Voices Series: Why I keep sharing my personal khatna story, again and again

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Aarefa Johari

I have shared my story of undergoing khatna, or female genital cutting (FGC), dozens of times in the past seven years. I have written about it in blogs, described it to journalists during interviews, shared it on camera and also narrated it on stage, before live audiences. 

For each medium of storytelling, the first time has always been difficult. But with each retelling, I have grown more confident and articulate, not because I am now used to talking about the day I was cut, but because I have seen the tremendous positive impact of sharing my deeply personal story. 

Talking about one’s khatna publicly involves describing an invasion of one’s own person, in the most intimate part of one’s body. It requires opening oneself up to vulnerability before one can become strong. It involves bracing oneself for criticism, dismissal and vicious trolling from those who seek to defend the cutting of little girls’ genitals. It is difficult, and contrary to what our detractors often claim, it is never a means of getting “publicity”. 

When I chose to share my khatna story, it was triggered by sheer rage. I was angry about being violated and I wanted to voice it, in the hope that it would somehow prevent other seven-year-old Bohra girls from being cut. I did not know, at the time, how powerful storytelling can be. I did not know that each story told is like a pebble tossed into unknown waters, creating ripples that continue to radiate long after the pebble has settled down. 

Speaking out helped me realise that I was not alone in my rage and indignation about being cut. It helped me connect with others who shared my feelings—fellow sisters who also wanted to end the practice of khatna—and soon, a group of us founded Sahiyo. 

At Sahiyo, we created safe spaces to enable others to share their own khatna stories. For many, the experience of story-sharing has been cathartic, liberating and empowering. Women have told us they feel less isolated when they read or hear the stories of other survivors. Because storytelling focuses on emotion, self-reflection and the nuanced complexities of personal experience, it has been far more effective at inspiring parents to abandon khatna than didactic advocacy. 

This is why Sahiyo constantly seeks to create new platforms for storytelling, and teaming up with StoryCenter for the Voices to End FGM/C workshop has been one of them. Despite having shared my story several times over the years, I chose to participate in Voices to End FGM/C’s global webinar-based workshop because this time, I wanted to share the story of my journey so far, and the role that my decision to speak out has played in it. 

Through my video story, created with the help of designer Esther Elia, I hope that I can inspire viewers to keep sharing their own stories, because their voices are needed more than ever today. Every voice counts, and the more our stories rain down on the world, the more we are likely to prevail in our efforts to end khatna.

Voices Series: Why silence is our enemy

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Jenny 

It was a five-hour drive for me to get to the Sahiyo storytelling retreat. Within those five hours I struggled with whether I was doing the right thing. I struggled with the idea of sharing my story with people I didn’t know. I wondered if I would be accepted. I wondered what part of my story I should share, if I could find the right words. There were so many thoughts and worries that played in my mind. So many times I almost turned the car around. But I knew I needed to say something, not just for me, but for a sister that would never get to. 

Some of my fears came from the knowledge that I am probably the last picture anyone imagines when discussing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C)–the feeling that even among survivors and family member affected by FGM/C, I did not belong. 

When I begin to discover websites and groups devoted to educating and ending FGM/C, there were no images of little girls that resembled the younger version of me, no pictures of Caucasian, American girls, raised in the Christian faith. How could I ever belong at this retreat? Would my story even be remotely like other survivors or those affected by FGM/C? 

The first day at the conference, we each took turns sharing a part of our story. We worked together at helping each other find that piece we should talk about. As I listened to each story, after we shed many tears, it hit me: tragedy is blind. The tragedy and impact of FGM/C does not see one ethnic group, one culture, one religion, one country, one social class or one generation. 

FGM/C has a lifelong impact on anyone touched by this act; anyone who survives, anyone left behind by the one’s that don’t, anyone that loves the survivor, anyone that treats or supports survivors, anyone that advocates for change, and anyone trying to protect those still at risk. Silence is one of our biggest enemies. Silence hides the truth, silence removes responsibility. Silence allows for limits and boundaries to be placed on the issue. Silence allows ignorance to prevail. Silence encourages those that believe in this practice to continue the abuse or threaten it. Silence puts chains on people who are suffering. Silence prevents change. Silence prevents healing. 

The greatest gift we all have is our story. No two stories are completely the same. Every story matters. Every story needs to be shared. With each story, we began to break the wall of silence. We shatter the limits and the boundaries in place. Stories allow for truth to be seen, allows for awareness that there are so many more affected by FGM/C than is recognized, an awareness that we may never really know all affected until that wall is completely gone. Each story prevents this tragedy from being ignored, demands for change to be discussed. With knowledge comes responsibility.

