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.

 

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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.  

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.)

I underwent Khatna but did not let it happen to my daughters

By: Anonymous

Country of Current Residence: United States
Country of Birth: India
Age: 57

It was a day in June, 1966, in India. I was seven years old and sitting with my mother, listening to a story she read to me from a newspaper. Midway through reading the story, she casually mentioned to me that we were going to Aunty R’s house the next evening with my grandmother as well. I was excited to go somewhere with my mother and grandmother, and to take a car ride to get to the place. Out of curiosity, I asked my mother why we were going over to Aunty R’s house, and she told me we were going for something very important that needed to be taken care of. On the car ride there, I heard my mother and grandmother discuss that they could not accept water to drink from Aunty R if it was offered to them, because the work she carries out is considered dirty. Being of an inquisitive mind, I asked my mother what she meant.  She shushed me and said, “You are too little to understand.”

On reaching Aunty R’s house, we were sent upstairs and sat down in a big hall. A few minutes later, she joined us and sat with us and talked for a bit. Then, she went inside another room and came back with a big white sheet which she spread out onto the floor. As she did this, I watched her movements with a lot of confusion. She then asked me to come lie down on the sheet and to shut my eyes, which I did. She covered me with another sheet and pulled my panty down. The next thing I felt was a pinch down there, and I screamed. She told me not to worry.

All was done.

On our way home I felt discomfort and my mother told me that all would be fine and that there was nothing to worry about. When we reached home I needed to use the bathroom and saw some blood oozing out of me. It scared me a bit. Again, my mother convinced me that all would be fine. I asked her what our trip to Aunty R’s was about and why I had to undergo it. She said, “all little girls go through that procedure.”

After a few days, I forgot about the incident.

As I grew older and I went into my teen years I realized that for no good reason something had been done to my private part. Something that was not very much required. After speaking to my mother about it, I realized she had gotten it done to me only because it was a tradition. She had gone through the same process. It had no religious significance.

Years went by and one day, I became a mother too. When my daughter came of age, I made the decision that I would not let her go through this mental torture, which was just a tradition and had nothing to do from a religious standpoint. When I made this decision, neither my mother nor my mother-in-law objected to it; they did not pressure me into having my girls undergo the ordeal. To conclude, I would like to add that it definitely did affect my sex life negatively and I did not want the same to be true for my girls.

Speak Out on FGM petition to the UN collects more than 500 signatures

In December 2015, Speak Out on FGM – a collective of Bohra khatna survivors – launched a signature petition on Change.org, appealing to various ministers in the Indian government to end Female Genital Cutting (khatna) in India. It was the first time that 17 Bohra women had publicly come out, as signatories, to speak against the practice, and the petition helped break the silence on Khatna both in the community and the media. Today, the petition has amassed more than 83,000 supporters.

A year since this pioneering petition, on December 10, 2016, Speak Out on FGM launched a new petition on Change.org, this time addressed to the United Nations. The petition was launched on Human Rights Day – the last day of the global 16 Days of Activism campaign to end gender-based violence, and it has already received 544 supporters.

The new petition reflects the growing, open support for the cause of ending khatna: this time, 32 Bohra women listed their names as signatories to the petition.

This petition is an appeal by survivors of khatna, calling upon the United Nations to strengthen its recognition of India as one of the countries where FGC is practiced.

While UN agencies do acknowledge that FGC is prevalent in “certain ethnic groups in Asian countries…in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka”, Indonesia is the only one of these countries that is included in the UN’s official FGC-prevalence statistic of 200 million girls cut in 30 countries. Girls cut in India are thus excluded from these statistics of global prevalence (learn more here).

More global recognition of FGC would help spread awareness on the issue of khatna in India. More significantly, it would help Bohra women and men make official appeal to the Indian government to take policy-level steps to end FGC.

Currently, there is no law against FGC in India, and the matter is still barely recognised as prevalent in the Indian Bohra community. Since the religious and administrative headquarters of the Bohras are located in Mumbai, and since India houses approximately half the international Bohra population of 1.5 to 2 million, ending khatna in India can go a long way in ending the practice among all Bohras.

Through this petition, Speak Out on FGM hopes to speed up the process of instituting government and international mechanisms to highlight and promote measures to eradicate FGC.

To sign the petition, click here.

I was spared from khatna because my Dadi happened to pass away

by Anonymous

Age: 34

Country: India

I came to know about the practice when I was seven years old, but all I knew was that khatna means removing something from your body.

My two elder sisters have undergone khatna, but I was not cut. The reason for this is that my dadi (grandmother) passed away before it was my turn to be cut. My parents had got my sisters’ khatna done because of pressure from my dadi – otherwise they never wanted to perform khatna on any of their daughters.

