While Dr. Nagarwala is culpable, and there is no question that she must face legal action, she has been turned into a scapegoat by both US discourse and the Dawoodi Bohra leadership.

This is a brief account of how khatna shapes my personal narrative, but I want to complicate some of the stereotypes that public discourse about khatna is attempting to forward: that it is an Islamic practice (it is not), that it is a result of poor formal education (again, no), or that it is a violent and barbaric practice that consumes the victim – the answer to that is more complicated than a yes or a no, should someone actually care to engage those who have experienced khatna.

Why do Dawoodi Bohras practice Khatna, or Female Genital Cutting?

by Aarefa Johari

What is the real purpose behind Khatna for girls? The Dawoodi Bohra community has been practicing this hidden ritual of female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC), for centuries, with no public discussion on its need. It is only in the past year that the Bohra leadership has finally spoken out about why they expect the clitoral hoods of seven-year-old girls to be cut.   

In June 2016, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin issued a press statement in which he described circumcision as an act of “religious purity”. This is similar to what a senior spokesperson from the community told Sahiyo in a private conversation last year: he claimed that the main reason for female and male circumcision, according to Da’im al-Islam (a 10th century book of jurisprudence), is hygiene or taharat – not just physical but also “spiritual” and “religious”.  

Then in February 2017, a senior spokesperson for the community gave an anonymous interview to The Hindu, in which Da’im al-Islam was quoted again. Except, this time, the unnamed spokesperson said that Khatna serves to “increase the radiance on the face of the woman and the pleasure with that of her husband”.  

Now, ever since three Bohras in USA were arrested on charges of FGC, several Bohra women who support Khatna have taken to social media to defend the ritual. All of these women claim that Khatna is done to increase sexual stimulation, and that it is “scientifically” and “medically” beneficial because it is “just like the clitoral unhooding procedure done in the West”. Some of these women also claim that Khatna is done to maintain genital hygiene.

And yet, this is not how most Bohra women have traditionally explained Khatna as they passed down the practice from one generation to another. In 1991, professor Rehana Ghadially interviewed around 50 Bohra women in an article called All for Izzat, and found that the most common reasons given for Khatna were: a) it is a religious obligation, b) it is a tradition, and c) it is done to curb a girl’s sexuality.

Since then, several independent researchers, activists and filmmakers have found the same thing in their countless interactions with Bohra women: a large majority of Bohras have consistently claimed that they cut their daughters either to moderate their sexual desires, or to unquestioningly follow a religious tradition. In fact, several Bohras refer to the clitoris as “haraam ni boti” or sinful lump of flesh.

Sahiyo’s reserach study of 385 Bohra women also found the same thing: the majority of respondents claimed that Khatna is done as a tradition or to curb sexual desire, and very few Bohras cited “hygiene”, “medical benefits” or “increasing sexual pleasure” as reasons for practicing Khatna. In fact, when filmmaker Priya Goswami was researching for her 2012 documentary A Pinch of Skin, a woman teacher from a Bohra religious institution clearly told her that the purpose behind Khatna is to control a girl’s sexual urges, so that she does not have premarital or extramarital affairs.  

So why are the new social media defenders of Khatna now pushing out the opposite narrative, and claiming that female circumcision is meant to enhance sexual pleasure? What is the real purpose behind Khatna?

To understand this, let us look at what Islamic texts say about female circumcision.

There are certain Hadiths, particularly from the Shafi, Hanbali and Hanafi schools of Islam, which mention female circumcision as either permissible, honourable or as a sunnah (recommended) practice. Many Islamic scholars around the world have disputed the authenticity of these Hadiths. But even if we were to take them at face value, the main thing that these Hadiths prove is that female circumcision was already a prevalent practice in parts of Arabia at the time of Prophet Mohammed – it was not a new religious ritual introduced in Islam.  

One Hadith that is frequently cited is Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 41, which contains this particular story:

“Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah:
A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (PBUH) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.”

This same anecdote – of the Prophet cautioning the woman against cutting too much – has been interpreted and translated in slightly different ways by different scholars: some translate it as “do not cut off too much as it is a source of pleasure for the woman and more liked by the husband”, others have translated it as “…it is a source of loveliness of the face and more enjoyable for the husband”.

In Volume 1 of The Pillars of Islam (Ismail Poonawala’s English translation of Da’im al-Islam), on page 154, a very similar sentence is translated like this: “O women, when you circumcise your daughters, leave part (of the labia or clitoris), for this will be chaster for their character, and it will make them more beloved by their husbands”. This is what the spokesperson of the community, in his aforementioned interview to The Hindu, seems to have translated as “increase the radiance on the face of the woman and the pleasure with that of her husband”. (Italics added)

I am not an Arabic scholar, but it is evident from these various translations that different Arabic and Islamic scholars have interpreted the same message in slightly different and contradictory ways. What some interpret as an increase in the “radiance” or “loveliness” of a woman’s face (which is a reference to her sexual satisfaction – not literal radiance), others interpret as something “better” or “chaster” for a woman (which could be a reference to her sexual chastity).    

All Muslims would agree that old Islamic Arabic is not easy to interpret, because its words are often ambiguous or have multiple connotations. But this ambiguity could help us understand why many generations of Bohra women have believed that Khatna is done to control a woman’s sexual desires, and why other Bohras can possibly use the same text to claim that Khatna is done to increase sexual pleasure.

