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.

 

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Work of the devil?

By: Koen Van den Brande
Age: 56

Country: India

I rarely speak of the devil.

In Germany they have a saying:

Du sollst den Teufel nicht an die Wand mahlen
Literally this translates to ‘Don’t paint a picture of the devil on the wall’.

Loosely translated it means that you should not invite evil by talking about it.

But maybe there are times we have a duty to alert others to the devil’s work.

What I mean by that is not that anyone in particular is a devil but rather that maybe at times the devil has a hand in misleading people.

My efforts to get to the bottom of the origins of the practice of ‘khatna’ – what the rest of the world calls ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM) – in the Suleimani community, recently led me to the inevitable conclusion that the devil has had a hand in twisting the words of the Prophet PBUH, to mean the opposite of what He was saying.

My attention was drawn to some research carried out by learned members of the Muslim community. Let me present the facts to you so that you may come to your own conclusion.

Early on in my own research I came across a Hadith – a reported saying of the Prophet – which was being quoted as evidence of tacit approval of this ancient practice, which predated Islam and may have been initiated in the distant past to subdue the sexual urges of female slaves.

My discussions with members of the Suleimani community had made it clear that the Daim-ul-Islam is the rulebook to which many show an unquestioning allegiance.

Of course such blind faith can have dire consequences. The Daim-ul-Islam does indeed refer to the Hadith in question. Following is an extract from a paper published on www.alislam.org, with the title ‘Female circumcision and its standing in Islamic law’.

Al Islam quote

But it turns out this is not the full Hadith.

In full, the Hadith seems to leave little doubt as to where the Prophet stood on this matter. The authors of the report quote from Al-Kafi, a respected Shiite book of traditions.

Koen article quote

Was the Prophet endorsing, encouraging or even mandating that women should be cut?

Or was he signaling his disapproval and in the face of a long-established tradition, trying to limit the harm done to women? Given what he says, is it correct to claim, as some do, that he should have forbidden it, if he really felt it was wrong?  

I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusion.

For me these words of Mohammed, now in full view, are consistent with other issues where he championed the rights of women in the face of a culture which at that time saw no reason to do so.

Who decided to shorten the hadith and to what end? And at which point did a woman who ‘used to circumcise women slaves’ become a woman who ‘used to circumcise girls’? There is a substantive difference is there not?

Just as with the modern day suggestion that Mohammed condoned wife-beating, when in fact he counseled restraint and suggested several alternative ways of resolving marital disputes or the insistence by some on the validity of ‘triple talaq’ divorce, where in fact careful mediation over a period of time is prescribed, one can only conclude that the devil himself has repeatedly sought to undermine the Prophet’s cause as champion of the rights of women!

Today we call this ‘fake news’ and we are learning day by day, how it is used to mislead those who believe without questioning.  

Witness how the young parents of our community are systematically fed disinformation, building on that same principle of blind faith. But blind faith in whom?

I quote from the website www.islamqa.com.

Koen article quote2

Search for the term ‘khatna’ and the following question is addressed, among others:

Koen article quote3

This is how the scene is set:

Koen article quote4

I wonder what a properly qualified medical practitioner would make of some of the advice given.

Koen article quote5

Need I say more ?

How do we tackle such blatant attempts at misleading parents of young girls?

Surely the best strategy must be to focus on facts and truth. So I am attempting to find a consensus across the Suleimani community around the following statement.

“I as a member of the Suleimani Jamaat, in the interest of young parents and their girls, want to reflect what I believe to be the truth about the practice of khatna. 

Fact is …

  1. It is a tradition which predates Islam 
  2. It is not mentioned in the Quran at all 
  3. It is not practiced by all muslims 
  4. It has been declared a crime in several Muslim majority countries 
  5. It is considered a health hazard by the World Health Organization
  6. It is considered a crime against a child by the United Nations

Truth is, in my humble opinion, that the Prophet Mohammed PBUH frowned upon this practice and sought to prevent harm from being done to women.

I believe that these facts should be endorsed by our leadership and communicated to all of the Jamaat ‘s young parents. 

The Daim-ul-islam states that ‘khatna’ is not obligatory and that it should not be performed before a girl is 7-years-old. 

I believe that it would be in line with this rule to recommend to parents that any decision to proceed with this practice should be postponed until the age of consent. 

