टैटू, महिला खतना और पाखंड

(This piece was originally published in English on November 25, 2016. Read the English version here.)

अज़रा एदनवाला

उम्र: 21

देश: अमेरिका / भारत

कुछ समय पहले मैं साहियो नाम के एक संगठन से मुख्तलिफ हुई। उस समय तक मैंने अपने खतने के बारे में कभी सोचा नहीं था। सच कहु तो मुझे पता ही नहीं था की इसका मतलब क्या है। जब मैंने उन महिलाओं के लेखों को पढ़ा, जिनका खतना हुआ था, तब मुझे एहसास हुआ की इस भयानक परंपरा का एक शिकार मैं भी थी। मैंने तो बस इस याद को अंतर्मन में दबा दिया था, क्यूंकि मैं नहीं जानती थी की ये परंपरा कहाँ से आयी और इसका मतलब क्या है।

मैं शायद 5 या 6 साल की थी। अपने परिवार के साथ छुट्टी पर थी। गुजरात में कोई इलाका था, जहाँ तक मुझे याद है। इसके अलावा और कुछ याद नहीं, सिवाय दर्द से भरे कुछ छितरे-बिटरे पलों की।

मुझे एक गंदे से बाथरूम में ले जाया जाना याद है, साथ में एक पुरूष या एक महिला थीं, सफ़ेद कपड़ों में। मुझे कैंची याद है, और मुझे खून देखना याद है। मुझे रोना याद है। क्योंकि मेरे जननांगों पर एक पट्टी लगाई गई थी। मुझे याद नहीं है कि किसी ने मुझे बताया हो, कि मेरे साथ अभी यह सब क्या हुआ था या क्यों हुआ था। सब कुछ हमेशा की तरह चलता रहा, मानो कुछ घटा ही न हो। और मैंने भी उसे मान लिया, क्यूंकि मुझे यह पता ही नहीं था की मेरे शरीर के साथ क्या किया गया है।

वैसे तो मेरे खतना ने न ही मेरे मन पे कोई गहरी छाप छोड़ी है, न ही मेरे जीवन जो किसी तरह बदला है।

हालांकि जो चीज़ मुझे खुरेदती है वह यह है की आखिर ये शरीर मेरा है, और किसी को भी इसे बदलने का कोई भी अधिकार न तो कभी था, न है। खासकर वैसे हानिकारक बदलाव जो “जैसे चलता है, वैसे चलने दो” की सोच के साथ आएं।

तीन साल पहले मैंने अपना पहला टैटू करवाया था। जब मेरे एक रिश्तेदार ने मेरे शरीर पर इस टैटू को देखा, तो उन्होंने कहा, “तुम मुस्लिम हो। और हमारा धर्म यह बताता है कि शरीर को ठीक उसी तरह अपनी कब्र में लौटना चाहिए, जैसा की वह माँ की कोक से निकला था। दूसरे शब्दों में कहा जाए, तो हमें अपने शरीर में कोई बदलाव नहीं करना चाहिए और इसे वैसे ही स्वीकार करना चाहिए जैसा की हमें अल्लाह ने दिया है। अगर ऐसा है, तो मेरे गुप्तांगों को क्यों काट दिया गया? यह कैसा पाखंड है?

कोई भी धर्म सिर्फ अपने सुविधानुसार अपने नियम नहीं बना सकता। हमें यह समझना होगा की धर्म आखिर हमीं ने बनाया है, और हमें उन रीती-रिवाज़ो का पालन करना छोड़ना होगा जो परंपरा के नाम पर चलती आ रही है।

हम एक आधुनिक समाज में रहते हैं, और जहां हम अभी हैं उस जगह पर हम इसलिए पहुँचे हैं क्योंकि हमने परिवर्तन को अपनाया। महिला जननांग खतना इस्लाम में एक महिला के आस्था को निर्धारित नहीं कर सकता है। मुझे यह प्रथा बड़ी छिछली लगती है, और मुझे नहीं लगता कि किसी को भी इस प्रथा का पालन करना चाहिए, विशेष रूप से छोटे बच्चों को, जिनको पता ही नहीं है कि उनके साथ क्या हो रहा है।

