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

by Sahiyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this ruling controversial?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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The Legal Side of Khatna or Female Genital Cutting

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By Priya Ahluwalia

Priya is a 22-year-old clinical psychology student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences – Mumbai. She is passionate about mental health, photography and writing. She is currently conducting research on the individual experience of khatna and its effects. Read her other articles in this series: Khatna Research in Mumbai.

Female Genital Cutting or khatna or khafz, as it is also called in the Bohra community, involves cutting or removal of the external female genitalia. Khatna has no known health benefits, but does have well-documented complications, which range from severe pain, excessive bleeding, and scar tissue to frequent infections.

The movement against khatna in India perhaps began in the early 1990s with Rehana Ghaidally’s paper, “All for Izzat”, which attempted to identify the key reasons for why khatna was performed in India. However, the movement only gained momentum in 2011, when the first online petition was filed against it anonymously. The online campaign triggered a barrage of women coming forward with their own stories of trauma caused by khatna. It further fueled both online petitions as well as an onground movement.

Within the Indian context of the Dawoodi Bohra community, the majority of the cases of khatna constitute Type 1, also referred to as clitoridectomy, which involves either partial or full removal of the clitoris, or the fold of skin known as the prepuce, covering it. Interestingly, there are many men and women who support khatna. From a psychological viewpoint, it may be rooted in the cognitive dissonance theory. Men and women of the Dawoodi Bohra community have been indoctrinated to believe that khatna is an essential religious obligation, and the will of God is not to be questioned. The online campaigns provide women in the Bohra community an alternative narrative, which may be in direct conflict with their existing beliefs. This conflict has created a lot of anxiety and conversations which have led to the movement gathering momentum, eventually catching the attention of the Indian government.

The uphill legal battle saw the government oscillating between supporting and opposing the movement. In May of 2017, the Ministry of Women and Child Development declared full support for survivors, deeming the practice a criminal offence with prosecution possible under the guidelines of POCSO (2012). The ministry requested the community to voluntarily take action to stop it. If it failed, the government would seek to implement a law to end it. In December of 2017, the ministry withdrew from its position, citing lack of empirical evidence despite proof from Sahiyo’s landmark study, which revealed that 80% of Bohri women globally have undergone khatna. Although the rejection from the government was disheartening, the momentum of the movement has not faltered. Organizations such as Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut continue to provide crucial support for survivors to rally in solidarity.

Several countries in Africa, as well as the United States and Australia, have made consistent and successful attempts to end female genital cutting. To understand how this has been possible, we must examine how the socio-economic structure of these countries has played an integral role in their success. Several of these countries may have high literacy rates, greater awareness of their rights and a more conducive environment for survivors to speak out.

The Bohra community aspect is crucial to understanding the Indian government’s hesitancy to pass a law. Although India is a signatory to several of the United Nations and World Health Organization conventions which view khatna as a human rights violation, it comes under the purview of existing Indian legislation, such as article 319 and 320 of the IPC and POCSO. No separate law has been passed against FGC until now. Things looked hopeful when the PIL filed against FGM/C was to be heard by the five-judge bench in the India Supreme Court. The decision initially seemed to swing in favor of banning the practice, as the judges referred to it as a violation of the rights of the girl child. The judges questioned how the violation of the “bodily integrity” of the child could be an essential practice of a religion, asserting that right to religious freedom does not negate other fundamental rights of the individual. Despite overwhelming support, the judges later backtracked, deferring to a constitutional bench to decide on the matters of religious rights and freedom. It was the most crushing setback for the movement.

Initially, I wondered what the hesitancy was in declaring khatna as a human rights violation. Later, I realized that the hesitancy was due to the political context and not the practice itself. Family and religion are the founding threads of our Indian community, and khatna is so intricately woven within these threads. Family and religion are our sources of identity, and since India is a collectivist society our ideas, beliefs in practices such as khatna are rooted in a collective experience, rather than an individual’s. Thus, attempting to end khatna risks unraveling the whole moral power structure of the country. Initially, it will begin with the Bohra community, but it may create a ripple effect across the country within other communities and religions. The moral thread of India is religion, and religion dictates our gender roles. If khatna is being questioned, we are unraveling this power structure by questioning the clergy’s teachings, and instead seeking the truth for ourselves by reading the religious scriptures whose access has unduly only been given to men for so long. Perhaps, with this newfound knowledge, our perception of the world will shift, leading to a destabilization of the existing structure and establishment of a new order with women in power. Change is just around the corner.

Although the law is the first concrete step toward ending khatna, it is also a double-edged sword with unintended consequences. The law has the potential to push the practice further underground. The more discreetly cutting is done, the more difficult it would become to track it. Furthermore, the law would bring into question the perpetrators of the crime. Is it parents, midwives, community as a whole, or religious leaders? What would be the quantum of punishment? Would the 7-year-old child be responsible for registering the complaint? Who would protect the child from further psychological harm?

Despite it all, I too believe law is essential in our work toward abandonment of khatna, since it may create awareness and generate conversation. But a law in itself will not stop khatna. Khatna will only end when we realize we are hurting our daughters. Once we realize that no religion, no God and no love is founded on pain, that is when the struggle against khatna will finally end.

 

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

By Sahiyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

બધા નુક્શાનો શારીરિક નથી હોતા અને દરેક ધર્મ સંપૂર્ણ રીતે નૈતિક નથી હોતો

(This essay was originally published in English on September 21, 2018. Read the English version here.)