I was in the 7th standard when I first discussed khatna with my mother. After coming from school, I told my mother about a class we had had on sex education, menstruation, puberty and bodily changes. My mom brought up khatna during this talk. She told me it is done to reduce sexual pleasure.

Innocently, I asked her, “Mummy, maru pan khatna thavanu chhe?” (Will khatna happen to me also?) She said no, and I was very happy then.

One of my sisters has a daughter, but she has decided she will not have khatna performed on her. I do not support this practice either. Such a tradition that harms women’s sexuality and rights should be stopped.

What can Bohras learn from a new report on the global status of female genital cutting?

by Aarefa Johari

This August, the Population Council and UK Aid published a unique, comprehensive report on Female Genital Cutting around the world, to serve as a valuable resource for anyone working to bring the practice to an end. Titled ‘A State-of-the-Art Synthesis on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting – What do we know now’, the report provides a zoomed-out analysis of all the recent available data on FGC from the 29 countries that have done national surveys on the subject. Although India does not feature in this list, the report offers plenty of food for thought for those of us in South Asia in general and the Dawoodi Bohra community in particular.

In hospitals or in homes?

The 29 countries studied in the Population Council report are all from Africa, except for Yemen and Iraq. But the report also acknowledges the prevalence of the practice in other countries like India, Pakistan, Oman, Malaysia, Iran and Colombia, where no national surveys have been done yet. Indonesia, where the widespread prevalence of FGC has only recently been given official recognition, has been featured prominently in the report.

Types I and II are the most common forms of FGC around the world, and in the 29 countries studied in the report, it was found that the cutting is still overwhelmingly performed by traditional cutters. In the Bohra context, we do not know if that still holds true.

We know for sure that in India, in big cities like Mumbai, nearly all Bohras who still choose to get their daughters cut end up going to Bohra-run hospitals or clinics. Based on anecdotal information, we also know that Bohras in smaller towns are increasingly choosing to have it done by a local doctor. For instance, one woman from a Bohra housing colony in Jamnagar told a Sahiyo founder that khatna for girls is now performed in clinics because with the traditional untrained cutters, there had been many instances of “cases going wrong”.

This is disturbing for two reasons: One, khatna is now increasingly getting medicalised among Bohras, creating the entirely false impression that it is a medically sanctioned and beneficial practice. In truth, khatna has no proven health benefits at all. And two, we cannot help but think of the girls behind the many “cases that went wrong”. The word “case” is a medicalised euphemism for an actual girl, now probably a grown woman, who must have been cut more than intended, who might still be experiencing physical, psychological and/or sexual trauma that has probably never been addressed, because we are taught to be silent about these matters and because our country does not have adequate mental health resources to help those in need.

How many such “cases gone wrong” have we had in the Bohra community? No one knows, because for centuries, the voices of those girls and women have been silenced. Supporters of khatna often claim that only a “small number” of Bohra women have suffered negative consequences. But if just one town in Gujarat has seen “many” cases that went wrong, perhaps it is time to drop our defenses, create a positive space for all women to share their stories, and truly listen to their voices.

Why is khatna practiced anyway?  

The Population Council report also makes an interesting point about the reasons different communities give for practicing FGC. Across cultures, there are a variety of reasons given, which can be broadly classified into certain basic themes: marriageability, chastity, social status, religious identity, transitioning into womanhood, maintenance of family honour, beauty and hygiene. But unlike popular belief, the reasons given by a particular culture or community do not remain static “as with other social norms or practices, they are dynamic and subject to change and influence over time”.

This rings true for Dawoodi Bohras around the world, where the reasons given for practicing khatna can change from one family to another. Two of the most commonly cited reasons are “it is in the religion” and “it moderates sexual urges and prevents promiscuity”. “Cleanliness and hygiene” is cited far less frequently, even though it is the “official” reason as per the Bohra religious text Daim al-Islam. This is most likely because khatna is carried out secretly, Bohra religious leaders have never publicly discussed or advocated for the practice and women have typically passed down the reasons for it as an oral tradition within their families.

And some Bohras are now rationalising khatna in ways that their grandmothers probably did not – some compare it to male circumcision and claim that it prevents urinary infections and/or sexually transmitted diseases; others have started equating it with the medical procedure of clitoral unhooding and claim that the removal of the hood enhances sexual pleasure.

This just goes to show that it really doesn’t matter what religious texts like Daim al-Islam or the Sahifo may say about khatna for girls. Most community members don’t seem to even be aware of what these texts say, and they have been cutting their girls for entirely different reasons. One of my own aunts once told me that girls who are not cut will turn into prostitutes – a preposterous idea that she not only believes in, but also attributes to the Prophet! The sad truth is, her daughter was cut for this reason – to prevent her from becoming a prostitute – and not for any “official” reason. Similarly, other girls are being cut to keep them chaste, and I was cut for no reason at all, because my mother just didn’t think of questioning the practice.

