Absence of female genital cutting laws in India: An issue that requires immediate action

By Richa Bhargava

Age: 20

Country: India

As a first year law student in Sonipat, India, I was exposed to the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) as a part of my sociology course. We discussed the practice briefly. The article that formed a majority of our discussion only spoke of the existence of FGC in African nations and made no mention of India or other countries around the world where women are subjected to the practice. I felt shocked and truly disturbed when I first learned about FGC, and as a result, my response was to read about it on my own accord. A little browsing led me to the discovery of the fact that FGC prevails in the Indian subcontinent as well. I read about the Bohra community, the absence of legislation and the organisations and people advocating to end this harmful and unnecessary practice.

Laws do not just force and punish. They deter, discourage and dissuade, too. Enacting and legislating laws raises awareness and empowers communities to change not only what people do, but what they think is right. It is vital for laws to continuously evolve with the changing norms and ideals of a society. 

FGC is a prevalent practice among the Bohra community in India. A study indicated that almost 75% of the women of this community who were interviewed have been cut. At present, many citizens are unaware of its presence in India. Lifting the veil off this practice is an essential step toward ensuring that a conversation regarding its harmful effects on young girls begins. Maneka Gandhi, a union minister, stated that there is a lack of proof regarding the existence of FGC in India, and there is no data to support its presence. The Ministry of Women and Child Development needs to conduct surveys and take appropriate measures to find all data that would make the legislators see the need for the enactment of a law against FGC. To avoid addressing the issue is to completely ignore its existence. A similar approach has been taken up by the Indian government over the years. Multiple accounts of women who have undergone FGC are out in the public domain and  provide substantial evidence to prove the presence of khatna, as it is known in the Bohra community. Yet, no legislation or statute has been formulated or enacted in India which would help survivors find an easy legal recourse. 

There is an imperative need to move beyond the pretext of not having enough data to prove FGC occurs in India. Hundreds of survivors have spoken up against this practice and have openly shared their painful accounts. Many survivors have shared that since khatna is secretive, making it unlawful could have a serious impact in curtailing it. According to Section 320 and Section 322 of the Indian Penal Code, causing grievous hurt to another person is a criminal offence, and FGC would automatically fall within its purview. Despite this, there has been no effort on the part of the legislators to specifically provide remedy to survivors. The Indian Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to life and liberty to all its citizens. Legal statutes like the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act that penalise crimes should mention terms such as female genital mutilation/cutting, labia minora, etc., to provide appropriate legal recourse to women affected by this practice. 

India claims to be a welfare state that ensures the well-being of all its citizens. Refusing to ensure the safety of young girls who might be subjected to FGC is a contradictory act. 

Various jurists and legislators face the problem of deciding whether one fundamental right should be given more importance than the other. The proposed ban on khatna raises a similar 

obstacle. The Indian Constitution confers upon its citizens the right to equality, as well as the right to practice and profess any religion. There exists a constant clash between articles 14 and 15 defining right to equality and articles 25 and 26 defining religious rights. In particular, the rights guaranteed to people under article 26 pose a unique challenge before the courts. In recent years, courts have come to realise that the right to equality should be awarded more weight. Discrimination solely on the basis of one’s gender is highly dishonourable and unjust. In order to move forward, a distinction between social malpractices and actual religious practices needs to be made. Social norms disguised as religious practices infringing upon the rights of women need to be done away with. The right and autonomy over one’s body is crucial to live a respectful life.

People frequently wonder whether legislation can bring about change. Fear that criminalising FGC might result in a deeper continuation of it is felt by many and is a valid concern. However, often the notion that a new law can elevate conversation on FGC and create a discourse for all to engage in on the topic is overlooked. The existence and continuity of khatna cannot just be attributed to the fault of a community. With democratic ideals such as equality and freedom, the state cannot shy away from establishing and constituting laws that are in symmetry with these ideals.

Voices reflection: Hear it from a Hindu girl, FGM/C has nothing to do with religion 

By Priya Goswami

I was 11 years old when my mother said I was ‘impure’ now that I got my periods. The idea of ‘impurity’ in front of God enraged the eleven-year-old me. I wanted to know if my Muslim and Christian friends were also told not to ‘touch God’ or go near him in the temple, mosque, or church during their periods. 