And in line with the Prophet’s guidance, at a time when it was a more common practice, I believe that when and if it is performed, it must be done symbolically only and cause no harm.”

I hope you can join the effort by endorsing this statement.

And if you cannot, I invite you to propose an alternative.

At least let’s start by banning the use of http://www.isllamqa.com

Let us work together to undo the work of the devil.  

 

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!

 

Why men too must speak out against Khatna

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 a research on the individual experience of Khatna and its effects. Read her other articles in this series – Khatna Research in Mumbai.

Khatna, by virtue of being related to female anatomy, is often categorized as a women’s issue. However, one must also remember that it is a practice performed on uninformed and unconsenting children. We must move beyond defining it as a child or a woman being violated and look at it as a human being who is being wronged, and therefore the most comprehensive way to describe it would be a human rights violation.

Despite it being a human rights issue, it appears as if not many people are willing to speak up against it, even though all people, especially men, need to do so. Within the structure of the Indian patriarchy, men enjoy power not only by virtue of their gender but also by their sheer number in our country. Therefore men can use their position of power to effectively tilt the weights in favor of women who are speaking against Khatna.

Although, ideally we expect all men to support us in the endeavour to end Khatna,  we should also attempt to understand their hesitancy. Within the Indian patriarchal family structure, the woman is seen as the mistress of the house, in charge of children, while men are seen as masters for all things outside the domain of the house. Therefore any attempt by men to venture into the discussion concerning women’s bodies is seen as ill-mannered and a gross violation of clearly demarcated gender roles.

During my research, I met a father who became aware of Khatna and its consequences because he had daughters and therefore vehemently opposed it. He narrated the daily struggle of convincing his own mother against this practice. However, like many other men before and many after him, he was unsuccessful in dissuading the women in his family from continuing it on his daughter. He was blindsided by his mother and given the blanket argument that she knows better for a woman by virtue of herself being a woman.  

Yet research has shown that with increasing education on khatna, more men are willing to campaign against it. Still, the onus of initiating a conversation on khatna among others lies with the women. Communication between men and women, especially husband and wife, is crucial for the discontinuation of Khatna. A woman I interviewed who had undergone Khatna took this initiative and began a conversation with her husband, which gave her immense strength and helped her protect their daughter from falling into the clutches of tradition. Research too corroborates the same: if more men are are part of the decision making process, the less the likelihood that Khatna would be performed on the girl.

The research linked above shows that men who wish to speak up are held back by their limited knowledge on the effects of Khatna.They are unaware of what is removed and what are its ramifications. The primary reason for this ignorance is the lack of conversations about women and their health among family members. This hesitancy to talk about women in front of men comes from the idea that women are equivalent to the family’s honour, therefore talking about aspects of their sexuality may be seen as a violation, thereby a disgrace to the family’s honour.  However, we must move beyond the archaic concept and understand that creating awareness about the ill effects that Khatna has on a woman’s body in no way defiles a family’s honour. After all, what honour can reside in pain?

Conversations about Khatna must begin, questions must be asked and collaborative measures between men women must be taken to put an end to this practice. There are several ways to oppose this practice. You may choose to speak out or you may to choose to silently protest;  however, if active measures are not taken to resist it, then there is passive consent for the continuation of khatna, and we must understand that every time such consent is given, it means another child is being harmed. Therefore, let us come together for the children and do whatever we can, wherever we can.

To participate in Priya’s research, contact her on priya.tiss.2018@gmail.com

 

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.)

‘Call it by the Name’: A researcher’s dilemma on the FGM-FGC terminology debate

by Debangana Chatterjee

Two years back when I ventured into trying to understand a culturally specific embodied practice pertaining to procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia ‘for non-medical reasons’ as a researcher, the biggest challenge for me was to ‘call it by the name’.

Disagreements regarding the usage of the term ‘mutilation’ in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), bearing a negative connotation, have surged. International organisations and agencies commonly term it FGM. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) justifies usage of the term on the basis of its previous reference in 1997 and 2008 by the interagency statements. WHO also acknowledges ‘the importance of using non-judgemental terminology with practising communities’ and some of United Nations agencies prefer adding the word ‘cutting’. Ultimately, both terms underline the violation of women and girls’ rights.