લેખક : ઝીનોબીયા

ઉંમર : 27 વર્ષ

દેશ : ભારત

આજે સોશિયલ મીડિયા પર અન્ય બાબતોની સાથે-સાથે મહિલાઓને સશક્ત કરવા, પોતાનો નિર્ણય પોતે જ લેવા, વ્યક્તિની ગોપનીયતાના અને તેના શરીરના ઉલ્લંઘન વિષે અને સંમતિની ભૂમિકા વિષેના વિચારો અને અભિપ્રાયો સાથે ગુસ્સો વ્યક્ત થતો જોવા મળે છે.અમુક લોકો એવી વાતો કરે છે કે બળાત્કારીઓને ફાંસી દઈ દેવી જોઈએ છે તો અમુક લોકો જાતિય છેડછાડ અને મહિલાઓની છેડતી કરતા લોકોને સજા કરવા વિષેપણ વાતો કરી રહ્યાં છે જેથી, જમીની સ્તર પર યોગ્ય પગલાં લઈ શકાય અને આવા લોકો છોકરીઓને પરેશાન કરતા પહેલાં બે વાર વિચાર કરે.

પરંતુ, જ્યારે એક 7 વર્ષની અસહાય છોકરીનો બીજું કોઈ નહિં પણ તેમનું પોતાનું કુટુંબ અને સમાજ ગેરલાભ ઉઠાવે ત્યારે શું થાય છે? તેના માટે કોણ જવાબદારી લે છે?હું અહીં મારી પોતાની તકલીફો રજૂ કરવા નથી ઈચ્છતી પરંતુ, તમારી માહિતી માટે થોડી મૂળભૂત હકીકતો રજૂ કરવા ઈચ્છું છું. હું ભારતમાં મોટી થયેલી એક બોહરા મુસ્લિમ છું. જ્યારે વિશ્વ આપણને શાંત, શાંતિપ્રિય, વ્યવસાયમાં સમૃદ્ધ એવો સમાજ માને છે ત્યારે આપણે 6-7 વર્ષની નાનકડી છોકરીના અંગછેદનની એક ગુપ્ત પરંપરાને અનુસરીએ છીએ, જેને આપણે ખતના કહીએ છીએ.

આ પ્રથા પુરુષો માટે કેવી રીતે આરોગ્યની દ્રષ્ટિએ “જરૂરી” છે અને અંતે, તે તેમના સેક્સ જીવનમાં મદદરૂપ થાય છે તે વિષેની ઘણી દલીલો કરવામાં આવે છે પરંતુ, અધિકાંશ શિક્ષિત અને સંસ્કારી લોકો એ બાબત સાથે સહમત છે કે આ પ્રથા એક બૈરીના શરીરિક, માનસીક અને ભાવનાત્મક આરોગ્ય માટે નુક્શાનદાયક છે, ખાસ કરીને એટલા માટે કે તેના પર કોઈ દેખરેખ રાખવામાં આવતી નથી અથવા અધિકાંશ આવી પ્રક્રિયાઓ બૅસમેન્ટોમાં એક અશિક્ષિત બૈરી દ્વારા કરવામાં આવે છે.આ પ્રથાને વિશ્વના અન્ય પ્રદેશોમાં આધિકારીક રીતે “ફીમેલ જેનિટલ મ્યૂટિલેશન (એફજીએમ)” કહેવામાં આવે છે અને તેને અસહાય છોકરીઓ પર થતા અપરાધ તરીકે માનવામાં આવે છે.

શા માટે? શું કારણ છે?

અમુક લોકો પવિત્રતા વિષે તો, અમુક લોકો પિતૃપ્રધાનતા વિષે વાત કરે છે. અમુક લોકો તેને એક આદેશરૂપ પરંપરા હોવાને કારણે માને છે અને જો એક મૌલા તેને ફરજિયાત કહે તો તેને નામંજૂર કરવાની હિંમત કોણ કરે? અમુક લોકો દબાણને વશ થઈને માને છે તો, અમુક લોકો બ્લૅકલિસ્ટ થવા અથવા વીરોધીનું લૅબલ લાગવાના ડરથી માને છે.જે લોકો ઉત્તર માગે છે તેમના માટે એવો પ્રચલિત જવાબ આપવામાં આવે છે કે તે એક બૈરીની જાતિય ઈચ્છાઓને નિયંત્રણમાં અથવા અંકુશમાં રાખવા માટે કરવામાં આવે છે. એ બાબત સાચી હોય શકે કેજ્યારે આપણે રણોમાં અને સમૂહ (ટ્રાઈબ્સ)માં રહેતા હતા અને લોકો હંમેશા અન્ય વ્યક્તિની બૈરીને ઉપાડી જવા માટે આતુર રહેતા હતા તેવા યુગમાં, કદાચ આ પ્રથા મદદરૂપ થઈ હશે.

આજે કોઈપણ કારણ હોય તો પણ, શું તેનો કોઈ અર્થ છે ખરો? તમારો ઉદ્દેશસારોહોય તો પણ,એક બૈરીની સંમતિ વિના તેણીના શરીર સાથે શું કરવું એ નક્કી કરવાનો તમને કોઈ અધિકાર નથી.તમે કોઈપણ હો, તમારો ઉદ્દેશ કોઈપણ હોય તો પણ, નુક્શાન થયું છે અને તમે કોઈ ગુનેગારથી ઓછા નથી.

પિડીતો માટે તેનો અર્થ શું છે?

આપણા દ્વારા અનુસરવામાં આવતી પ્રથા આક્ષેપ અનુસાર ‘ટાઈપ 1’ પ્રકારની છે અને તે આફ્રિકન સમુદાયો દ્વારા અનુસરવામાં આવતી ‘ટાઈપ 2’ અને ‘ટાઈપ 3’ થી (ગંભીરતાના સ્તરના આધારે) અલગ છે.વર્લ્ડ હૅલ્થ ઑર્ગેનાઈઝેશનની માન્યતા મુજબ, ટાઈપ 1 પ્રકારના એફજીસીને ક્લિટોરલ હૂડ અને/અથવા ક્લિટોરિસ કાપવા તરીકે વર્ણવવામાં આવ્યું છે, જેના ઘણાં શારીરિક અને માનસિક દુષ્પરિણામો જોવા મળે છે જેમ કે, ચેપ લાગવા, વધારે પડતો રક્તસ્ત્રાવ થવો, પેશાબ કરતી વખતે બળતરા થવી વિગેરે. ઘણી જુવાન છોકરીઓ વિશ્વાસઘાત, અસહાય અને મૂંઝવણ મહેસુસ કરતી હોવાના કારણે,આ પ્રથા માનસિક આરોગ્ય પર પણ વિપરિત અસર કરી શકે છે. તેમજ, આ આઘાતના પરિણામે, બાળક જાતિય સંબંધ બાંધવામાં પણ ડર અનુભવી શકે છે અને તેમનામાં સમાજના સભ્યો પ્રત્યે અવિશ્વાસનું નિર્માણ પણ થઈ શકે છે.