Most importantly, each story provides an open door for others to share their story, too. An open door for those suffering to loosen their chains and begin to heal. Not a day passes that I don’t wish my sister had been given that open door.

So I sat in a room of men and women that were different in so many ways, but the differences didn’t matter, we were each bound by our stories. As I sat there I could hear my chains hit the floor. That room was my open door. On the other side, I found acceptance, I found healing, and I found hope. 

Voices Series: The power of naming

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

by Comfort Dondo

As an African immigrant, I come from a place of oral historians and storytelling. Sharing of community experiences is an integral part of our culture, and yet, over the decades and centuries, there are some subjects where silence persists.

Attending the Sahiyo Voices to End FGM/C storytelling workshop was a powerful and spiritual experience. I connected with women from across the world. It enabled me to name a source of my pain, confront it and acknowledge it.

Having other women with a shared narrative helped me place a balm on my wound and finally begin to heal.

Survivor: Why labia elongation is female genital mutilation

February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

By Jenny Cordle

When Comfort Dudzai was 9 years old, her father’s two sisters and her nanny took her and her cousins to her family’s rural home in Chipinge, in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe outside of Harare. In six long weeks the three women taught the girls a combination of lessons on hygiene, virginity and marriage. 

Each morning the group would gather in the forest near hot springs off the Save River for a lesson. One morning the 9-year-olds were taught how to elongate their labia minora, the inner lips of the vulva, arguably one of the most sensitive parts of female anatomy. 

“The men in our culture expect that you have your labia the (length) of your middle finger,” Comfort said. “For the first few sessions, the older ladies actually pull on the labia minora for you.”

Her aunts used their hands and secret herbs for the elongation. “It was a holistic teaching about womanhood, and the labia pulling is just one of the components.” 

There is a myth about the herbal mixture being made of bat wings. 

“It is painful,” Comfort said. “You cannot cry. You endure.” 

Comfort had an allergic reaction to the herbs. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong until I started facing complications,” she said. “I felt safe because these are women I trust and love, and women I know who love me and want the best for me.” 

Comfort’s pain didn’t end with the initial allergic reaction. She had complications with the delivery of her first son as a result of the labia elongation, and eventually had a surgical operation due to many infections. 

Although there are various forms of female genital mutilation/cutting and different classifications in terms of severity, the World Health Organization (WHO) stops short of explicitly listing labia elongation as Type 4, which “includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.”

Labia elongation is encouraged to enhance sexual pleasure not only for men, but for women as well. Whether the prior WHO classification, which actually included “stretching of the clitoris and/or labia,” was altered after two researchers published a study suggesting that Rwandan women experience labia elongation as positive is unclear. 

Types 1-3 classify what can be construed as reductive types of female genital mutilation/cutting. But labia elongation is not considered reductive since nothing is cut away. Instead the labia is pulled during a series of sessions, in what some deem as modification because the process appears to be devoid of violence. Consent is key.

For Comfort, the idea that girls are coerced into altering their genitals for the pleasure of men, and even for themselves, can be psychologically damaging. She is sharing her story to bring awareness to the process and to protect girls in the future. 

“Psychologically, it tells a girl that you’re not enough,” she said. “You need to alter something and there’s something deep about telling a young lady that age that you need to make yourself this way for a man. You’re not good enough. There’s even stories about women who get returned from their marriage — that they need to go and pull that labia longer. It’s very damaging to women. It places the value of the man over the woman.”

Labeling elongation, pulling or stretching as labia modification undermines the harmful effects on girls and connotes agency, whereas in many girls experiences, they aren’t given a choice.

Labia elongation is or has been practiced among groups in several African countries including Benin, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. According to the BBC, it is reportedly happening in the United Kingdom among diaspora communities. 

Comfort (Dondo) Dudzai participated in the Voices to End FGM/C workshop led by StoryCenter and Sahiyo, and funded by the George Washington School of Public Health in Washington, D.C.