हो सकता है की खतना का मुझपर ज़्यादा गहरा असर नहीं पड़ा है, लेकिन ऐसी बहुत सी महिलाएं है जिन पर असर हुआ है। प्रत्येक महिला को अपने शरीर पर अधिकार होना चाहिए क्योंकि ऐसे भगवन में विश्वास रखने का कोई मतलब नहीं है जो जाहिर तौर पर ऐसी भयानक और अमानवीय प्रथा का समर्थन करते हैं।

Calling survivors of female genital cutting and health providers for a unique storytelling opportunity

Apply to be a storyteller here!

In November 2019, Sahiyo and StoryCenter will partner with The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health to host a digital storytelling workshop in Washington, D.C. Sahiyo is advocating for the abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), while StoryCenter supports organizations in using storytelling and participatory media for social change.

The November workshop will focus on health and female genital cutting. With that focus in mind, Sahiyo extends an invitation to: 1) women over 18 years old, living in the United States, who have undergone FGM/C and who have a story to share about receiving healthcare in the U.S. or 2) health providers in the United States, of all genders (i.e. physicians, nurses, midwives, etc.) who have provided services to women who have undergone FGM/C.

Together these groups can highlight stories about the enduring impact of FGM/C on women’s health and/or inform health professionals of the kind of care and best practices health professionals need to be aware of when working with FGM/C survivors. The resulting short digital stories will be used to better educate health professionals on how to support survivors living in the U.S..

Sahiyo’s Inaugural Storytelling Workshop

In 2018, Sahiyo, in partnership with StoryCenter, launched an inaugural digital storytelling workshop. Nine women’s stories have since elevated the conversation about FGM/C in the U.S. and globally. The stories were distributed online and via media channels, as well as at live community screening events. They are being used as educational tools to support discussion among survivors within their communities, with a focus on challenging the social norms sanctioning FGM/C, and encouraging an end to the practice.

About Sahiyo:

Since 2015, Sahiyo has been advocating for the abandonment of FGM/C through dialogue, education and collaboration. Sahiyo conducted the first-ever international online survey of Dawoodi Bohra women on the subject of FGM/C. Read the full report here

About StoryCenter: 

StoryCenter creates spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories as a vehicle for education, community mobilization, and advocacy. They collaborate with organizations around the world on workshops in story facilitation, digital storytelling, and other forms of participatory media production. Individuals are encouraged to register for storytelling workshops. 

About The George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health:

GWU has been working closely with survivors and health care providers to develop a living virtual educational toolkit (fgmtoolkit.gwu.edu).

If you would like to participate in the workshop, apply by October 14th via this link:  http://bit.ly/DC_VoicesEndFGMC.

View informational flyer here.

 

 

 

The Sahiyo Activist Retreat gave me insight on how to talk about FGM/C

By Alifya Sulemanji

Age: 45

Country of Residence: United States

I was looking forward to attending the second Sahiyo Activist Retreat as it is a great platform to meet more women who are standing up for the abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). I was happy to meet women from different parts of the United States. It was a great experience to hear different views of women of all age groups. It is encouraging to see more and more women join every year. 

FGM/C has always been a very sensitive issue for me, as I had been through this atrocity myself and would never want another innocent child to go through it. 

As I mentioned in my prior post about the first retreat, I have a very vivid memory of being cut at the tender age of seven. It felt like my body was being violated. Even when I was just 7 years of age, I knew something wrong had been done to me as I was told that this thing was a dark secret I was not supposed to tell anyone about. As I grew up I found out that none of my other friends had this religious ritual done, and it confirmed that what had been done to me was wrong. In the past few years, I learned that many other women like me felt the same way. 

The Sahiyo Activist Retreat gave me insight into how I can talk to other pro-FGM/C people and how I can convey my thoughts on FGM/C to them in a positive way.

Sahiyo has created a strong platform for women like me to come out and express their grief and opinions to create awareness.

Launching Global Voices to End FGM/C – An Online Digital Storytelling Workshop

On June 1, Sahiyo and StoryCenter launched a pilot online digital storytelling workshop – Global Voices to End FGM/C, which is supporting ten women impacted by female genital cutting in sharing and audio-recording their stories. 