પરંતુ, હજારો બૈરીઓએ આ પ્રથાને અનુસરી છે અને દાવો કરી રહી છે કે તેમને કોઈ જાતિય સમસ્યાઓનો સામનો કરવો પડ્યો નથી?

જે રીતે અધિકાંશ લોકો તેમના બેડરૂમમાં શું થાય છે તે વિષે અન્ય લોકોને વાત કરતા નથી, તેમ એફજીએમના સર્વાઈવરો પણ તેમની સેક્સ લાઈફ વિષે જાહેરમાં વાત કરતા નથી. તેમાંની ઘણી બૈરીઓ પીડાથી ચીસો પાડતી હોય છે અથવા “બેડરૂમમાં”એક આરોગ્યપ્રદ જીવન જીવી શકતી નથી.તેમાંની ઘણી બૈરીઓ ડૉક્ટરો, સેક્સોલોજિસ્ટ્સ, કાઉન્સેલર્સ અને થેરૅપિસ્ટ્સની નિયમિત દરદીઓ હોય છે.હાં, તેઓ ગર્ભવતિ થવાનું (જે આજે મરદ સાથે અથવા મરદ વિના કરવું વધારે મૂશ્કેલ નથી) મેનેજ કરી લે છે પરંતુ, શું એ પ્રક્રિયા પીડા મુક્ત છે? નહીં.

બધા લોકો ડિવોર્સનો દર વધવા વિષે વાતો કરે છે પરંતુ, આ દર શા માટે વધી રહ્યો છે તે કોઈ સમજતું નથી. તેઓ એ જોતા નથી કે બૈરીઓ પર તેમના ઉછેર દરમિયાન જ ઘણાં બધા નિયંત્રણો લાદવામાં આવે છે. મરદ હોય કે બૈરી, તેને સંબંધી બધી બાબતો પહેલાંથી જ નક્કી કરેલી હોય છે, આ એવું નથી લાગી રહ્યું કે આપણે એવા સમાજમાં મોટા થઈ રહ્યાં છીએ જ્યાં નેતાઓ અથવા સ્વતંત્ર નિર્ણયકર્તાઓને ઉછેરવામાં આવી રહ્યાં હોય. આપણે બ્રેઈનવૉશ કરેલા શિષ્યોના એક ટોળાં જેવા છીએ અને હાલનાં, #metoo ની ક્રાન્તિને કારણે બૈરીઓએ તેમનો અવાજ ઉઠાવવાની એક શરૂઆત કરી છે.

મારી સ્ટોરી

હાં, મારા પર પણ ‘ખતના’ પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવી હતી. મને બધું તો યાદ નથી પરંતુ, અમુક બાબતો યાદ છે. મને “કોઈ આન્ટી” ને મળવા લઈ જવામાં આવી હતી અને મને યાદ છે કે ત્યારે મને કોઈ સારી લાગણી નહોતી થતી પરંતુ, આપણને જેમ કહેવામાં આવે તેમ આપણે કરીએ છીએ. અમે કલકત્તાના તેના અંધકારમય ઘરમાં ગયા અને તેણીએ મને ભારતીય શૈલીના શૌચાલય પર પહોળા પગ કરીને ઊભા રહેવા માટે કહ્યું અને મને લોહી નીચે પડતું દેખાયું. બસ મને આટલું જ યાદ છે.

મને બરાબર યાદ છે કે ત્યારપછી અઠવાડિયા સુધી મને પેશાબ કરવામાં પીડા થતી હતી. આ ચર્ચા રાત્રિભોજનની ચર્ચા જેવી ઔપચારિક ના હોવાથી, ત્યારપછી તે વિષે ક્યારેય વાત કરવામાં આવી નહિં. 16 વર્ષની ઉંમરે, જીન સૅસનની બૂક – પ્રિંસેસ દ્વારા મને આ ‘મુસ્લિમ પ્રથા’ વિષે ખબર પડી. સાઉદી અરૅબિયામાં બૈરીઓ સાથે કરવામાં આવતી ભયાનક બાબતોની સાથે-સાથે આ પ્રથાનું વર્ણન કરવામાં આવ્યુ હતું જેણે મારી યાદ તાજા કરી દીધી હતી.

પહેલાં તો હું ડરી અને ભયભીત થઈ ગઈ અને મને સમજાતું નહોતું કે આ માહિતીનું શું કરવું.મને એ બાબતસમજાઈ નહિં કે શા માટે કોઈ મારી સાથે આવું ભયાનક કૃત્ય કરે? તેનો ઉદ્દેશ શું હતો? શું કોઈ ધાર્મિક કારણ હતું? શું કોઈ તબીબી કારણ હતું? ધીમે-ધીમે હું મારી ઉંમરના અન્ય લોકોને તે વિષે પૂછવા લાગી.ઈન્ટરનેટ મારી મદદે આવ્યું અને મેં આ ‘જંગલી’ પ્રથાને વધારે સમજવાનું શરૂ કર્યું કે કેવી રીતે તે આપણા પિતૃપ્રધાન દુનિયાની એક બીજીસાઈડઈફેક્ટ છે જ્યાં કોઈપણ મરદ એ નક્કી કરી લે છે કે બૈરીઓએ કેવી રીતે જીવવું અને તેમના માટે શું યોગ્ય છે.