On the path to healing: My journey after experiencing female genital cutting

By Anonymous

Country of Residence: United States

Every woman that has been cut has a story to tell. I tell my story not to offer a universal account of female genital cutting (FGC), but one that is specific to me. At a young age, I underwent Type II female genital cutting, known specifically as “taharah” (purification) within the Egyptian community, in which only part of the clitoral hood was removed and partial removal of the labia minora/majora. The taharah took place in Cairo, Egypt, while visiting relatives. This was the second time I visited my parent’s homeland. My parents were unaware, or at least this is what I’d like to believe, of what had occurred, as my sister was in a coma at the time and her prognosis was poor. They agreed that I travel to their homeland with my auntie to avoid the negative effects of witnessing what my sister was going through. My aunties had convinced me that this was a rite of passage, and what I was about to embark on would make me a “woman.” 

One week after arriving in Cairo, my auntie took me to a medical office where a doctor performed the surgery. She remained in the room while I underwent FGC, while my other auntie waited by the phone to hear the “good news.” I have no recollection of the surgery, as I was under anesthesia. However, I awoke to excruciating pain that would last for weeks. I remember my family members visiting to celebrate—bearing money and gifts. Upon returning home my parents realized that something was different about me. Already small-framed, I had lost ten pounds. I notified them of what occurred, and I remember them speaking with my aunties. However, the details of the discussion were unknown to me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In 2001, while taking a women’s psychology course, I learned that FGC was considered a human rights violation. Students in the class, including those from countries where this was practiced, were surprised and “disgusted” that FGC continued to be practiced. I was taken aback, as I had assumed this was a custom that many practiced. I began opening up to female friends from similar and varying backgrounds. I quickly discovered I was alone in having had it done to me.

I started looking into the practice of FGC and found that there were many factors contributing to the perpetuation of FGC. Some linked it to geographical location, religion, customs, sexuality, marriageability and education. I realized this was a complicated custom that could not simply be thought of as being continued by “ignorant” people. In fact, much of my family are college educated, wealthy, and progressive in terms of religion, and advocate for the rights of women. However, the reasons given for its continuation had been rationalized by them and somehow given cultural significance. I needed answers, and began a long journey that would ultimately lead to my decision to become a social worker, and work with women who have also been cut.

Mapping the Healing Journey

I was left feeling extremely confused, particularly as most of my family had decided to discontinue the practice due to religious reasons (stating that FGC is “haram” or a sin, and is not a “sunnah” or religious obligation. I searched for answers—or perhaps a place where I would feel accepted and learn to accept myself. I immediately reached out to gynecologists, gender violence organizations, and social workers. Much to my dismay, all were unaware of the FGC practice. Gynecologists stared blankly at my genitals stating, “At first glance, it looks intact.” However, they were unsure the extent of the “damage” done. Gender violence organizations stated that they dealt with different forms of gender violence. “This isn’t something we specialize in,” I was told. They referred me to organizations that had more familiarity. However, they were located overseas.

Social workers were unfamiliar with the practice but verbalized their strong beliefs about it. They reacted with words such as “disgusting,” “barbaric,” and “horrific.” They “encouraged” and “empowered” me to advocate for change against the oppressive practice that they assumed was justified by Islam and patriarchal oppression. They also questioned the reasons that parents would allow for such a thing to happen to their little girl. This was extremely difficult to hear given my close relationship with my parents. I walked away feeling judged, ashamed, and defective. For the first time, I began to experience symptoms of depression, which led me to become more embarrassed and secretive about what had occurred. 

Approximately eight years later, while reading a newspaper article, I came across the name of a Sudanese woman who started a grassroots organization for women who have been cut. The only experience I knew was one in which providers gawked at me when I told them what had occurred. I reached out to this woman, and she invited me to dinner to speak on a more personal level. Upon arriving to the restaurant, I was greeted with a warm smile. For the first hour of our meeting, she did not bring up the conversation of FGC. Surprised, I inquired, “So are we going to talk about… you know.” She replied, “When you’re ready, I am here to listen.” For the first time in a long time, I felt acknowledged, understood, accepted, and supported. We all begin our journey of healing somewhere. I am delighted to be a part of the Sahiyo team—and truly look forward to being a part of the healing process for others.

એક સાઈકોથેરૅપિસ્ટ તરીકે, હું ક્યારેય ખતનાની ભલામણ નહિં કરું

(This article was first published in English on December 10, 2016. Read the English version here.)