During June, storytellers attended a series of webinars that helped highlight the storyteller process and how to go about drafting their story scripts as well creating a storyboard for their digital story. During July and August, the storytellers will continue working on their digital stories by collecting illustrations for their stories. The stories will be illustrated with a combination of personal images (photos and video clips) provided by the storytellers, and images contributed by participating women artists. 

The storytellers come from a variety of countries including:  Tanzania, United Kingdom, India, Sweden, Singapore, and Bahrain. “As a survivor of FGC, it is empowering to be able to share my story in my own words, with my own choice of visuals, as opposed to my story being told by someone else,” said Aarefa Johari, one of the participants of the workshop. 

All participants’ digital stories will be released in late September.

The unexpected gift of attending the U.S. Sahiyo Activist Retreat and connecting with other survivors

By Anonymous

The Sahiyo U.S. Activist Retreat I attended in March of 2019 felt big to me. In the days after, I told people it blew me away, meaning that it occupied my thoughts as it was all I could talk about and think about for a while. There were parts of it that felt like group therapy, something I had not expected. I just had not expected how deeply moving it is for someone else to say, “That happened to me, too.” We all know that there is an entire social movement around the #metoo hashtag, but it is more than a hashtag. It felt like when you are doing an exercise, and the teacher comes up to you, adjusts you a little, and then the whole exercise changes. 

Sahiyo Activist Retreat

A lot of the time during the retreat, it felt like someone was reaching inside me and physically shifting an organ or two. For one other woman to say to me “I get a lot of urinary tract infections, too” just made me want to cry. The crazy thing is that other women have said that to me. Tons of friends have said that, but I always remembered thinking, “Ok, but you weren’t cut.” But this time, this one time, when the other woman said it, I suddenly felt a rush of gratitude and warmth and unparalleled comradery. I wasn’t crazy, and if I was, I wasn’t alone in being crazy. I just had no idea how moving it would be to be in a group where I could hear others talk about their experiences, for me to feel normal in being abnormal. 



I had always thought individual therapy was valuable, but I simply had no idea that a group can offer a kind of cathartic experience that is impossible to achieve by yourself. To be honest, I thought group therapy was for people who couldn’t afford individual therapy. But I was completely wrong. They are completely different and utterly valuable in their own ways. If you have been cut, and you are skeptical, and jaded, and private (like me), you can really trust that you can enter this space and never feel pressured to speak. You can speak when you are moved to speak. And even if all you do is listen, it is transformative and life-changing. 

In the weeks since the retreat, it also seems like I have been feeling all the feels. While I was there, it felt like a high. Even in the couple of weeks after it, I was finally openly dealing with a lot that had just been buried. I felt like I grew and stretched. I talked about it more than I ever had. But no matter what, it all still happened, and that can’t be erased. And there are moments I still feel fucked up and uneasy about it all. Maybe that is what I just have to learn — how to hold it all at the same time. 

Why I care about khatna: Reflections from the 2019 Sahiyo Activist Retreat

By Alisha Bhagat

I first found out about female genital cutting, or khatna, in my community in my twenties; my mother told me it had been done to her. At the time I was shocked. I thought this was something that happened to other people in far off places, not to my mom or Nani or Masi. It was only after talking to other Bohra women that I realized that I was not unusual in knowing a survivor. Every woman in our community is a survivor or knows a survivor.

As I began talking to people about khatna, I started to receive some pushback. Even people who admitted the practice was outdated and unnecessary were uncomfortable speaking about it. In the grand scheme of things, I was told, this is so small. It’s such a small pinch of skin. It’s just a moment in a girl’s life. It’s not indicative of who we are and all the good things we have done and built.

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Alisha Bhagat

But I believe the opposite, it is precisely in small moments that we show what we value and who we are. Khatna is more than a cut, it is the manifestation of so many other underlying problems.

As activists we focus on khatna for a few reasons. First we believe this practice itself is traumatic, unnecessary, and has long lasting implications for women’s health and sexuality. It is a straightforward violation of bodily autonomy. Second, the culture surrounding it speaks to the way in which we are shamed, silenced, diminished, threatened, and put in our places.