મને એ બાબત સમજાઈ નહીં કે કેમ એક માતા-પિતા તેમના બાળકો સાથે આવું થવા દે છે. જ્યારે તમારી દીકરી નિર્દોષતાની ચરમસીમા પર હોય અને ફક્ત તમારો નિસ્વાર્થ પ્રેમ ઈચ્છતી હોય ત્યારે, તમે તેણી સાથે વિશ્વાસઘાત કરો છો અને અંતે તમે તેણીને એવા રાક્ષસને સોંપી દો છો જે તેણી સાથે આવું કૃત્ય કરે છે?

તમારો ધર્મ તમને તેણીના શરીર પર અંગછેદન કરવાનું કહે છે અને તમને તેમાં કંઈ ખોટું નથી લાગતુ?અને તેના કારણે ઉત્પન્ન થતા શારીરિક, માનસિક અને ભાવનાત્મક પ્રત્યાઘાતોનું શું? જીવનભર તેણીએ આવી પીડાનો સામનો કરવો પડે છે. અને જો તમને ખરેખર આ બાબત ખોટી ના લાગતી હોય તો પછી શું કામતમે તેને આમ ગુપ્ત રાખો છો? શા માટે તેખાનગી રીતેકરવામાં આવે છે? તેના વિષે બધાને વાત કરો, તમે જેમ મિસાક ઉજવો છો તેમ તેની પણ ઉજવણી કરો? ફક્ત મિસાકની ઉજવણી જ શા માટે કરો છો? ખરેખર, કેટલાક અપવાદરૂપ લોકો પણ હોય છે. મારૂં સારૂં ઈચ્છતા ઘણાં લોકો મને સમજાવવાનો પ્રયત્ન કરે છે કે તેમાં મારો કોઈ દોષ નથી અને મારે એ બાબત વિષે ચિંતા કરવી જોઈએ નહીં અને મારો ઉત્તર હોય છે કે “હાં, હું જાણું છું કે મારો કોઈ દોષ નથી અને તેમ છતાં, મારે જ તેની કિંમત ચૂકવવી પડે છે”.

સૌથી દુઃખદ બાબત એ છે કે ઘણી બધી એવી છોકરીઓ છે જેને આજે પણ ખબર નથી અથવા યાદ નથી કે તેમની સાથે પણ આવું બન્યું છે. તેઓ એવા ખ્યાલ હેઠળ જીવે છે કે સેક્સ એ ખરાબ અને પીડાદાયક બાબત છે અને કદાચ તેમનામાં જ કોઈ સમસ્યા છે. અધિકાંશ રીતે આપણને આવું જ શિક્ષણ આપવામાં આવે છે. હું સહિયોની ખૂબ જ આભારી છું કે તેમણે બૈરીઓ માટે આવું એક અદભૂત પ્લૅટફોર્મ ઊભું કર્યું જ્યાં તેઓ તેમની સ્ટોરી રજૂ કરી શકે છે, સહાનુભૂતિ મેળવી શકે છે અને મારા જેવી છોકરીઓને કહી શકે કે હું એક જ એવી છોકરી નથી જેની સાથે આવું બન્યું છે અને મારે મને પોતાને એક પિડીત માનવીજોઈએ નહિં. સ્ટોરીટેલિંગ દ્વારા બૈરીઓને સશક્ત કરવાની આ બાબત, આપણી સંસ્કૃતિનો એક ગૌરવશીલ ભાગ હોય તેમ લાગે છે, જેને સહિયો આગળ વધારી રહ્યું છે.

 

Is the Dawoodi Bohra community truly as progressive as it claims to be?

By Saleha

Country of Residence: Canada
Age: 45

Having lived in South-East Asia, and being exposed to multiple races and cultures, I grew up in a very open-minded family. As a child, my family and I occasionally went to the local Bohra mosque to socialize with others in the community. I loved going to the “masjid” – there I got a chance to meet my best friend and also eat delicious Bohri food. It was wonderful to see all the aunties dressed up in “onna ghagra” which are colourful skirts with matching chiffon scarves draped around the head. After the prayers, everyone congregated outside and chatted into the late hours of the night.

Then suddenly in the early 90s it all changed. The upper echelons of the Bohra clergy instated new rules. The progressive Dawoodi Bohras were no more; instead, women were forced to wear a form of hijab called “rida” and men were made to sport a beard, wear a kurta, and “topi” or a cap on their heads. The clergy, headed by the Syedna, began to exert control over everything. Permission from Syedna was required not only for religious matters but in daily life as well. For example, permission was needed to start a business, get married or even to be buried. Female Genital Cutting or khatna was deemed necessary, even though that act of it is not prescribed in the Koran. If any of the rules were not followed, or if you protested and spoke against them, you were excommunicated or threatened to be. You’d lose all your ties to friends and family forever.

I can never forget the awful day, when I was seven, while on a holiday in India, my aunt asked me to go shopping with her. She took me to a dingy place where a Bohri man and woman took me inside. They asked me to undress waist down, and when I protested, the man held my hands while the woman removed my jeans and underwear and forced me to lie down. I saw the man take out a blade and I struggled and screamed for help, while they proceeded to cut me. I lay bleeding on the floor, unable to comprehend what had happened to me. It was horrific, painful, and demeaning. I hated what was done to me. I hated that my mom was not there. I was angry at my aunt for allowing them to hurt me.

I remember that experience vividly and to this day I am infuriated that I had to go through this ordeal as a child in the name of religion. While the majority of the Muslim communities around the world have spoken against this, the Dawoodi Bohra religious authorities urge continuing FGC under the guise of cleanliness. The worst part is that some women push this practise on vulnerable children too young to give consent, instead of protecting them as adults should.

It was a difficult time for me. Having grown up with all the freedom in the world, it was  suddenly being taken away from me and I grew cynical of my Bohra culture and wanted no part of it. Today, I am happy I decided to leave the fold. It was not hard to leave. In fact, it was liberating. I was not comfortable with the more rigorous path that my community was taking. I am sure there are many other Bohri people out there who are quietly questioning many of the beliefs handed down to them – some so silly, useless, and others very damaging – Bohris must refrain from using Western toilets; Bohris cannot host or attend wedding functions in secular, non-Bohra venues; brides can apply mehndi only an inch below the wrist and cannot hold the traditional “haldi” functions; and all Bohris must carry a RFID photo ID which will monitor attendance to the mosque.