I got around asking that question through a street play, Chakravyu*, in my undergraduate college years. A play through which we spoke about the cultural subversion of women and how every religion has its way of propagating patriarchy via religion and culture. 

When we performed the play out in public, often, we would meet the gaze of someone religious who thought our street play too slanderous to their religion. We would meet their gaze even more vociferously by mixing a Hindu chant with a Muslim Azaan

I am sad to share this, but I know deep down in my bones that I can no longer mix a Hindu chant with a Muslim Azaan**. I know performing such a play in today’s India would get my collegiate pals and me arrested or lynched even. 

That is the India my country has grown to become. 

I will not deny that we are an intolerant nation where Muslim friends are offered separate utensils in bigoted homes. Hindus feel superior because of their choice of eating meat or being vegetarian. But, despite the bigotry, I could never imagine that my country would become so intolerant to the point that one’s choice of eating meat would get them openly lynched. 

When I started to make ‘A Pinch of Skin’ in 2011, I was deterred by many senior voices asking me not to take up such a polarising subject, especially since I am a Hindu girl, with my religion written all over my last name. 

I chose not to listen to them, and I am glad.

During the shooting of A Pinch of Skin,  over six months of shooting, I was always met with open arms, warm smiles, and offers to take me out for lunch by the people I interviewed because the people I met saw me as a human being first. Sans my last name. 

I cry, thinking about what my country has become today. 

What would happen if I were to shoot my documentary or perform Chakravyu with my collegiate pals in today’s India?

My Voices to End FGM/C story, The Medium, reflects my decade-long experience working on female genital mutilation/cutting, as the crescendo on Islamophobia increases in India and around the world. 

I want to proudly say that those who believe in the xenophobic narrative don’t know what they are missing out on. 

My own experience informs me that religion has nothing to do with a social norm. In one way or another, all religions attempt to control the female sexual experience, the very essence of patriarchy. And that is why FGM/C continues and is a lot more complex than what meets the eye. 

Let’s leave religion and reading into the last names of people to stereotype.

Notes

*Chakravya: The word Chakravya is a mythological reference to the unbreakable cycle in the Hindu holy book of Mahabharata. 

**Azaan: Azaan is the Urdu/Farsi word of the religious call to prayer, recited by the priest at a designated time of the day, usually early morning and early evening.

A reflection on Sahiyo’s virtual U.S. Activists’ Retreat

By Anonymous

The aim of Sahiyo’s third annual Activists’ Retreat in the United States was to continue to work toward building a network of U.S.-based Bohra activists against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by strengthening relationships with one another, sharing best practices, and providing tools for activists to utilize in their advocacy work moving forward. Below, a participant shares their experience from the virtual Activists’ Retreat.

Why did you want to attend the virtual retreat?

The main reason was because I had attended the in-person retreat in 2019. I made it a goal to keep attending. In 2020, I was planning on going to the in-person one. I wanted to participate. I have a personal experience with FGM/C. It was kind of a big deal that I attended in 2019 and it was quite eye opening. There was a lot about the issue I didn’t really know or understand and going was quite an experience in a good way, in a positive way, and I just wanted more. It was definitely something I want to continue to learn about. Apart from my own experience, I don’t know much about it as far as facts and figures are concerned, tangible facts. It was very helpful. It was interesting to understand. It was an emotional rollercoaster. There’s so much more to do and learn. 

What have you learned or most enjoyed at the virtual retreat?

The biggest thing I enjoyed was seeing all these new people. I was proud to see so many more people join this. I had an idea that a lot more people were going to join. But seeing so many people attend and engage was really nice. It was really cool to see people not let the virtual aspect of it simmer everything down. Newer people were still engaging and wanting to learn more about it. Men joined this time, and it was cool to see them engage and ask questions and try to understand. It’s never something that people talk about within our own age group.

How and why are you involved in the movement to end FGC?

To be totally honest, I am still trying to figure out the how part. Maybe it’s part of my personality. I get very overwhelmed by so many things. Just the fact that I attended the retreat and I’m so glad I didgoing there was a huge step for me, in general. As much as I enjoyed it, I was able to participate in something I hadn’t before. Toward the end, I felt like I could do a little bit more. I attended the retreat with friends and there was more confidence to participate in something like the retreat because we had a level of comfort. And we all agree that a group like Sahiyo is doing good work.