Earlier this year I attended the Sahiyo Activist Retreat. This retreat help me see how khatna is part of a large system. Just as there are many factors that perpetuate this practice (culture of shame, silence, and devaluation of female sexual experience) there are also many ways in which we have leverage to act.

The retreat highlighted different areas in which we can act to both support survivors and end this practice through the legal system, the medical establishment, in our places of worship, our homes, and our families. At the foundation of all of this is storytelling. Without survivors and allies sharing their stories, the topic remains shrouded in silence.

My hope is that the retreat will help grow our community of activists. And that there will be other safe spaces for people to talk, share stories, and connect. Most importantly, for us to create new models of being in the world, creating new spaces and communities.

 

I still don’t get why my mom took me there: A Bohra survivor of female genital cutting speaks out

By Anonymous

Country of Residence: India

Age: 31

Many communities across the world continue to practice female genital mutilation (FGM). In India, it’s mainly the Bohras, a sub-sect of Shias who practice FGM, also known as khatna. The clitoris and/or labia of little girls is cut or mutilated with the belief that it would curb their sexual desires and stop premarital sex. Many of the women performing khatna have no medical qualifications and are typically women who have learned to perform the cutting from their ancestors. Many midwives perform this in the name of salwaat (or blessings). But they hardly know why they are doing this.

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Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

When you are a child, your parents and grandparents are people you trust the most. They tell you about not interacting with strangers or not allowing any stranger to touch you in your private areas. Still it’s your close family who takes you for khatna, allowing a complete stranger to touch you inappropriately and cut your clitoris. It’s like being betrayed by the people you believe in and trust the most.

I am writing this to share my experience. At the age of six, I was taken out by my mom like any normal day, although most of my childhood memories haven’t made as strong of an impact as this one. We reached a stranger’s place. I went inside the house with my mom. My trousers were removed and then I was told to lie down. I felt extreme pain in my private area. I could feel, although I was instructed to look at the ceiling. I was doing that, and within a few minutes, my mom said, let’s leave. I was still experiencing the pain. The pain was terrible when I urinated.

I never really understood why my mom took me there. I still don’t get it. Why do something terrible to a girl which can leave a psychological scar in their mind which never heals?  In fact, when I became a teenager, I asked my mom why she allowed this khatna to happen to me. The answer I got was tradition, and that it prevents cancer. Then the other question which immediately popped up for me was, “Why only us?” Later I found out it’s mostly done to curb the sexual desire of girls. This practice ultimately leads the girls to mistrust the people they are supposed to trust the most.

It’s not in that instant you realize what happened, but gradually the memory becomes too vivid. Just because something is practiced for generations doesn’t mean it should go on without questioning its existence. People have to change their thinking about existing rules and guidelines to follow in the name of customs. The problem is that if you come out of the shadows and rebel, you may be thought of as an outcast. It’s not us we are afraid of but people we know. Family and friends will be treated differently as well. I believe in taking small steps of at least opening up about what you feel will help you to let go of that which you are suppressing. That will ultimately will give you the confidence of coming out of the shadows and facing the light.

Speaking the truth about my experience with female genital mutilation

By Aisha Yusuf

(Aisha is one of our Sahiyo Story participants who continues to use her voice to advocate for change on female genital cutting.)

At the Pro-Voice storytelling event at the Frogmore in Boston on March 31, there were three storytellers, including myself. The event was organized by Rev. Susan Chorley to contradict the narrative of shame, judgement, and stigma directed at women’s bodies and women’s lives. It was intimate in the sense that we created a small circle and we also paired in groups to engage in discussion with the attendees after each storyteller presented their piece. I was the second storyteller.

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I told the crowd I experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) when I was five, but I didn’t really process it until I was thirteen. It took me many years to understand it and its impact on my life. I speak about it because I don’t want to be silent anymore.

For me, I’m still getting the hang of storytelling and so I was nervous when I first got up, but the feedback I got after the event was over made me glad I shared my story. A lot of the attendees were shocked to learn about the prevalence of FGM around the world and how many women it affects. One woman in particular stated that she was unaware that such a practice was happening here in the United States, and they were shocked to find out that it impacted so many girls around the world.