Humanity has achieved such remarkable progress. We have ventured into space, developed cloning and gene editing technologies, and most importantly, the Internet has resulted in globalization and interconnection between various cultures and communities. In this light, I wonder why we are still talking about FGC and the right to choose to do it to our daughters in this day and age? I am thankful that organizations like Sahiyo and We Speak Out have become a voice for children who are being hurt in the name of religion.

I look at my children and I see the most informed, connected, and progressive generation. Imposing impractical, harmful religious rules such as continuing FGM on such a generation will only drive them further from our culture. More and more Bohri women and men are speaking out against this harmful practise because whenever religion becomes too rigid, too corrupt, it begins to crack. My hope is that our community can find the strength to break free from all the rigid practices and once again become the most progressive community among the Muslims.

What Islam says about Female Genital Cutting and how far are these texts invincible? (Part 1)

By Debangana Chatterjee

A journey through religious texts helps us to validate or disprove the claims that there are religious justifications for traditional cultural practices. A similar logic applies to the claims that Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is an Islamic practice.

The Holy Quran and the hadiths, evolving from the deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, form the basis of Sharia or the Islamic law. Whereas the Quranic scriptures are unquestionable, hadiths require authentication as they are the dynamic source of evolving Islamic practices. Hadiths are the Prophet’s verbal instructions which were documented by various narrators after the Prophet’s death. The actual narration of the text is called the matn and the insad contains the trail of narrators to support the authentic transmission of Prophet’s instructions over generations. Hadiths can be classified as either mutawatir or ahad. Mutawatir hadiths are substantiated and backed up by multiple reporters documenting his guidelines and thus, is adequately acknowledged within the Islamic circle. Praying namaz, donating, fasting and going for Hajj are few of the mutawatir hadiths which are considered fully authentic. On the contrary, although a few ahad hadiths are thought to permit a limited form of female genital cutting, they are deficient of authenticity borne through insad.

According to a Baihaqi hadith, circumcision ennobles women. But many suggest it to be advisory rather than obligatory. One of the Bukhari Sharif hadiths considers circumcision as one of the acts of fitra (human acts inspired by God) like the removal of pubic hair, trimming the moustache, removing armpit hair and shortening nails. In Islam there has been much controversy whether fitra is binding. One Jami at-Trimidhi hadith suggests that there must be an essential bath after sexual intercourse between the two circumcised genitals of opposite gender. Though the supporters here take circumcision as a prerequisite to sexual intercourse and hence to marriage, the commandment of the hadith lies at the fact of taking a shower after sexual intercourse where circumcision may be spoken of as a natural presupposition. Written in Arabic, this hadith may have been toldto a community that was culturally inclined towards FGC at the time it was said. Hadiths by Abu Dawud, Al-Tabrani and Al-Khatib al-Baghdad seem to suggest conducting a plain cut of the clitoral prepuce, as according to them it beautifies a woman’s face and makes her even more desirable to her husband. Primarily even if the hadith  indicates FGC, it eliminates the severe forms of it such as infibulation and only promotes the least severe form.

Other interpretations of this hadith suggest that rather than taking it as the Prophet’s order, one may read this hadith as suggesting it is merely a desirable option. In contradiction, a hadith reported by Abu Sa’id al-Khudri and documented by Ibn Majah and Al-Daraqutni with an authenticated line of insad seems to unequivocally reject any practice amounting to harm.

In Shia Islam, taharat (purity) concerning the notions of hygiene, cleanliness and purity is sometimes put forward to justify FGC. It is believed that due to the clitoral unhooding the excess building up of smegma is addressed. Yet, effective measures of washing and cleanliness are more than adequate to address this issue.Removal of healthy tissues for it does not seem to be credible enough.

In India, Dawoodi Bohras, the largest Bohra sect belonging to the Tayyibi Ism’aili branch of Shia Islam, who practice khatna, consider the Da’i al-Mutlaq, also known as Da’i, to hold an authoritative, infallible status in the community. As the Da’i considers Daim-ul-Islam as the binding religious text for the Bohras, diktats of the text are taken as truth by devout community members. In this text, the Prophet is believed to advise for a simple cut of a woman’s clitoral skin as this, according to certain translations of the text, assigns chastity to a woman and makes her more ‘beloved by their husbands’. Though supporters of FGC cite this as the reason for the continuation of khatna, scholars have shown that da’is have never been as invincible historically, as has occurred in the recent past. In fact, changes in the provision that khatna is required, would add dynamism to the religion.

Islam as a whole neither complies with the practice nor endorses FGC. Despite repeated invocation of religious references as a justification for FGC, considering the myriad number of Islamic texts, the grounds for such justification hold little or almost no merit.

 Read Part 2 – Female Genital Cutting (FGC): Is it an Islamic Practice?

(Debangana is a doctoral scholar at the Centre for International Politics Organisation and  Disarmament (CIPOD), Jawaharlal Nehru University. Through her research, she is trying to locate the existing Indian discourse surrounding the practices of FGM/C and Hijab into the frame of international politics. If you would like to connect with Debangana, you can reach her at debangana.1992@gmail.com )

Not all damages are physical. Not everyone religious is morally ethical

Name: Xenobia (name changed)

Age: 27
Country: India

Today, social media is raging with thoughts and opinions on empowering women, being pro-choice, violating someone’s privacy and their body, and the role of consent, among others. Some say rapists must undoubtedly be hung to death, while some talk about punishing molesters and eve-teasers as well, so that the right patterns are set at the grassroots level and so that they think twice before taking advantage of girls again.