લેખક : અનામી

ઉંમર : 36 વર્ષ

દેશ : ભારત

હું એક માનસિક આરોગ્ય ચિકિત્સક છું અને છેલ્લા 16 વર્ષોથી હું તેનું કાઉન્સેલિંગ અને થેરાપી આપી રહી છું. મારા ઘરનાં લોકો મારી એક કઝિનની સેરિમનિ વિષે બોલતા હતા ત્યારે અનાયાસે જ મને ‘ખતના’(ટાઈપ 1 એફ.જી.એમ.) વિષે જાણવા મળ્યું. હું વધારે માહિતી મેળવવા માંગતી હતી. મને સમજાયું નહિં કે હું પણ તે પ્રક્રિયા હેઠળથી પસાર થઈ હતી. મને વધારે કંઈ યાદ નથી, બસ આટલું કે મને બળતરા થતી હતી અને ત્યારબાદ મારી માં અને નાની દ્વારા તપાસવામાં આવી રહી હતી.

તે એક હરામની બોટી હતી જેને મારા શરીરમાંથી કાઢી નાખવામાં આવી હોવાથી મારે તે વિષે ક્યારેય વાત કરવી જોઈએ નહિં તેવા વાતાવરણમાં હું મોટી થઈ. મને કહેવામાં આવ્યું હતુ કે હવે તુ શુદ્ધ થઈ ગઈ છે. હું મોટી થઈ તેમ મેં સાઈકૉલોજીનો અભ્યાસ કર્યો, હું એફ.જી.એમ. વિષેનો એક આર્ટિકલ વાંચતી હતી ત્યારે અચાનક જ મને સમજાય ગયું કે તે દિવસે મારી સાથે શું બન્યું હતુ. મને ધક્કો લાગ્યો પરંતુ, તેને સ્વીકારવા સિવાય મારી પાસે કોઈ વિકલ્પ નહોતો કારણ કે જે કંઈ બન્યું તેની કોઈ અસર સમજાઈ નહોતી – મારા પ્રગતિશિલ માં-બાપને પણ નહિં.

મારૂં જીવન અન્ય છોકરીઓની જેમ આગળ વધવા લાગ્યું. મારૂં લગ્ન જીવન, ખાસ કરીને સેક્સ પર તેની કોઈ અસર થઈ નહિં. મારૂં સેક્સ્યુઅલ જીવન અને ઑર્ગેઝમ્સ પણ સંતોષપૂર્ણ હતા અને મેં મહેસુસ કર્યું કે મારા પર ખતનાનીં કોઈ મોટી અસર થઈ નહોતી અથવા સાત વર્ષની ઉંમરે હું જે પ્રક્રિયા હેઠળથી પસાર થઈ તેનાં આઘાતનો સામનો કરવા મેં એ બાબતને એકદમ દબાવી દીધી હતી.

જો કે, મને યાદ છે કે બાળકનાં જન્મ સમયે મારે એપિસિઓટોમી પ્રક્રિયા કરાવવી પડી હતી. UNFPA દ્વારા કરવામાં આવેલ એક સ્ટડી અનુસાર, એક સામાન્ય બૈરીની સરખામણીએ જે બૈરી પર જેનિટલ કટિંગની પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવી હોય તેને સિઝેઅરિયન સેક્શન અને એપિસિઓટોમી ની વધારે જરૂર પડે છે અને બાળકનાં જન્મ પછી વધારે સમય હૉસ્પિટલમાં રહેવું પડે છે.

આ વર્ષની શરૂઆતમાં પીઅર સુપરવિઝનમાં, મારી સાથે જે કંઈ બન્યું તેની પ્રક્રિયાને મેં ધીરે-ધીરે સમજી અને તેને જીવનનાં એક ભાગ રૂપે લીધી. મને એ બાબત પાછળથી સમજાઈ કે એફ.જી.એમ. ની અસરો થાય છે. હકીકતમાં તે આત્માને જખમો આપે છે અને આપણને આશ્ચર્ય થાય કે શું આ પ્રક્રિયા કરવી ખરેખર જરૂરી છે.

ખતના પ્રક્રિયા લાંબા સમય સુધી માનસિક તણાવ આપી શકે છે. કુટુંબનાં સભ્યો દ્વારા ભરોસો તોડવાની લાગણીને કારણે તે બચ્ચાઓનાં વર્તનમાં ગરબડ પેદા કરી શકે છે. મોટી છોકરીઓ પણ બેચેની અને તણાવ મહેસુસ કરી શકે છે.

જે આવી બધી બાબતો સમજે છે, તેવા એક મનોચિકિત્સક તરીકે શું હું ખતનાની ભલામણ કરીશ? ના, હું ભલામણ નહિં કરું કારણ કે, મને લાગે છે કે તેનો મુખ્ય હેતુ બૈરીઓની સેક્સ્યુઆલિટી પર નિયંત્રણ લાવવાનો છે. હું તેની વ્યાખ્યા લિંગ આધારીત હિંસા રૂપે કરીશ.