How do you think this virtual retreat will inform your work as an individual and/or activist?  

It definitely showed us that it’s a lot easier to connect with more people this way. One thing I noted after the in-person oneI know that they had calls after the in-person retreat. Attending this virtual retreat, you definitely don’t have an excuse to not interact or reach out to people who attended. In that sense, it was encouraging to see that people were in completely different parts of the country and we could attend. We’d never met before and interacted in person. I wish that we had more time. Action planning was really informative.

What work are you doing currently or hoping to do in the future?

I think the most immediate thing that I feel like I could do, and I had offered to participate in that part as well. We have physicians in our family and I know 100 percent that they would advocate against FGM and we were trying to figure out how to put together a network of physicians and informing or coming up with informational texts to [explain] what happens with your body. Most people I know who have undergone it, just plain and simple [don’t know] the effects of it. My reaching out to some of the physicians of our family to help out with that is an immediate goal. I know some people that are my age. We’ve briefly spoken on the subject and I would really like them to join the next retreat. These couple of things are things I could actually do something about. 

Have you attended a Sahiyo retreat in the past, and, if so, what was it like to attend this virtual activist retreat in comparison to the in-person retreat?

The virtual retreat went a lot better than I expected. It’s so easy to mute yourself and turn your video off versus to participate. There was way more participation than I expected and good conversations. I still think the in-person one made me feel like you are part of this community. There was a sentiment there that everyone was sharing and the organizers, the way they set it upit wasn’t super formal. People were comfortable and friendly. Just the experience of it was very comforting and safe; and I think that made a really big difference overall for the weekend. They did this over the virtual retreat, too, and they did what they could, and that was very well appreciated.

To learn more about the 2021 Activist Retreat, take a look at our Report.

Understanding female genital mutilation/cutting: An ally’s call for action

By Farhanaz Hazari 

Age: 18

My fight against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) can be traced back to the day my mother and sister had a discussion with me on how young girls from the age of 7 are subjected to FGM/C or khatna, as it is known in the Bohra community. They explained it in simple terms, as I was still in school and unfamiliar with the practice, and guided me on how to approach the subject. They educated me on who conducts this act and where it is conducted and for what reasons. They told me that it was taboo to talk about it freely and also to never ask if anyone had been subjected to khatna. 

After hearing this from two people that are close to my heart, I trusted their word and never asked anyone about it. I had no idea little girls were subjected to such pain and trauma. They are children, after all. Aren’t they supposed to play with dolls and fight for the window seat on the bus ride home? Why are people insisting on controlling girls from such a young age? Why are they putting them through this mental trauma? Why isn’t anyone speaking up against it? All these questions were flooding my mind and all I wanted was someone to tell me this isn’t happening anymore. To think I was hurt and frustrated would be an understatement. I was angry and sad at the same time. I thought this is a tradition that had been shunned and looked down upon by many communities around the world. But to my misery that was not the reality. 

The next time I came across the word khatna in one of the books in The Princess Trilogy by Jean Sasson, it brought me to tears. At that point I knew I had to do something to raise awareness against it or simply make it known to people that it is a violation of a girl’s body. I read up about female genital mutilation/cutting and learned about how its roots were traced back to Egypt. I learned about the four types and how there is no scientific evidence to help women medically in any way. 

Being a student of law, I have the opportunity to speak up and back my reasoning with legal knowledge. FGM/C infringes upon the girl child’s human rights, such as the right to bodily autonomy, equality, right to life and personal liberty, which includes the right to be free from any form of violence. 

After the young girls are cut, they may die, or bleed continuously and/or develop an infection, which violates their right to have a healthy life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Justice Chandrachud also stated, “One has supreme authority over genitalia. It is central to one’s identity, dignity and autonomy.” The recognition of the harms of FGM/C is increasing day by day as many are filing petitions, raising their voices and sharing their stories with the help of nongovernmental organizations. I have the opportunity to voice my thoughts against the practice with the help of Sahiyo, and for that I am eternally grateful. The Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai said, “There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.” 

I say stand up. Raise your voice and help put an end to FGM/C.