But what happens when the people taking advantage of a helpless 7-year-old girl are none other than her own family and community? Who, then, takes accountability for that? I’m not going to cry about my personal story here, but present some basic facts for you to consider. I am a Bohra Muslim raised in India. While the world sees us as a non-confrontational, peace-loving, business-thriving community, we have a secret tradition of circumcising 6-7-year-old girl children that we call khatna.

There are plenty of arguments about how this is “needed” from a health point of view for males and how it helps them in their sex life eventually, but the most educated and civilised people agree that this practice is harmful to a woman’s physical, psychological and emotional health, especially since it is not supervised or is often performed by untrained aunties in basements. This practice is officially termed as “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) everywhere else in the world and it is increasingly treated as a crime committed on helpless female children.

Why? What’s the reason?

Some say purity, some say patriarchy. Some do it because it’s a mandatory tradition and if the priest says so, who dares to refuse? Some do it out of peer pressure, some do it to avoid being blacklisted or labelled rebellious. The popular conclusion for those seeking out answers has been, to moderate or curb a woman’s sexual desires. Sure, this might have worked well in an era when we lived in deserts and tribes were always on the lookout for stealing another’s woman.

Irrespective of the reason today, does it even matter? However good your reasons may be, you still don’t have the right to decide what to do to a woman’s body without her consent. Whoever you may be. No matter what your intentions, the damage is done and you are still no different from a criminal.

So what does this mean for the victims?

The custom practiced by us is allegedly ‘Type 1’ and is different from that practiced by some African communities – Type 2 and Type 3 (based on levels of severity). As recognised by the World Health Organization, Type 1 FGC is described as the cutting of the clitoral hood and/or the clitoris, which poses a range of physical and emotional consequences such as infections, excessive bleeding, burning sensations while urinating, etc. The practice can adversely affect mental health as well since many young girls feel personally betrayed, helpless and confused. The child can also experience fear of sexual intimacy and mistrust of community members later in life as a result of the trauma. Sounds familiar?

But aren’t there thousands of other women who have gone through the same thing, and claim they are not facing sexual problems?

Just like most people don’t talk to others about what happens in their bedrooms, there are FGM survivors who don’t talk about their sex lives in public either. Some of them scream in pain through the night or are unable to have a healthy “bedroom life”. Plenty of these women are regular patients of doctors, sexologists, counsellors, and therapists. Yes, they manage to get pregnant (which is not very hard to do, with or without a man) but is the process peaceful and pain-free? No.

Everyone talks about divorce rates going up but nobody realises why. They don’t see that in general, women are subject to a lot of curbing throughout their upbringing. Things have always been decided for them and whatever the gender might be, it’s not like we are brought up in a community that breeds leaders or independent decision makers. We are a herd of brainwashed followers. And with the recent #metoo revolution, women have just started discovering their voice.

My personal take

Yes, I was ‘cut’ too. I don’t remember the details, but I remember flashes. I was taken to meet “some aunty” and I remember not having a very good feeling about it, but you do what you’re asked to do anyway. We went to her gloomy house in Calcutta and she asked me to stand over an Indian-style toilet with my legs apart and I remember seeing blood fall. That’s all.

I definitely remember having a hard time peeing for a week after that. Since this clearly does not qualify as a regular dinner conversation, it was just never spoken of after that. At age 16, I came across this ‘Muslim practice’ in Jean Sasson’s book – Princess. Among other terrible things done to women in Saudi Arabia, this was described in detail and that awoke something in my memory.

At first, I was scared and terrified because I didn’t know what to do with that information. It didn’t make any sense. Why would something that awful be done to me? What was the purpose? Was this religious? Was this medical? Gradually, I started asking other people of my age about it. Thanks to the internet, I started understanding a lot more of this ‘barbaric’ practice and how it is just another side effect of our patriarchal world, where random men decide how we must lead our lives and what is good for us.

What I couldn’t wrap my head around was how parents would let that happen to their own kids. When your daughter is at the peak of her innocence and brimming with nothing but pure love for you, you violate that basic trust. And then you actually hand her over to the monster who does that to her?

So your religion asks you to cut her body. And you see nothing wrong with that. And what about the repercussions and damages – physical, mental and emotional? She deals with those all her life. And if this is something you truly feel isn’t wrong, then why the hush-hush? Why the secret? Tell everyone about it, celebrate it, like you do for a misaaq ceremony? Why stop there? Of course, there are always exceptions too. Plenty of well-wishers keep trying to tell me that’s it’s not my fault and I shouldn’t worry about it, and I say, “Yes I know, and yet, I’m the one paying the price.”

What is really sad is that so many girls out there probably still don’t even know or remember this incident taking place. They are living under the impression that sex is bad and painful, and perhaps the problem is with them. Like most of our teachings. All the more reason why I am grateful to Sahiyo for this amazing platform for women to share their stories, to empathise, to let girls like me know that I am not the only damaged one and that I don’t need to see myself as a victim. Empowering women through storytelling seems like a glorious part of our culture that they are taking forward!

 

On The Supreme Court Hearings and The Pro-Khatna FAQs Circulated by Bohras

By Shabana Feroze
Country: Bahrain

The Supreme Court of India is very close to deciding a ban on Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or khatna, and I couldn’t be happier. As a survivor of FGC myself (I live in Bahrain but had khatna done to me in a shady house in Hyderabad, India), I want to see this practice legally banned.

The Supreme Court observed it goes against the Constitution of India to make any changes to a young girl’s private part. In my opinion, Female Genital Cutting goes against not only the Constitution, but child rights and human rights as well. The argument by pro-khatna Bohras against this is always “religious freedom”, as is evident in the name of the group at the forefront of defending khatna: the Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom.

What religious freedom? You’re allowed to do anything in the name of religious freedom?

I really hope that the Supreme Court rules to have this practice declared illegal once and for all so Bohra moms stop bringing their daughters from all over the world to get a part of their anatomy removed for no reason.