महिला जननांग विकृति के प्रति एक माँ का बहादुर फैसला

(यह लेख पहली बार 23 मई 2017 को अंग्रेजी में साहियो द्वारा प्रकाशित हुआ था. Read the English version here and the Gujarati translation here.)

लेखक: अज्ञात

उम्र: 30
देश: यूनाइटेड स्टेट्स

खतना शब्द और इस प्रथा से मेरा पहली बार आमना-सामना तब हुआ जब मैं 15 साल की थी। मैं एओएल इंस्टैंट मैसेंजर पर एक दोस्त के साथ चैटिंग कर रही थी और उसने मुझे पूछा क्या मेरा कभी खतना हुआ था। उस समय तक, मैं इस प्रथा के बारे में या इस बात से पूरी तरह अनजान थी कि इसे मेरे बोहरा समुदाय में कम उम्र की लड़कियों पर किया जाता है।  मुझे पता नहीं था कि मैं अपनी दोस्त को क्या जवाब दूँ। मैंने सोचा कि शायद मेरा खतना मेरे जन्म होने पर ही किया गया होगा, ठीक वैसे जैसे बच्चे के जन्म पर छट्ठी (नामकरण) या अक़ीका (बकरे की कुर्बानी) किया जाता है।  

मैंने फौरन ही अपनी माँ से खतना के बारे में पूछा और यह भी पूछा क्या उन्होंने मेरा कभी कराया था या नहीं। उनका जवाब था, “नहीं बेटी, मैंने तुम्हारा नहीं होने दिया था।” और अधिक फुसफुसाहट और काफी घबराई हुई आवाज़ में उनहोंने कहा, “लेकिन किसी को बताना नहीं।” मैंने उनका पीछा किया, मैं उनसे पूछ रही थी आखिर यह होता क्या है। मेरी माँ को यह समझाने में मुश्किल हुई कि यह क्या है या यह क्यों किया जाता है। वह कह पाईं कि लड़कियों के “गुप्तांग” में काटा जाता है। उन्होंने आगे कहा कि हाँ, सात साल की उम्र में वह इससे गुजर चुकी थी, लेकिन उनहोंने अपनी बेटियों के साथ ऐसा नहीं होने दिया, क्योंकि उनके खतना ने उनको भयानक शारीरिक और भावनात्मक दर्द दिया था और वो दर्द उनके साथ जीवन भर रहा है।

उस समय, मैं इस बात की अहमियत नहीं समझ पाई कि क्यों मेरी माँ ने मेरे और मेरी बहनों पर खतना नहीं करवाने का फैसला लिया और क्यों वह चाहती थी कि इसके बारे में मैं किसी से कुछ न कहूँ।

खतना के बारे में प्राथमिक जानकारी लेने के कुछ वर्षों बाद, मैं मेरी स्थानीय मस्जिद में औरतों की मीटिंग में थी। किसी ने हमारी मौलवी की बीबी, जिनको बहनसाब कहते हैं, उनसे खतना के बारे में पूछा। बहनसाब ने जवाब़ दिया कि यह औरतों में यौन आनंद को बढ़ाने के लिए किया जाता था और यह समुदाय की सभी औरतों के लिए जरूरी है। मैंने अपनी माँ से कुछ साल पहले इससे ठीक उल्टी बात सुनी थी, और बहनसाब की बातें मुझे चक्कर में डाल रही थीं। हाँ, जब बहनसाब ने कहा कि यह प्रथा सब औरतों के लिए जरूरी थी, तब मुझे समझ में आया की क्यों मेरी माँ ने मुझे किसी को यह बताने से मना किया था कि मेरा खतना नहीं हुआ है। मेरी माँ को डर था समुदाय के आदेश के खिलाफ जाने पर उनके या उनके परिवार के साथ बुरा हो सकता था, और इसीलिए, उनहोंने अपना प्रगतिशील फैसला सब से छुपा के रखा।