In fact, this very argument was made recently by a fervent Khatna supporter and Sunni Islamic scholar Asiff Hussein. In a comment on the Facebook page of Speak Out on FGM, he explained the connection between “increasing pleasure” and keeping a woman chaste. He said:

“This [removal of the clitoral hood] necessarily leads to a satisfactory sex life among women, thus ensuring their chastity. The classical jurists were not such parochial men after all. They deduced from this one statement of the prophet what it really meant.”

In other words, by ensuring that a woman is sexually satisfied in her marriage, Khatna will ensure that she does not stray out of marriage. This connection between the multiple interpretations of the Prophet’s words does sound plausible, and if it is to be believed, then Khatna does boil down to sexual control of women!

But do we really need to control or enhance women’s sexuality in any way?  

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what reason you choose to believe in, because no reason can justify the practice of cutting a girl’s genitals, however “minor” the procedure.

No one has the right to curb or control a woman’s sexual desires, or to tell her to be chaste. These are patriarchal ideas that have no place in today’s world. Similarly, no one has the right to try and enhance the future sexual life of a young girl by altering her genitals. Seven-year-old girls should not be sexualised at all; they don’t even understand sex or the functions of various genital organs. Why can’t we leave their genitals alone, untouched, the way they were naturally born?  

Remember, the clitoral hood serves an important purpose: it protects the clitoris from over-stimulation, abrasions and injury, and it naturally retracts during sexual arousal to allow exposure to the clitoris. It does not need to be cut in order to expose the clitoris. We must understand the natural functions of our body parts before artificially altering them with a blade.

Instead of blindly claiming that Khatna is the same as “Western” clitoral unhooding, we must understand that clitoral unhooding is not performed on unconsenting minor girls. It is chosen by some adult, sexually active women only if they have problems such as too much prepuce tissue coming in the way of orgasms.

And finally, if you think that the purpose behind Khatna is taharat, then remember: physical hygiene can be maintained very well with soap and water, and the key to achieving “spiritual” or “religious” purity lies not in a person’s genitals, but in their thoughts, words and deeds.

We need a Bohra Revolution

By: M Bohra

Age: 23
Country: United Kingdom

The ongoing investigation into Dawoodi Bohra doctors engaging in khatna, or female genital cutting (FGC), and the community leadership’s ambivalence regarding this practice, have once again brought up unanswered questions. What message is the leadership in India sending to the Bohra community when it disowns the doctors’ acts, not for their irreligiosity, but for their illegality in the West? Must the Bohra leadership accept the legal and moral responsibility of promoting khatna, especially since they advocate travelling to countries without FGM laws to continue this practice? Or can we expect them to continue throwing their misinformed, fanatical and grovelling followers under the bus to save themselves?

Many Bohris, in the privacy of their friends and families, will complain about the strict social norms that regulate every act of our lives within the community: where we pray, what we wear, who we do business with, what our family roles are, who we befriend, what we say, how we dissent, how we think. These criticisms are kept out of the community arena by the authoritarian diktats of the leadership. They hold the power to socially boycott (which, for many community-linked businesses is linked to economic loss), extort money for officiating religious ceremonies (including permitting travel to the Hajj pilgrimage), and even denying burial in Bohra cemeteries. While we continue to chafe under this authoritarian religious regime, however, we must acknowledge our own prejudices.

Bohris, despite all evidence, believe that we are God’s chosen people. We consider ourselves not only superior to non-Muslims (which is a broader Islamic problem), but even non-Bohra Muslims. We call our own community “mumineen” (the believers), and the others “musalmaan”. Even other Shia groups are generally only respected during the first ten days of Muharram, when we enthusiastically join our “Shia brothers” in the Ashura processions and sermons, only to exclude them from our lives on the eleventh day. We consider our mosques cleaner, our prayers more spiritual, and even our cemeteries as somehow more special. We are “blessed” to be ruled by tyrants, who guarantee us a heavenly afterlife in exchange for worldly money.

Are we surprised that the leadership continues to promote a domesticated and desexualised ideal for our women, when it promotes a passive and unintellectual ideal for our men? It is important to remember that their power comes from our submissiveness, which is the result of our own prejudices. We need to introspect and question the foundations of our own biases. What is unclean about a non-Bohra mosque? What is inappropriate about performing the Hajj without being led by a Bohra priest? What is the problem with marrying outside the community? Can Bohra women question the religiously-sanctioned ideal of making rotis and handicrafts confined to their homes? Why do we have to control women’s sexuality through physical means, but not men’s? If the current system is broken and cannot be reformed, are we ready to create new religious and social spaces with other disillusioned Bohris? Can we create new inclusive and non-hierarchical spaces to end religious dogmatism, bring financial accountability, provide spiritual healing and engage in progressive social reform without prejudice?

Here’s a little history lesson to conclude this piece. The office of Dai Al-Mutlaq, which is currently held through hereditary means by Mufaddal Saifuddin, is not the same as the position of the Imam, who is considered as the rightful spiritual and political successor of the Prophet in all Shia traditions. The first Dai was appointed by Arwa Al – Sulayhi, a long-reigning queen in Yemen, as a vicegerent (deputy) for the young Imam At-Tayyib. The succession of Dais was not always hereditary, and was likely based on spiritual and political merit. Increasing persecution drove the leadership to settle in Western India, where they were welcomed by a community of religious converts. Note how the position of the Dai was created by a powerful woman ruler (who probably wasn’t told to make rotis and handicrafts), not as a hereditary office, and owed its continuity to the goodwill of the new community of Bohris in India. Over the centuries, the leadership has forgotten who was in charge. It’s time for a reminder.