But what scares me is that even if it gets banned, the practice may go underground and still continue. A few members of the Bohra community who are pro-khatna (and the Syedna, the leader of the community) vehemently defend the practice, saying that it’s their right to do it, and that parents don’t need the consent of a 7-year-old girl child to make non-medical changes to her clitoris. They also claim that the procedure is done for “taharat” or “religious purity”. There was even a document circulated on WhatsApp recently, called “Female Circumcision, as practiced by the Dawoodi Bohras: Understand it, before condemning it!”.

The document is structured like an FAQ, listing all the arguments against FGC and countering them with their supposedly good and right reasons in favour of this practice.

This document claims that the Bohra form of FGC is not the same as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and that khatna does not cause any physical harm, trauma or even pain. This claim ignores all the personal stories of women who have said that it caused harm, long-lasting trauma, and terrible pain to them (including myself). The authors of the document also state that the World Health Organization (WHO)  has “over-reached” in including Bohra khatna in their classification of FGM. Do they think they are smarter than the World Health Organization?

They also compare nose and ear piercings to FGC. The document claims:

“Nose & ear piercings, a very popular practice world over, is commonly performed on small girls for non-medical purposes. Nose & ear piercings are painful and cause a publicly visible & permanent change on the human body. Yet they are considered perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, female circumcision, which is a mild & harmless practice causing no visible change, is considered to be a human rights violation!”

Making a piercing in the cartilage of the nose and ear is very different to cutting off a piece of genitalia. The genitalia is connected to your sexual organs and reproductive system. It’s not a harmless procedure. Nose and ear piercings are harmless procedures, available at hospitals and pharmacies, and are done by trained professionals. The WHO doesn’t have a problem with it. It’s not banned in several countries. So the comparison of nose and ear piercings to FGC/ khatna is not on the same level.

Looking at the Bohra community’s arrogant defiance to continue this practice, even in the face of organizations such as WHO, I’m scared that even if the Supreme Court makes it illegal, it will continue to happen. It’ll just be shrouded in more secrecy. The Syedna himself needs to declare it to be an outdated and unnecessary tradition that needs to be stopped. If he doesn’t and it becomes illegal in India, a huge network of home-based cutters might grow, and women might continue to take their daughters, granddaughters and nieces to dark homes in small alleys to get it done.  

The subject was heavy, but my heart felt light: My experience at Sahiyo’s StoryCenter workshop

By Salma Qamruddin

Female genital cutting (FGC) sounds like a distant and antiquated practice, especially to those living in the US. Americans think FGC happens in remote African villages or in times of yore, but not locally and not now. Unfortunately, this is simply untrue. Sahiyo is an organization dedicated to opening up the conversation around modern FGC practices. Their 3-day workshop, Sahiyo Stories, invited women to break the silence around FGC by transforming each woman’s personal FGC story into a short film. These are my experiences attending Sahiyo Stories…

Unlike many of the other attendees, I am new to the sphere of activism. Although I’m just beginning to speak out against female genital cutting (FGC), Sahiyo Stories was a transformative point in my activism journey because it helped me refine my voice and allowed me to work among some of the trailblazers of FGC activism whose work is genuinely driving social change. From Severina Lem who has traveled the world working to unravel tradition-based cutting practices, to Renee Bergstrom who has created invaluable resources for victims of FGC to get proper medical care, and to Mariya Taher who co-founded Sahiyo with the goal of dismantling the practice through storytelling, every woman I met amazed me with their confidence and drive.

Though these accomplished women came from all places and all walks of life, our connection to one another was sparked almost immediately. Because we had to open our hearts to discuss such a personal subject matter, we all had to let our guard down by design. All of us carried trauma that few other people could relate to; it was refreshing to finally be in a room where everyone genuinely understood the pains we’d all experienced. From strangers to sisters, the respect and love in the workspace was tangible.

While preparing for Sahiyo Stories, I read up on what information was already available on FGC. Sahiyo partnered with a healthcare research firm to identify the biggest challenges facing activists speaking out against female genital cutting (FGC). Reading through the report, I was surprised how closely my journey to activism perfectly aligned with the “standard” journey for most activists. On one hand, I felt validated that I was not alone on my path and that there were others whose struggles were harmonic to mine. However, my story also felt less special. The goal of Sahiyo Stories was supposed to present unique experiences with FGC, but if I am a “cookie cutter” activist, what did I have to say that hadn’t been said? Even though I was not very confident in what my story brought to the table, I decided to share my first “a-ha” moment about FGC; the time when I realized that I had been cut.

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Salma and other participants during Sahiyo Stories Workshop

Despite entering the workshop with some insecurity, the process of putting my story onto paper, editing the script and illustrating the words was cathartic. In order to translate my thoughts into a digital story, I had to boil my experience down to its core and dissect why this story matters to me. It was a process that involved deep reflection. As my story started to come alive, my confidence grew with it. One of the most beautiful moments for me was when speaking with Orchid, a Sahiyo Stories facilitator who believed that, “everyone has the best voice for their own story”. Both Orchid and Amy, the two StoryCenter staff members, had an incredible talent for pulling out the real meaning from a story and empowering us through the process. Even though the subject was heavy, talking through my story with them made my heart feel light.

Though the process of creating digital stories was helpful, the highlight of Sahiyo Stories was the screening of the completed products. We sat together, laughed together, and cried together as we watched the digital stories for the first time. The room was a stirring pot of emotions. As we watched each person speak their truth, we felt their emotions and their pain. Their words resonated with us, not only because we could all relate to FGC, but because the struggles were tied to themes that all humans experience: isolation, grief, family, tradition, and healing. The power of what we had created was instantly recognizable. Being a survivor of FGC is a multi-faceted experience. It affects so much more than just anatomy. Even though all of these stories are tied together by the common thread of FGC, they capture so many different components that no story is alike. Personally, when my story was screened, I felt a rush; it was proof that my voice is unique. It was validation that I, along with every person who has a desire to speak out, has something valuable to offer by sharing their voice.