आज, एक व्यस्क महिला के रूप में मैं खतना के शारीरिक और भावनात्मक नुक्सान को समझ सकती हूँ, और मैं अपनी माँ के फैसले की सराहना करती हूँ। मैं सोच भी नहीं सकती हूँ जिन महिलाओं के साथ यह हुआ उनको अपनी रोजमर्रा की जिंदगी में क्या झेलना पड़ता होगा। मुझे लगातार डर लगता है कि यह प्रथा अभी भी जारी है (हालाँकि यह अधिकतर गुप्त है) और “परंपरा” के अलावा अधिकतर लोगों के पास कोई वाजिब मेडिकल कारण नहीं हैं इसे  जारी रखने के लिए। मुझे उम्मीद है कि जैसे-जैसे लोग इस प्रथा और इससे जुड़े नुक्सान के बारे में जानते जाएँगे, समुदाय के भीतरसे परंपरा के नाम पर छोटी बच्चियों के अंग की विकृति की इस नुक्सानदायक प्रथा को रोकने की कोशिशें बढ़ती जाएँगी।

मैंने अपनी मां से मेरा खतना नहीं करने की विनती की। उन्होंने मेरी बात सुनी

(This article was originally published in English on November 8, 2016. Read the English version here.)

नाम: अज्ञात

उम्र: 26

देश: संयुक्त राज्य अमेरिका

शनिवार की स्कूल की क्लास में मैंने पहली बार इसके बारे में सुना। एक पुरुष शिक्षक उस शनिवार की सुबह हमारी क्लास में पढ़ा रहे ते, और विषय था खतना। उस 14 वर्ष की उम्र में, मुझे वास्तव में पता नहीं था कि इसका मतलब क्या है, लेकिन मुझे पता था कि इसमें कुछ ऐसा शामिल था जो यौन-शिक्षा से संबंधित था। मैं शर्मिंदगी भरी स्थिति में कमरे के दाईं ओर लड़कियों के साथ बैठी थी, और लड़के कमरे के बाईं ओर बैठे थे। शिक्षक ने पुरूष खतना के बारे में बोलना शुरू किया; कहा कि उसमें त्वचा को सर्जरी के द्वारा हटा दिया जाता है, स्वच्छता के लिए। उसके बाद उन्होंने महिला खतना के बारे में बताया; कि यह एक लड़की की यौन इच्छा पर अंकुश लगाने के लिए किया जाता था। लड़कियों को पवित्र, शांत और आज्ञाकारी बनाना था। छोटी लड़कियों का खतना करना उन्हें असंयमित होने से बचाने का एकमात्र तरीका था। यह उनके परिवारों को शर्मिंदा होने से रोकने का एकमात्र तरीका था।

मुझे याद है कि वहां बैठकर मुझे पता नहीं था कि मेरे शिक्षक किस बारे में बात कर रहे हैं। मुझे यकीन था कि मैं कभी भी इस प्रक्रिया से नहीं गुज़री थी। मैं उस दिन उस कमरे में बैठी हुई बहुत असहज और अशांत महसूस कर रही थी।

मुझे याद है कि उसी शनिवार को हम सहेलियां क्लास की एक बड़ी लड़की के घर रहने गए थे, जहाँ पर उस दिन क्लास में जो सुना था उस विषय पर बात होने लगी। मैं चुपचाप बैठी रही जब एक दूसरी लड़की ने समझाया कि यह प्रक्रिया लड़कियों पर क्यों की जाती है, कैसे यह हमें बेहतर मुसलमान और बेहतर बोहरा बनती है, क्योंकि खतना यह सुनिश्चित करता है कि हम में यौन इच्छाओं और विवाह पूर्व संभोग की चाह नहीं जगेगी। खतना ने हमें पवित्र किया था, हमें शुद्ध किया था। मैंने गौर से सुना जब अन्य लड़कियों ने अपनी खतना की कहानियों बताई। मुझे धोखा महसूस हो रहा था क्योंकि मुझे पता था कि मैं कभी भी इस “ज़रूरी प्रथा” से नहीं गुजरी थी। उस वक़्त मुझे इस ‘ज़रूरी प्रथा’ का सही मतलब नहीं पता था। मेरी समझ में सिर्फ यह आ रहा था कि मै उन लड़कियों के जैसी नहीं थी, कि मैं एक “बुरी लड़की” थी, कि मैं गंदी थी, और मैं सिर्फ एक अच्छी मुस्लिम होने का नाटक कर रही थी।