During our small group conversation after my speech, we discussed a cultural or family practice we would undo for our people or community and how it would change our lives. I gave a brief example of a 10-year-old girl who died as a result of FGM in Somalia last July. I stated that I wanted to undo this practice so that innocent lives do not have to suffer like the girls who’ve died because of FGM, and many other girls who will potentially experience it.

When each storyteller told their story, the attendees would write something positive on three cards for the storyteller, which they would get to take with them at the end of the event. After the last discussion, Rev. Chorley, who is also the Executive Director of Exhale, thanked the storytellers, attendees, volunteers and gave storytellers a book along with cards.

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Overall, I was happy to share my story with the general public, I didn’t expect to receive so much positive feedback. One woman in particular I remembered stated that she was moved by my story. After the event was over people were networking. This older American woman came up to me and stated that she was not ready for the story I told. She was in disbelief that this had happened to me and thanked me for sharing my story and bringing awareness to such a private and intimate practice. This moment in particular made me realize why it was important to tell my story of surviving FGM. She added that hopefully what I am doing can bring change for girls.

My experience at the Sahiyo U.S. Activist Retreat made me reflect on my khatna

By Anonymous

Country of Residence: United States

Age: 45 years old

I often wondered what the two women closest to me thought about khatna. I wondered because I never really talked with my sister or my mom about it. Well, we talked, but not with much purpose. I thought they were against it, just like me. I told them that I was going to a Sahiyo Activist Retreat where I would meet other Bohri women who are against khatna, otherwise known as female genital cutting. They said okay.

At the retreat, I realized that before I advocate publicly, I needed to process my own situation privately. I had khatna performed on me when I was young. I have not talked much about it. My story is much like most. I was probably under 10 years old at the time. Seems like most remember it being done when they were seven. Perhaps that was also the age when it was done to me. I was playing outside with a friend. I’m not sure what we were playing, but it seemed like a normal day and I was doing something perfectly normal. An aunt called out and said we were going somewhere. Was I to go get ice cream? I remember not wanting to leave my playmate and crying. I was taken to a relative’s home not too far from where we lived. It’s been decades, but the memory is vivid. We walked up the stairs. There were two women at the house. One held my hand. The other pulled down my panties. I remember crying. It drowned out what was happening to me.

A sharp pain. Blood. Blade. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember how I got home.

For the next few days, I remember the pain. I could not walk properly. I was sore. I walked with my legs apart, afraid of scraping the area that hurt.

Time moved on. And I suppressed my memory of what happened.

Years later, we heard of an African woman talking about FGM in the news. We all were outraged. A cousin told me that what happened to us when we were young was FGM. What? I was surprised. And somewhat glad. Because I was able to finally understand what happened when I was younger. Khatna was FGM. It was like solving a mystery of my life.

Life went on. I became sexually active and curious. Sex hurt and orgasm was hard. I asked my doctors about it. Most of them did not know. I asked my gynecologist to check me out. They said they saw a nick, but nothing much. Nothing much.

I often wonder if it is in my head if the pain I feel is because of something else. The pain is sharp. And, when certain parts are touched, it is unforgiving.

There is so much silence around khatna that there is not a good understanding of the harm to women. I do not know if I am the only one, or if there are others who feel this way. Are there others like me who are suffering from khatna decades later? Are there others like me who can’t have healthy sexual relationships with their husbands? Are there others like me suffering in silence?

After coming back from the retreat, I talked to my mom about my experience with khatna. She was surprised to know that it had impacted me long-term. I was surprised to learn that she was not impacted by it at all. I also talked to my sister. She said that she blindly follows the Bohri teachings and is neutral on the issue. And, like my mom, it has not impacted her long- term. I thought my sister would automatically be against it. But I was wrong.

Next day, I recapped the story to my husband, who does not share my religion. While he was sympathetic, his anger turned into islamophobic rhetoric and a focus on my “crazy” culture. There are so many “crazy” cultures, and perhaps mine is another use case for patriarchy.