‘Mutilation’ refers to impairing a vital body part by cutting it off with an explicit intent to harm. In this context, a few other terms used to connote FGM require closer attention. Female circumcision and excision are often used identically with FGM, although these do not fully carry the information regarding the practice. Out of the four types of procedures entailing FGM as specified by WHO, female circumcision appears akin to type I and even occasionally type II FGM and appears not as physically severe as the Type III category. Yet, existing research suggests that treating female circumcision as replacements for FGM fails to take the practice into account in its entirety. Using ‘female genital surgeries’ is contested as well, as it appears to validate medicalisation of FGM or in other words implies that FGM is a medical surgery like other standard surgeries.

The term FGM received significant prominence in the 1990s. Fran Hosken coined the term in 1993 to draw international attention to the ill-effects associated with the practice as well as to distinguish it from the widely prevailing male circumcision practices. For Ellen Gruenbaum the term ‘…implies intentional harm and is tantamount to an accusation of evil intent’ and thus, entails greater chances of hurting sentiments. There are scholars like Stanlie M. James and Claire C. Robertson who prefer Female Genital Cutting (FGC) instead of FGM. They consider ‘circumcision’ insufficient as it makes a ‘false analogy’ to male circumcision. At the same time, they disagree with the term FGM as it subsumes that all types of the procedure are an act of ‘mutilation’. Anika Rahman and Nahid Toubia also choose the understanding of FGC and circumcision as to not force women to dwell on their body as mutilated. These scholars understand the sense of trauma that ‘mutilation’ might connote for some women.

In fact, the constant reference of FGM in the existing international human rights (IHR) discourse mostly remains unaware of other forms of bodily mutilation of women. ‘Mutilation’, in this sense, can mean both bodily modifications attempted through cosmetic surgeries and public sexual violence which remains under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states concerned. Needless to say, mutilation of raped bodies is one of the most common occurrences of sexual violence. When FGM as a cultural practice is emphasised over other forms of ‘mutilation’, it indicates the cultural biases of IHR discourse. It is not to dilute the abhorrence that this practice deserves, but to show how little a space it leaves for consciousness building and community learning. For both the activists and researchers alike, extreme caution is required  to not alienate people and to sustain the dialogic engagement with them.

Also, with ‘mutilation’, a popular imagery of infibulation (narrowing of the vaginal orifice)  is attached. It comes more with its representation in popular culture as is the case with the film Desert Flower. Notwithstanding the reality of the incidence shown in the movie, in most of the cases, the type I and II procedures are conducted instead of type III (infibulation). Clubbing all the procedures under the single rubric either exaggerates type I and II FGM or dilutes the gravity of Type III and some forms of Type IV (Type IV includes miscellaneous procedures like piercing, pricking, incising or stretching of the clitoris, burning or scraping of vaginal tissues. Whereas some of the type IV procedures are of greater concern, others may not necessarily appear as severe).

In the light of these debates over terminologies, how does a researcher resolve her dilemma?

My study aims to locate the practices of FGM/C exclusive to the Bohra Muslim community in India in the frame of international politics. Especially keeping in mind my position as a scholar who is outside the purview of the culture, I stand on the edge of being either called a cultural relativist/apologist (a person who believes that people’s cultural traditions can only be judged by the standards of their own culture and thus, cultural practices are to be judged relative to the understanding of its practitioners) or prejudiced against cultural particularities. My study aims to juxtapose international discourses surrounding the practice vis-a-vis its occurrences in India. Hence, while writing my thesis, I shall be using FGM interchangeably with FGM/C to reflect the larger WHO definition and its usage in the international circle. As no term seems perfect in defining the practice, academically FGM/C looks commonly acceptable reflecting the international outlook towards it. Needless to say, the term FGM/C also has received substantial backlash from the communities and Bohras are no exception to it. An objective and unbiased study of the practice seeks the right approach more than an elusive perfection in terminology. Thus, during my interactions with members of the community, while analysing the local Indian discourse, khatna as a term will be given preference respecting the cultural uniqueness that the term bears.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore about Debangana

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.

Asking more questions is the key to change, and to ending Female Genital Cutting

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 a research on the individual experience of Khatna and its effects. Read her other articles in this series – Khatna Research in Mumbai

Flexibility is a key characteristic of successful research, and it is an extremely essential component of the questions on which the research is based. Although I believe that having an exhaustive list of questions pre-prepared is essential to keep one on track, however as one reads and interacts with others, newer lines of enquiry are generated. It is crucial that all lines of enquiry be amalgamated to allow for a wholesome insight into one individual’s experience.  