मुझे याद है कि आखिरकार कुछ हफ्तों बाद मैंने अपनी माँ से इसके बारे में पूछने की हिम्मत जुटाई। उम्मीद भरी आवाज़ से मैंने उनको पूछा कि क्या मेरे साथ यह हुआ था, और बस मुझे याद नहीं था? उनका चेहरा बदल गया । उन्होंने अपना सिर हिलाया। जब हम भारत में थे तब उनको हमेशा मेरे मेरा खतना करवाना था, लेकिन कभी मौका नहीं मिला। मैंने उनको अपने दोस्तों से सुनी हुई कहानियाँ सुनाईं और उनसे पूछा, क्या वह मुझे इस प्रक्रिया को समझा सकती हैं, क्योंकि मुझे अपनी क्लास में इसे समझने में परेशानी हुई थी। उन्होंने मुझे खतना की प्रक्रिया समझाना शुरू किया; कैसे एक लड़की के भगशेफ या क्लाइटोरिस से त्वचा को हटाया जाता है, उसे पवित्र और शुद्ध बनाने के लिए। जैसे ही मैंने पूरी बात सुनी, मैं डरकर पीछे हट गई। उन्होंने मुझे कुछ मिनटों तक देखा, और फिर अधिकार के साथ कहा कि अगली बार जब हम भारत जाएंगे, तो वह मुझे मेरी चाची, जो एक डॉक्टर हैं, उनके पास ले जाएँगी जो मुझ पर खतना करवाएंगी। मैं उनके सामने अपने घुटनों के बल बैठ गई, उनसे भीख माँगते हुए कि मेरे साथ यह न करें, भीख माँगते हुए कि इस अकल्पनीय दर्दनाक प्रक्रिया से ना गुजरने दें। मैंने उनसे वादा किया कि मैं अच्छी रहूँगी, मैं स्वच्छ रहूँगी, मैं वह कुछ भी करूँगी जो वह चाहती थी अगर वह इस पूरी बात को भूल जाएँगी। उनहोंने सिर्फ इतना कहा कि “हम देखेंगे।”

मुझे याद है बड़े होते हुए, मैं खतना के बारे में और अधिक शोध करती रही यह जानने के लिए कि आख़िर यह होता क्या है। एक बार मेरे चचेरे भाई ने बड़े जोश से बताया कि यह कितना गलत है। तब मुझे एहसास हुआ कि मेरी माँ ने मुझे कितने बड़े नुकसान से बचाया है।  आज मैं खतना को बहुत अलग नज़र से देखती हूँ।

कई युवा लड़कियों से उनका चुनने का अधिकार छीन लिया गया है। किसी ने उनसे नहीं पूछा कि क्या वे खतना कराना चाहते हैं। उनके परिवारों ने उनके अस्तित्व के एक हिस्से को चुराने का फ़ैसला कर लिया, इस बारे में कोई परवाह किए बिना कि इसका उन पर क्या असर होगा, और अक्सर अपनी अनमोल छोटी बच्चियों को अस्वच्छ और अनुभवहीन हाथों में देने का निर्णय लिया।

मुझे याद है कि महीनों पहले एक बड़ी फेसबुक चर्चा खुलकर बाहर आई, जिसमें मेरे पहचान की एक बहुत ही मुखर लड़की ने खतना के खिलाफ आंदोलन करने वालों पर पर आरोप लगाया कि वे बोहरा समुदाय की “गंदगी” को पब्लिक में बाहर ला रहे थे। उस पल के पहले मैंने अपने समुदाय के किसी व्यक्ति पर इतनी शर्म महसूस नहीं की थी। यह प्रथा गलत है, और इसका गैर-रजामंदी वाला स्वरूप मेरे लिए इसे और भी दिल दहलाने वाला और निंदनीय बनाता है। जब आपका समुदाय कुछ ग़लत कर रहा है, और इसे पैगंबर (अल्लाह उनको शांति दे) द्वारा सिखाई गई एक धार्मिक प्रथा के रूप में बता रहा है, तब आप इससे छिपकर भाग नहीं सकते हैं। आपको बहस करने के लिए मुँह खोलना पड़ेगा और चर्चा करना होगा कि हम एक समुदाय के रूप में बेहतर कैसे बन सकते हैं। आपको चर्चा करना होगा कि हम अपने समुदाय की युवा लड़कियों और युवा महिलाओं की सुरक्षा कैसे कर सकते हैं।

एक वैश्विक समुदाय होने के नाते हम इसे रोकने के लिए बहुत कुछ कर सकते हैं। मेरी मां ने मुझे बचाया था। उन्होंने मेरे लिए अपने प्यार को सबसे पहले रखा, और आज उनकी वजह से मैं एक पूर्ण महिला हूँ। मैं उनकी सुरक्षा और मार्गदर्शन के लिए हमेशा आभारी हूं। सभी युवा महिलाएँ अपने शरीर पर समान सुरक्षा, समान प्रेम, समान सम्मान और समान अधिकार की हक़दार हैं। इतना तो कम से कम हम कर सकते हैं।

मेरी अनुमति के बिना मेरे सबसे गुप्त अंगों को काटा गया

(This article was originally published in English on November 5, 2016. Read the English version here.)