My experience of learning about female genital cutting: An outsider’s perspective

By Madrisha Debnath

Not belonging to a community where female genital cutting (FGC) is practiced, I have often faced questions on how I can understand how the practice could occur if I am an outsider and the religion or culture I grew up in never condoned it. Interestingly, those who have questioned me have been peers at my university, who also did not come from FGC-practicing communities. But, each of us have grown up in a certain cultural community that has performed certain traditions or norms for generations. In other words, the societies we live in have constructed certain social norms and practices that are followed by its members to keep it going. Therefore, understanding this perspective, one can relate to the practice of FGC according to their own social position and be reflexive in terms of their subjectivity. 

When I first learned about female genital cutting, I was shocked by the physical pain a child undergoes to fit into the heterosexual matrix regulated by the institution of marriage. Not knowing anything about the practice or having experienced it, but being a female with a clitoris, I could not bear the distress of understanding how painful it must be to be cut at the site of more than 8,000 sensory nerve endings. 

I kept on watching and re-watching documentaries, the narratives on FGC, and listening to survivors’ stories. The more I listened to their stories in an attempt to understand the social process, the more I felt the survivors’ trauma. I tried to understand the agency of the women, particularly the role of a mother or grandmother taking part in the very system that regulated their own body. Why is it that the mother, the one who could possibly be the most sympathetic toward the child, could subject her daughter’s body to FGC? 

According to the stories of the survivors, even in cases when the memory of the cut may be repressed, the “body memory” can remember the pain. The effect of the trauma may be repeated every month as the girl hits puberty, during intimacy, and again potentially through her future daughter’s experience with FGC. The first thing I could relate to culturally from my own social construct was how the institution of marriage itself works. In my opinion, marriage is actually a relation from a man (the father) to another man (the husband), whereby the woman is transferred as the symbol of lineage. When the occasion of marriage takes place, generally a change in location takes place for the woman, as her guardianship is being transferred. 

I recently attended my brother’s wedding in India whereby the next morning my sister-in-law had to leave her house and come to our place of residence. Although belonging from the groom’s side, I was supposed to be rejoicing and welcoming my new sister-in-law. But I couldn’t hold my tears as the bride left her family. Being a girl, I could not withstand the final moments of my sister-in-law departing from her mother. The bride and her mother burst into tears. The ritual of Kanyadaan, or giving away the female child with the virtue of generosity and charity, performed by the father of the bride to her husband, ensures her transfer from her father’s family to her husband’s family as a symbol of lineage. 

Before leaving her father’s family the daughter performs kanakanjali, which involves paying off her mother’s debt. But is it possible to pay off a mother’s debt? The mother, who had once undergone the same rituals and practices, may have once felt the pain of leaving her family aside, but now it is her daughter who has to undergo the same practices. How can the mother hold her tears? She had to once leave her family and now her daughter is undergoing the same practice.

There have also been counter spaces of resistances within the communities against these norms. For example, in my community now, female priestesses are challenging the perception that a priest could only be someone who is male since the female body was not considered to be “pious” for performing rituals because of the taboo of menstruation associated with them. Challenging this perception, the female priestesses are performing marriage rituals without the norm of kanyadan. The women are advocating marriage to be a union between two equals and that one cannot be given away as a gift to another. The rituals that are being performed by the female priestess simply denote the union of two families, where the bride is not considered as a “gift” since she is not a commodity which can be simply given away. 

Drawing a parallel between the norm of marriage and the transference of guardianship of the woman from the cultural institution I belong to, to that of how FGC can continue is how I can understand how rituals or practices can continue generation after generation. We perform them because they have been performed by others before us in our communities. 

The questions that I’m left with are whether there is actually any choice by the girl or woman herself to undergo the practices whether in the example of marriage I gave or by the girl who undergoes FGC?  And in the case of FGC, is it the mother or the grandmother who chooses to facilitate the practice to be performed on their daughter, or is it the performative nature of tradition that keeps the practice going, being repeated and recited again and again?

Female genital cutting: A poem

By Zainab Khambata

Country of Residence: India

As the blade pierced through my skin,

All I could feel was pain.

I looked into my mom’s eyes,

And she shrugged helplessly in vain.

I was yet another girl,

Subjected to female genital cutting.

As a mere child of seven,

I did not contest,

I wasn’t even aware,

That all my dignity as well as my rights,

Were stripped from me bare.

“It is done in the name of religion,” they said.

And it is this ideology I dread.

It is done to curb a woman’s desires,

To subdue her voice and her fire.

My grandmother said “It’s all right, all girls must go through this in their life.”

