Why I co-hosted a Sahiyo ‘Thaal pe Charcha’ lunch in New York

By Alifya Sulemanji

I had been hearing about Thaal pe Charcha (TPC), an event organized by Sahiyo, on a regular basis in Bombay India and it seemed like a very interesting concept to me. I felt inspired to host one at my home and bring together New York Bohra women for such an event. I reached out to few friends and acquaintances who I thought would be interested in being a part of this inaugural Thaal Pe Charcha event in the United States, and who would feel comfortable opening up about their daily lives.

0e3b5071-118c-466d-851f-d8e06549ee9a
Alifya Sulemanji alongside Sahiyo cofounder Mariya Taher at the inaugural TPC event in New York

One aspect about TPC that I found very vital is that the event is about creating a safe space where people can speak openly without fear of reprisal for their beliefs. I assured the women who attended that the TPC at my house would be a safe environment where we could speak openly about issues like Khatna (Female Genital Cutting), Iddat, and other topics that can negatively impact women in our community.

We all also agreed that there were some very good things about the Bohra community that we all appreciated, such as the feeling of community, the food, and the mannerisms also known as ‘Adab’ in Gujarati and ‘Tehzeeb’ in Urdu that helps guide our lives, such as food and eating etiquette, how we dress, how to be respectful, how to keep your house, cleanliness, and how you treat others. Yet, even with Adab, there certainly is a wide range of thought amongst the Bohra community regarding how strict certain rules and cultural activities must be, which at times can be oppressive as well.

After hosting this first TPC, a personal hope of mine is that the women and I will form strong relationships and trust with one another so together we can take action to change the parts in our community we find harmful.

I hope we will continue to organize more events like these in the future and form a supportive group of friends who will stand by one another.

Are you interested in hosting a Sahiyo Thaal Pe Charcha event in your own city or town in the U.S.? If yes, get in touch with Sahiyo at info@sahiyo.com

I was cut, but today I am proud to be standing up for myself

(First published on March 16, 2016)

Name: Alifya Sulemanji

Age: 42

Country: United States

I, Alifya Sulemanji went through the atrocity of Female Genital Mutilation. It’s been 35 years but I haven’t forgotten that day of my life even today.

One morning my mom told me we were going to visit my aunt who lives in Bhendi Bazaar in Mumbai, where many of the Bohras live. In the midst of the day my mom, aunt and her daughter (my cousin) told me that they were taking me somewhere to remove a worm from me. I was barely 7 years old then and didn’t know what they were really talking about. I blindly followed them. We entered some building and went up the stairs and got into this lady’s house. I had no clue what was going on.

They told me to lay down on the floor assuring me that it was so they could take out a worm from my body and it was going to be very simple. My mom told me she was so devastated, she decided to leave the room and wait outside. They took off my underpants and I saw the lady remove a brand new sharp Topaz blade from the wrapper. They caught my legs and hands so I couldn’t move. I was watching them innocently, not knowing what’s going on. In a few moments, I was screaming in pain. My private part was in terrible shooting pain and I was crying.

They told me to be quiet and I would be fine. The lady dabbed some black power on my cut area to stop me bleeding. After the procedure was done I was told to keep quiet; it was a secret not to be told to anyone.

But today I am sharing my experience with the world.

My life has been different since then. Not that I am not happy and successful, but it has left some everlasting effects on me. I have two lovely daughters. Most of the time I am paranoid about their safety and protection. I keep getting bad thoughts that someone might harm them. People have judged me as an over-protective and possessive mom, but they don’t know where it’s coming from. My husband told me that sometimes at night when we are sleeping, he hears me cry in my sleep. Many times I get nightmares about my daughters being in trouble and I wake up screaming. I have unknown fears and phobias. I have seen a psychologist regarding this.

Today, I am happy and proud for standing up for myself.