Hope for the future

The Population Council report also points out that FGC often continues within a community because the individual preferences of girls or even their mothers are “often superseded by those of elder women in the family”. Among Bohras, we keep hearing from scores of women who have experienced the same dilemma: they didn’t want to have their seven-year-old daughters cut, but eventually had to cave in to pressure from their own mothers or mothers-in-law. Many Bohra women are currently facing the same problem and are unsure of what to do.

The most promising fact emerging from the report, however, is that in several FGC-practicing countries, the majority of already-circumcised women are now opposed to the practice or are unsure of whether to continue it. The graphs are similar for men in many FGC-practicing countries – the majority of these men do not support the continuation of the practice.  

And we know for sure that this is very true for the Bohras all over the world. In the past year itself, the number of Bohra women and men speaking out about khatna, and asserting that they will not cut their children, has exploded. Some have spoken out openly, but many more are reaching out to us privately, on a regular basis, to offer their support to this unprecedented movement.

Sahiyo’s online survey of Dawoodi Bohra women – which you will be hearing more about in the coming months – also revealed a positive trend in women wanting khatna to stop:

chart

So we can be sure that a generation from now, we will be a lot closer to building an FGC-free world than we were ever before!

They would call the “bhoot” if I didn’t stop screaming

(Trigger Warning: Below is the account of one woman’s experience with FGC. We thank her for being brave and sharing her story with us).

By Fatema Kabira

Age: 19

Country: India

Seven years old. I was seven years old when they forced me to have a part of my femininity cut off. I don’t remember much from my childhood. My memories are very vague. Yet, despite my poor memory, I clearly remember the day I was circumcised. That day is a vivid memory.

My grandmother and mom told me I was going for a sitabi (a celebration for women and girls). I used to love sitabis when I was a kid. So, I got really excited and eagerly awaited going to the sitabi. I even insisted to my mom that I wear my new clothes and topi. After dressing up in my favourite clothes, I left with my grandmother and mom to go to the sitabi.

We didn’t end up attending any sitabi and instead we went to a place that was unfamiliar to me. It was an old looking building. The steps were covered with dust and were broken. I was confused why we were there. We went inside somebody’s house and were greeted by a middle-aged woman whom I failed to recognize. I asked my mom what was going on, but she ignored me. The house was small with only one room, kitchen, and a storage unit attached to the ceiling. The one room was dim and gloomy and gave out an eerie feeling. The Aunty chatted with us for a while and then went inside another room to bring something back. When she came out she had a blade and 2 or 3 other items in her hands (I can’t recall what they were). She came and sat in front of me. My mind went blank. I thought, ‘Blade?’ ‘For what?’ My grandmother then asked me to remove my pants. Innocently, I told them I did not want to use their washroom. My 7 years old brain could not comprehend any other reason why my grandmother would ask me to remove my pants. And that too in front of an unknown woman since my grandmother knows how shy I was even in front of my own mother. But I obliged to my grandmother’s request. They made me lie down and held my hands firmly to the ground. Next thing I remember is the sight of the silver blade and a sharp agonizing pain in my most intimate area. I screamed in terror. What did they do? The Aunty told me to keep quite or she will call the “bhoot” (ghost) that stayed in her storage unit. I didn’t oblige to them this time. I screamed and yelled and tried to free myself. It was all in vain. They did what they wanted to do. It was all over. I cried all the way home. It hurt every time I urinated. The sight of the blood made me sick.

I was hurt and angry and confronted my mother about this. She told me she was under religious obligation and she did what thought was the right thing to do at that time. Fortunately, I didn’t face any medical repercussions due to the unhygienic and brutal way in which I was circumcised. But it has left a psychological impact on me. I feel disgusted, ashamed, and angry at what has been done to me. There is no reason that justifies this barbaric practice. There is no reason that justifies taking away women’s inherent physical rights and ability to experience pleasure. Young girls are scarred for life and this needs to be stopped.

Come See “A Pinch of Skin” – A film by Priya Goswami

In 2012, Sahiyo Cofounder, Priya Goswami released the documentary, “A Pinch of Skin”, which has become a national award-winning documentary on female genital mutilation, in India.

A Pinch Of Skin will be screening in Mumbai on 19th Feb at 7.30 PM at Liberty Cinemas. This screening is organised by Osianama (part of the Oisan’s Film Festival) and they are holding a month long screening on the theme of Womanhood.
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