Why has society rendered women unaware?

To the point where they do not know and do not even care.

They torment innocent children,

With everlasting scars,

But yet this practice they refuse to stop,

Fearing from society’s eyes they will drop.

When will this age-old tradition come to an end?

So that without emotional trauma,

The rest of their lives little girls can spend.

It is time to speak up about this,

And make people aware,

It’s time to show that we care.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Social Media Intern Kamakshi Arora

Kamakshi Arora is a social media intern for Sahiyo. She is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and researcher. She has a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from NC State and a Masters in Product Design from The University of The Arts. Originally from Mumbai, India, she moved to the United States to pursue higher studies. She is particularly interested in using a transdisciplinary, participatory approach to design strategies for addressing current gender inequities, and to co-create meaningful initiatives to tackle women’s rights and health issues. She supports Sahiyo’s mission of empowering women through innovative grassroots initiatives based on storytelling and community engagement and is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about working in a feminist organization. 

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

It was early in the year, and I really wanted to volunteer and support a feminist organization that was working for gender equity and reform. My thesis was on the concept of healing for survivors of sexual assault. I wanted to find an organization that was doing similar work and as soon as I found out about Sahiyo, I knew I had found that place.  Sahiyo’s approach of combining storytelling and advocacy really caught my eye. I’m also from Mumbai so it felt like a great fit to be a part of an organization that was based out of my home.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

Right now I’m mostly involved in social media. This includes programming and developing content, sharing articles and educational information on our channels, and maintaining our persona online. As a designer, I love that I can be creative as I have used my artwork and drawing as a way to advance Sahiyo’s program. I try to subtly use my training in human-centered design and trauma-informed principles in the work that I create for Sahiyo. 

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Greatly. For one thing, I saw the power of storytelling in all its forms. Sahiyo taught me to be coherent and persevering with our messages and how we can write a story that supports the purpose of our mission. Second, my perspectives as an intersectional feminist have expanded. I was not aware of female genital cutting (FGC) before. I have learned much about the issue of FGC and its existence in the broader context of women’s subjugation in our society and cultures. I’m now a lifelong advocate and ally of Sahiyo’s mission and will continue to use my own skills to do my bit. 

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

Please do not be afraid to learn and inquire about female genital cutting. By asking questions and speaking actively, we are contributing to Sahiyo’s mission to end FGC. Share our stories, attend our workshops, make a donation, and/or volunteer. It’s all so informative, and you’ll leave with a wealth of resources to do your own advocacy.

Dear Maasi: “How do I move past the shame of being cut?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask. It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi

I have a question about the deep shame I hold for being cut. It is so toxic and permeates throughout my life. How can I move past it?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Shame is an important topic that doesn’t get addressed enough—thanks for asking this question. 

Shame results when our inner critic judges us harshly, most often about things we’ve had little or no control over. These judgements come from the negative or abusive messages imposed on us as children. Shame doesn’t just criticize our behaviours but something more integral: our worth as human beings. For this reason it can impact all aspects of our lives.

Khatna, or female genital cutting, stamps shame on the body. As kids, we don’t have the capacity to understand why a confusing and painful thing is happening to us. The taboo and secretive nature of the practice reinforces the shame. Most children turn the blame and shame inward, rather than pointing it at the trusted caregivers who are betraying us.

So how do we begin to resolve shame? There are many paths to healing:

  • Begin to intentionally cast a compassionate gaze upon yourself. At first, your affirmations may feel false, but with repetition, that will change.
  • View your inner shamer as a child-like protector who functions to keep you feeling small and worthless in order to avoid further harm. Thank it for its diligent work and remind it that you’ve grown up and have other resources for feeling safe. This is an Internal Family Systems approach. Learn more through this 14-minute video.
  • Seek out a trauma therapist who can help you work through the khatna. Doing so enabled me to identify the child-logic (the ways I made “sense” of the traumatic moment as a kid) that led to me internalizing the blame. This child-logic had long legs that impacted many aspects of my life, including self-expression, romantic relationships, friendships and work. Check out my January 2021 column for tips on finding a therapist.
  • Debunk the myths you’ve learned about your sexuality and body. Most of us have learned that our genitals are “bad” or “wrong” or “dirty.” If we don’t shame our elbows, why would we shame our vulvas?  
  • Talk to other khatna survivors or listen to their stories. This will remind you that you’re not alone, and not to blame.