I don’t hate my culture, the people who performed khatna on me, or the people who defend the practice. I want the judgment to stop. I want the fear to stop. I want to create a safe place for conversation and understanding.

I know there is work to do to change attitudes about khatna. I learned that the work is much closer to home than I thought.

 

Survivor of Mumbai: Plight to End Female Genital Cutting

By Brionna Wiggins

(An alias was provided to protect the survivor’s identity and family.)

There was once a girl who was seven-years-old in Mumbai, India. She and her mother visited a woman so that she could have her “khatna” done. Her mother was an educated woman and later a principal of a school. Today, she was having done to her daughter what her mother had done to her. The mother did her research too, because the woman they visited was known to be quick and effective. There were claims that she inflicted the least amount of pain possible. The little girl paid her respects to the woman who would do the khatna without quite knowing why she was there. Before she knew it, she felt the pain. Then the woman guided her to the sink to wash her hands and pressed two cookies in her small palm–cookies that had been a favorite treat until then.

After the procedure was over, the mother carried the girl down the stairs. She was considered a “big girl” at the time and hadn’t been carried in ages. They got a taxi as well, despite the family being poor. The mere presence of the taxi testified to the importance of the event, not to mention the trouble she would have walking back to her uncle’s house. The mother spoke with an aunt there, saying she thought her daughter would cry for hours; but she seemed fine now, though. However, she was far from fine. Fatima wouldn’t talk about this event for another four decades.

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As an adult, Fatima gained the courage to speak up about FGC. Three years ago, when Masooma Ranalvi started to advocate against the practice, Fatima found her voice. A survey by Sahiyo was also done, which revealed that no one spoke about the practice, but continued it even though the community that practiced it was considered educated and progressive. Female genital cutting (FGC) was a generational secret that about 80% of the surveyed population underwent. There is an understandable cause for worry within the community if one does not undergo it. Skipping out on the procedure could lead to a handful of issues, including a loss in social standing, or the local clergy harassing parents if you’re in the United States with your family back in India. Families persuade their women to have their daughters cut they believe to purify them and prevent promiscuity. Some succumb to the pressure, while others lie that the procedure was done so the constant nagging can subside. There’s also the option of vacation cutting (sending the girl away on a “vacation” for her to be cut) for those in America. Even all the way in Detroit, a personal shame makes it so that one may only talk about it amongst their closest friends. Fatima knows another woman, a lawyer in Houston, who went to Pakistan at age seven in order to be cut. It’s believed by some to be the ideal age because the girl is young and submissive, but old enough to remember what was done to her and continue the tradition when she has daughters.

Fatima is happily married with her husband and has two adult children, both boys. However, if she ever had a daughter, she would not have let her undergo FGC. A friend of hers commented on this once, claiming she was fortunate to not have to deal with female issues, like urinary tract infections. Fatima’s mother was visiting at the time and overheard their conversation.

Her mother said something along the lines of, “Oh, our girls don’t get infections because we have this done to them,” referring to FGC.

The friend did not know of FGC and probably would have asked more if Fatima didn’t interject. “That’s not true,” she told her visibly shocked mother. “Let’s not talk about it now.”

Unfortunately, the time to talk about FGC never came for Fatima and her mother. When thinking about her late mother, Fatima believes that she would be upset with herself in learning that while her mother had the intention to genuinely help Fatima, the incident only harmed her at seven-years-old, and still does today.

Fatima doesn’t have any physical problems as a result of being cut, but the trauma from the event still resides within her. After all these years, she remembers the pain. She believes that she lives a relatively normal and happy life, but the memory of being cut is there.

She can’t talk about it without crying, even though she doesn’t want to cry. “Why was this done to me?” Fatima said that she didn’t want her tears to weaken the message to end cutting. Fatima wants FGC survivors to open up, speak up, and get the help they need. The next generation needs to be protected and supported. Fatima said that even with leading a relatively normal life, the trauma is still there. “I will never be a full woman. I will never know [the] full sex experience, and I will never know how it feels to be uncut.”

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Brionna is currently a high school senior in the District of Columbia. She likes drawing, helping others, and being able to contribute to great causes.