Overall, Sahiyo Stories served as the catalyst in my personal journey down the road of activism and I’m excited to see what comes next…

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

More about Salma:

SalmaSalma Qamruddin works as a scientist based out of Chicago and is new to the world of activism. She works at calling attention to current FGC activist efforts through digital platforms and serves as the current Social Media Intern for Sahiyo. She hopes that Sahiyo Stories can be a tool that takes us one step closer to an open and honest conversation about the prevalence of cutting in this day and age.

An appeal to Maneka Gandhi: Stop the flip-flops on Female Genital Cutting in India

Sahiyo is deeply concerned about the Indian government’s repeated contradictory positions on the problem of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in the country. In the span of just 13 months, India’s Ministry for Women and Child Development has flip-flopped on its stand on FGC at least twice.

Its latest u-turn came on Wednesday, June 27, when the Ministry mentioned, in the middle of a larger press release, that “Female Genital Mutilation” is “not practiced in India”. This is clearly at odds with the stand that the central government took in the Supreme Court just two months ago, when it stated that FGC is “already an offence” under Indian law and asked the Court for guidelines on how to tackle the challenge of FGC.

This is not the first time that the government has made contradictory statements about FGC, which is called Khatna or Khafz by the Bohra community and female Sunnath by FGC-practicing communities in Kerala.

Such flip-flops leave FGC survivors in the lurch, unsure of whether their government is likely to support the end of a practice that continues to harm so many women and girls in India.

The first time

Female Genital Cutting (also called Female Genital Mutilation) involves cutting parts of the female genitalia for non-medical, often religious or cultural reasons. In India, the kind of FGC practiced by the Bohras and some communities in Kerala typically involves cutting a part or all of a young girl’s clitoral hood. The practice can have a variety of physical, psychological and sexual consequences on the health of women and girls.

Maneka Gandhi, the Minister for Women and Child Development, first publicly acknowledged the practice of FGC in India in May 2017, a month after an independent lawyer petitioned the Supreme Court asking for a ban on FGC. The Court sought a response from the government and Gandhi stated that the practice of FGC would be considered a criminal offence under provisions of the Indian Penal Code as well as the law against child sexual abuse. She also stated that her Ministry would write to the Syedna (the leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community) and ask him to “issue an edict to community members” to give up FGC voluntarily. If the community does not give up the practice, Gandhi said, the government would introduce a specific law against FGC.  

This was a welcome stand by the government, but it was contradicted seven months later. In December 2017, during a hearing of the petition against FGC, Gandhi’s ministry told the Supreme Court that “there is no official data or study” that supports the existence of FGC in India. While this is technically correct, it is dismissive of the many survivor testimonies that have been presented to the Ministry through petitions and personal meetings with survivors and activists. The statement is also ironic, because “official” data can only exist if the government actually commissions such research studies on FGC, which it has not yet done.

After this frustrating statement, the government gave FGC survivors hope again in April. At another Supreme Court hearing, the government’s attorney unequivocally acknowledged the practice of FGC in India, described it as an offence under provisions of existing Indian laws, and asked the Court itself to help issue guidelines on how to end FGC in communities.

Now, with it’s latest press release, the government is back to flip-flopping on the issue.  

The second time

The Ministry’s June 27 press release was a refutation of a new poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which found India to be “the world’s most dangerous country for women”, based on a perception survey of 548 experts on women’s issues from around the world. The survey results identified a list of 10 countries that are currently perceived to be the most dangerous for women.

The poll evaluated each country on six key parameters: health, discrimination, cultural & religion, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking. India was ranked number one (most dangerous) one three of these parameters: sexual violence, human trafficking and culture & religion. It also ranked as most dangerous overall, followed by Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and others.

It is the parameter of “culture and religion” that specifically concerns us here. This parameter includes practices such as child marriage, forced marriage, female foeticide, punishment through stoning or mutilation as well as Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

The Indian Ministry for Women and Child Development did not take kindly to the Thomson Reuters poll, and issued a defensive press release dismissing the poll as unscientific and not based on data. It is no secret that women’s rights and freedoms are regularly trampled upon in India, and the Ministry’s sour-grapes reaction to the perception poll has already been critiqued in the media.

What struck Sahiyo’s attention is this particular statement in the Ministry’s press release: “The six questions posed as part of the poll cannot fairly be applied to all countries. E.g. the age bar for defining child marriage is different in every country, mutilation as a means of punishment, female genital mutilation, stoning etc. are not practiced in India.” [Italics added]

To claim that Female Genital Cutting is not practiced in India is a blatant falsehood, and it comes from a government that has already publicly acknowledged the prevalence of FGC in India twice before.

It comes from a government whose ministry has personally met with survivors and activists in the past year and assured them that it is keen to end this practice.

It comes from a government whose minister has claimed she would appeal to the Bohra Syedna to end the practice of FGC in the Bohra community.

It comes from a government that has officially told the highest Court of this country that FGC is already a crime in India, under the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

It comes from a government that must surely be aware that FGC is practiced not just by Bohras but also by other groups in Kerala, because in August 2017, the government of Kerala ordered a probe into reports about “Sunnath” being carried out on girls in the state.

It comes from a government that must surely have read the headlines when Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor released a study that found a 75% prevalence rate of FGC among Bohras.

Why, then, is the government now claiming that FGC is not practiced in India?

It appears that the Ministry for Women and Child Development is willing to deny the existence of practices that harm actual women in the country, simply for the sake of defending an abstract notion of national pride in the face of a survey that reveals the world’s negative perceptions of India. This is a distressing betrayal of all the women and children who have suffered the harmful consequences of FGC, as well as any woman who may have hoped for support from a Ministry meant for her welfare.

Sahiyo appeals to the central government and the Ministry of Women and Child Development to retract its claim that FGC is not practiced in India. We also appeal to the Ministry to commission research on the practice of FGC in India, so that it can design sensitive policies to help communities end FGC.

(Sahiyo has been petitioning global agencies to invest in research on FGC in Asia. Support Sahiyo’s petition by clicking here.)