उम्र: 64

देश: संयुक्त राज्य अमेरिका

महिला जननांग विकृति या FGM के खिलाफ खड़े होने का समय आ गया है। यह लंबे समय से बाकी है। यह तब भी सही नहीं था जब मेरी माँ इससे गुज़री, यह तब भी सही नहीं था जब मैं इससे गुज़री और यह तब भी सही नहीं था जब मैंने अपनी बेटी के साथ यह होने दिया (मेरे माता-पिता के दबाव में)।

जिस दिन भारत में मेरे साथ एफजीएम किया गया था, मुझे उस दिन की याद है। मैं लगभग छह या सात साल की थी। मेरे भाई, जो मुझसे उम्र में बड़ा था, उसको एक दोस्त के घर पर खेलने के लिए दूर भेज दिया गया था। एक महिला, जिसे मैंने पहले कभी नहीं देखा था, वह आयी और मुझे मेरे माता-पिता के बेडरूम में ले जाया गया जहां एफजीएम किया गया था।

मुझे लगता है कि उस घटना और उस दिन की असहज स्मृति को मैंने दबा दिया है – बस उस महिला और मुझे नीचे लिटाए रखने वाली मेरी माँ की तस्वीर को छोड़कर। मुझे याद नहीं है कि खतना के पीछे का कौनसा कारण मुझे बताया गया था। लेकिन मुझे याद है कि मेरी अनुमति के बिना मेरे शरीर के सबसे गुप्त अंग के साथ जो किया गया था, उससे मैं बहुत नाराज़ थी। यह मेरे जिस्म पर अतिक्रमण था। सबसे अधिक, मुझे इस बात पर नाराजगी है कि जिस व्यक्ति पर मैंने उस छोटी उम्र में जीवन में सबसे अधिक भरोसा किया था, उनहोंने मेरे साथ ऐसा होने दिया। हो सकता है, इसीलिए, मेरा एक हिस्सा है जो मेरी माँ को माफ नहीं कर सकता है और मुझे आश्चर्य है कि मेरी बेटी ने मुझे उसी काम को करने के लिए माफ कर दिया है।

एफजीएम को सही दिखाने के लिए इसे धर्म के लिबास में ढका जा रहा है। पर जल्द ही साहियो जैसे संगठन इस क्रूर प्रथा को बंद कर देंगे। जब तक सैयदना एफजीएम की निंदा नहीं करते हैं, और अपनी बात अमल नहीं करते हैं, तब तक मुझे खुद को दाउदी बोहरा कहने में शर्म आएगी।

Missing Link

Missing Link

By Anonymous

No cuts, no wounds, but deep empathy for my sisters.
I came to NY for the 4th time but for an entirely different circumstance.

Being part of the Bohra community, I have made countless connections, some of who have been integral in my life. Yet, I still felt distant from the community that often lacked logic and ran high on emotion. Weird though, since I am kind of the same way at times.
Learning about FGM for the first time at 14, everything shifted. I have always had an ability to empathize with others, but this was something utterly outside of my scope.

I bowed my head and accepted that I will never understand the magnitude of this trauma,
but I can surely become part of a movement and advocate alongside. I can use my voice.
I can use my ability to empathize as a tool to heal the traumatic wounds.

The 2nd annual Sahiyo Retreat was nothing short of inspirational bliss.
I felt recharged.
I felt motivated.
I felt empowered.
To hear each survivor’s story and understand ways to take action–
it has become a movement.
A movement that I want to walk with.

While energy can subside, the power of one weekend
still buzzes in my heart.

Knowledge, trauma, empowerment, change, community- all words
That have taken on a new meaning entirely.

As I wait for the next retreat, I continue to ask my self
What can I do, learn, ask different every day
to continue to be well-informed and a true
activist.

Thank you, Sahiyo
For bestowing this buzz of energy
And for helping me connect the
missing link
of emotion and logic.
And that link is
SISTERHOOD.