Currently my interactions with women allowed me to see connections in their narratives. Accompanied by the literature I read, I found similarities as well as differences in the narratives of women across the world. Researchers have found that Female Genital Cutting (Khatna) leads to urinary problems, menstrual problems, problems in sexual functioning and difficulties during childbirth; some have even found that the psychological distress of the trauma often leads to depression and anxiety among women. A common pattern I found among studies was that all mental distress experienced by women was studied as a didactic relationship, ie, the women in relation to another individual. For example, sexual difficulties leading to marital distress among husband and wife.

However it was intriguing that in my interactions with women I found that Khatna has a great impact on the women’s relationship with themselves. For example, a participant reported that she dealt with self-esteem issues because she felt out of place while growing up, as she did not have the same sexual impulses towards boys as her other friends, the lack of which she attributed to Khatna. My area of interest was always the psycho-social effect of Khatna. However, now I am more curious than ever to explore how Khatna impacts both women’s social relationships as well as their relationship with themselves.

Little research has been done to explore how an individual’s worldview (ie, understanding of the world and how it functions) shifts after their discovery and understanding of Khatna. My curiosity in this area was ignited when one woman reported that following her discovery of Khatna, she was extremely angry with her family and although she has now made peace with her family, her trust in them and her faith in people’s ability to make good decisions has been shattered. I am now fascinated to interview more women and see how their worldview might have shifted after their discovery of Khatna.

Furthermore, research in attitude formation shows that negative experiences with one aspect of a larger domain leads to a negative attitude towards all aspects of the domain. If the same was extended to the practice of Khatna rooted in religious obligation, it would be interesting to explore how attitudes towards Khatna and religion are interlinked.

With each conversation, the questions in my mind multiply and it is often followed by a sense of hesitation of being overambitious. However, I do not let the hesitation pull me back, and the credit for that goes to one research participant who told me that if someone before us had asked these questions, then we wouldn’t have to be here today, and unless we ask these questions, nothing will change and we will still be here five years down the line.

I have made a decision to change, have you?

To participate in Priya’s research, contact her on priya.tiss.2018@gmail.com

Sahiyo and Khatna survivors get attacked online through ‘organized trolling’

In the recent years Sahiyo has come across many dissenting views while engaging with followers on the internet on the topic of ending Female Genital Cutting. The dissenting views have come in the form of tweets, comments, emails, people personally dissuading us from our work, and more. And every time someone has tried to tell us that Female Genital Cutting is beneficial for the woman, we have tried to present a reasoned argument against it.

It is our mission to create a counter-narrative on Female Genital Cutting in the communities practicing it, through dialogue and education.

That said, we recently observed a phenomenon of ‘organized trolling’, a spate of attacks online. A few days ago, Sahiyo’s Facebook page was attacked with negative reviews from different people. It happened in a quick span of a few minutes and oddly enough every review had almost the same things to say.

The trolls gave Sahiyo one-star ratings and called us a ‘sham organization’. In some reviews, co-founders were named individually and discredited for bringing shame to the community. Furthermore, these reviews stated that Sahiyo co-founders are creating a fake narrative against Female Genital Cutting prevalent in the community for their personal gains. This kind of behaviour qualifies as online harassment, because it is an intentional attempt to attack and discredit a group and its individual members in manner that is not civil.

In 2015, Sahiyo conducted an anonymous survey with 385 respondents out of which 81% people responded that they didn’t want the practice to continue. Since its inception, the number of people supporting Sahiyo’s mission has increased manifold, as men and women from the community have come out against the practice.

Yet there is a significant number of people who fear openly coming out with their views against the practice. Online harassment through organised trolling is one among the many reason why people fear voicing their opinions publicly.

Through Sahiyo, we want to create a safe space where opinions on the practice could be heard and tolerated, not trolled and shunned. By attacking online and publicly shaming, the pro-khatna supporters have displayed their intolerance against any view that counters or challenges the practice.

FGC is illegal in many parts of the world including United States and Australia, where people from the Bohra community have faced legal action for practising Female Genital Cutting. Furthermore, the jamaats (congregations) in US, UK and Australia came up with notices asking members not to practice FGC because it is against the law of land.