Anonymous, healing from shame takes time and effort, but it is possible. I wish you all the best in this journey! 

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com. Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

Women should not be harmed because of societal norms 

By Sakshi Rajani 

Age: 17

Country: India

Female genital cutting (FGC): the term sounded ruthless the first time I heard it. It was not long ago that I was introduced to this term. While going through my Instagram feed, I read a story about a law student who was spreading awareness about FGC, and I was clueless about what it was. Immediately I searched this issue online and learned how serious it was. Then, I pondered why I hadn’t known about it earlier. Why had no one around me talked about it? 

Upon researching it further, I came to know how deeply rooted this problem was in communities and cultures. My will to do something to end it became stronger. I looked for organisations working to end FGC and came across Sahiyo. I soon joined the organisation. 

The first time I spoke about FGC to my friends they said, “What is that?” I wasn’t surprised by their reaction because I, too, was unfamiliar with it. I asked them to research it on their own, and then I explained more about the harms. I told them the World Health Organization and the United Nations declared FGC a human rights violation. Then I introduced them to the groundbreaking Mumkin app created by two co-founders of Sahiyo, Priya Goswami and Aarefa Johari, where my friends could learn more valuable information about this issue.

What are the hurdles in encouraging abandonment of or ending FGC? FGC is also often seen as a necessary ritual for initiation into womanhood and can be linked to cultural ideals of femininity, purity and modesty. A strong incentive to continue the practice is family pressure to adhere to conventional social norms. Women who break from this social norm can face condemnation, abuse and rejection from family or community members. Patriarchal society can help perpetuate it generation after generation. 

Female genital cutting should stop immediately, as a woman should have full rights over her body and no woman should be harmed because of societal norms and expectations. I am now an advocate to make sure FGC ends.

Saved by a lie: A story of female genital cutting

By Zainab Khambata

Age: 17

Place of residence: Mumbai, India

My maternal grandmother prides herself on being the perfect blend of modernity and religion. But when it came to her own daughter who is my mother, in spite of her misgivings, she still fell in line and got my mother circumcised or cut. Ask my grandmother why she did it and the reasons are numerous. Her mother asked her to do it. She lived in a joint family and all the cousins were cut. She didn’t know how to openly defy social norms and say no. The oddly mystifying voice of reason: if everybody is doing it, maybe it is the right thing to do. That is how Bohri women still continue to be cut in this day and age by their mothers and aunts and grandmothers. 

My mother still remembers the day she was cut as a child very vividly. She wasn’t told anything at all, simply pounced upon by her aunts and a “maasi,” or auntie, who used a razor on her. Then she was asked to rest to let the bleeding stop, given a bar of chocolate, and as a bonus, no school the next day. Life went on for my mother as usual without any mention of the incident or what had transpired. 

All was good and forgotten until my paternal grandmother started hounding my mom to get me cut. It was this whole maahol, or social environment, where mothers of girls my age were more than happy to play reminder and ask if I was cut yet because they had already had their little girls cut. My mom read about it and realised the physical repercussions of it, the bleeding and scarring, emotional repercussions and trauma, and in some cases, even sexual frigidity. You may never really forget what happens to you even though you are not informed about it at all. Upon inquiry, my mom never got a satisfactory answer as to why girls are cut besides the fact that it’s Sunnat, or encouraged. Some moms said it was for hygiene purposes; others said it would keep a girls’ potentially “sinful” thoughts of a sexual nature at bay. But the final straw was when she was told it may heighten mental and physical intimacy between couples. She realised then that many people have a myriad of confusing reasons to justify cutting.

When the pressure became too much from my grandmother and the other moms around her, my mother resorted to the only way she knew to keep me safe, by telling everyone that the deed was already done.

My paternal grandmother, who was hell bent on getting me circumcised like all my cousins to uphold her own religious morals and beliefs, made it a point to cross-check with my maternal grandmother whether I was truly cut. My maternal grandmother was smart enough to say yes, mostly to atone to my mom and not let history repeat itself for the sake of my bodily autonomy. In this way, my paternal grandmother was satisfied and she let it rest once and for all.

My mom had actually managed to prevent my cutting by telling everyone I had undergone the practice. Ingenious or devious? No matter what, I am grateful.