Yet pro-khatna supporters continue to defend the practice, and in doing so, some of them resort to  trolling or online harassment through foul language and personal attacks of those why they disagree with. While claiming that they have personally not had negative experiences with FGC, they attack, discredit and dismiss the personal experiences of others who have had negative experiences with FGC and have taken the courage to share their stories.

While we disagree with pro-khatna rhetoric which has been passed down since generations within the community, we — and the FGC survivors who share their stories with us — want to create room to have a dialogue and debate around it without being personally attacked.

Many women who have undergone FGC already have a challenging time talking about their experience openly. There is a fear and shame associated with sharing their stories — shame that it happened to them and perhaps feelings of not wanting to be viewed as victims. There is also a very real fear of backlash and of not being believed, and online trolling validates these fears. Trolling makes it more difficult and dangerous for people to come forward, and for community members to feel supported because of something they feel.

Furthermore, it is only a clear exhibition of intolerance prevalent in the community, which quells voices of the people who don’t agree with their mandate.

Sahiyo strongly condemns online trolling of those who have voiced their views against the practice. Online harassment or trolling leaves no room for debate or dialogue.

 

A conversation with change makers: women who chose to speak up about Khatna

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 a research on the individual experience of Khatna and its effects. To read Priya’s first blog in this series, visit ‘How I found out Khatna exists and why I choose to speak out’.

The first time I heard the statement,“Well it could have been you! It could have been anyone! But it happened to me,” by a woman who had gone through khatna, I felt its weight immensely on me.

I do not yet have the answers for why this statement affected me so intensely, but it has strengthened my resolve to understand and generate more awareness about Khatna, because it has affected women for so long and has the capacity to affect many more.

The first step in my research journey is to talk to women who have been directly affected by Khatna. While deciding upon the questions to ask my participants, my number one concern was to not sound insensitive or biased when asking them about Khatna. More importantly, I wondered how to ask questions about something this personal without sounding intrusive. The sensitivity of the questions depends on the context in which you ask the question rather than how you frame it, whereas the intrusiveness of it depends on the reactions from the women.

It was interesting for me to observe that none of the women found the questions to be intrusive or uncomfortable, rather there was a normalized, patterned response given from them, as if these were routine questions. My early hypothesis was that women would feel overwhelmed while responding to these questions, but that is not what I found. There are two possible reasons for this: one, they have been asked these questions before and thus have already reflected on the questions and know the answers for themselves; two, by choosing to speak about Khatna, they have already begun their healing process and by normalizing speaking about the incident they perhaps have taken back a sense of control that they had lost when they underwent it. Future interactions with more women will allow me to formulate a definite conclusion.

It was fascinating to observe that although each woman had an individual experience of Khatna, their stories were eerily similar and the trajectory of growing up and figuring out the significance of it was uncannily alike. A lot of the women I interviewed had repressed their memory of the day of their Khatna, and they grew up without any conscious knowledge of what had happened or what it meant, only to discover its significance much later in life. However, perhaps their discovery of Khatna later in life comes due to the ripple effect created by one woman speaking out. The women I have spoken with have talked about how hearing how other women were speaking about their experiences helped them to remember their own experience of Khatna.  

While interviewing women, some common traits I found among the respondents were curiosity, a fierce need for answers and an extraordinary amount of courage. All the women I interviewed had an aura of strength around them which was empowering. It crushed the fear and hesitancy I had in asking the questions, and it empowered me to not only raise more questions about Khatna. Through reflection, I found that change happens through empowering conversations.

While doing this research, always at the back of my mind, has been the questions of “Who are the changemakers?”  

I recognized that change-makers are those who have the courage to question the law of the land, who show resilience in the face of daunting challenges and who empower others to fuel the fire of change.

These women have empowered me to continue the change, and I request you to join me in further promoting this change. If we do not speak out, then who will?  

To participate in Priya’s research, contact her on priya.tiss.2018@gmail.com

Why the new survey on Khafz (Female Genital Cutting) among Bohras is biased and unscientific

By Mariya Taher, MSW, MFA

Last week, many Dawoodi Bohras around the world received the link to an online “research” survey with questions about Khatna/Khafz practiced in the community. Khafz refers to cutting a portion of a girl’s clitoral hood – a type of Female Genital Cutting – and this new online survey by Dr. Tasneem Saify, Dr. Munira Radhanpurwala T and Dr. Rakhee K claims that it aims to get feedback from Dawoodi Bohra women and men about the practice. (Link to survey is here).

As someone who has gone through the process of designing multiple research studies, I can confidently say that this latest survey on Khatna/Khafz in the Bohra community is neither a safe nor an unbiased tool for conducting proper research on female genital cutting. Other academic researchers who reviewed the Khafz survey have also pointed this out. For example, Usha Tummala-Narra, Ph.D., an associate Professor in the Department of Counseling, Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College, states:

The questions are strangely worded, and implicitly and explicitly suggest that the practice is not mutilation or traumatic. There are also no questions related to girls’ or women’s experiences of the practice. We can’t really know much about the definition of khatna/khafz without asking about the experience and its effects over time.”

While Karen A. McDonnell, an Associate Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Prevention and Community Health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, states:

“Overall this survey presents itself as a feedback mechanism from Dawoodi Bohras about female circumcision. Taking the perspective of someone trained in objective survey development in psychology and public health, the survey actually reads in its entirety, not as a feedback, but rather as a tool for marketing a perspective. As the survey proceeds, the tenor of the questions increase in a lack of objectivity and a central cause/message is quite clear and the respondent is made to feel manipulated.” 

While all research has its limitations, the design of this questionnaire suggests that it clearly was NOT created and sent out into the world to collect empirical unbiased research on the practice FGC/Khatna/Khafz. Instead, the bias and manner of wording of this survey tool express that the authors (Dr. Tasneem Saify, Dr. Munira Radhanpurwala T & Dr. Rakhee K) are seeking responses that will justify their motives to prove that Female Genital Cutting (FGC) does not harm girls.

Which makes me wonder, was this research tool (the survey) even vetted before the study’s implementation?

In 2008, because of my increasing passion to end violence against women, I choose to craft and carry out research for my Master of Social Work thesis on “Understanding the Continuation of Female Genital Cutting Amongst the Dawoodi Bohras in the United States.” The issue had been in the recesses of my mind for years and I wanted to learn how a practice that involves cutting the sexual organs of a young girl could ever have been deemed a religious or cultural practice. I wanted to understand how the issue of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) could continue generation after generation without question, because if I could understand this reasoning, then I could better understand why FGC had been done to me at the age of seven.

As a graduate student, my thesis advisors walked me through every step of the research process, from consulting references and existing studies, to contacting other academics and experts who had studied FGC. In the end, I carried out an exploratory study and crafted questions that could be used to conduct ethnographic interviews. Ethnographic interviewing is a type of qualitative research that combines immersive observation and directed one-on-one interviews. In order to draft the questions, I consulted questions used in previous studies by other researchers. My thesis advisors reviewed the questions, and the San Francisco State University’s Institutional Review Board examined my question to ensure there was no hidden bias in the wording of my questions that could lead participants to answer one way or the other.

Having been through the process once, and understanding the importance of having multiple individuals review your questions for hidden biases, years later, I went through a similar process when Sahiyo designed its study on Khatna among Dawoodi Bohra women. Prior to engaging Bohra women for the study, our research tool (the survey) was vetted by many NGOs and expert researchers.  

If this newest Khafz questionnaire by Dr. Tasneem Saify, Dr. Munira Radhanpurwala T & Dr. Rakhee K had been vetted by other individuals and institutions, it would have recognized the following problems well before releasing the study to the public.

intro.JPG1) Participant consent

Prior to filling out a study, it is important that participants are informed of the study’s intention and are able to sign a consent form acknowledging that they understand the study’s purpose and are giving their permission for the findings to be used in a study’s report. The new Khafz -survey does not have a consent form that does such. [See Screenshot to the left]. In fact, the purpose of this survey is misleading to the reader. There is no mention of how the respondents are being recruited and if their responses will be anonymous or even held in confidence and in essence violates a respondents rights as a participant.

2) Confidentiality

The new Khafz survey form requires participants to provide information that will NOT allow their information to remain private. The study requires that participants add their Community ID (ITS52/Ejamaat) Number. As reported in Mumbai Mirror, the ITS number keeps track of a Dawoodi Bohra’s personal details, including the number of times a person visits the mosque. By requiring an individual to enter this information, already the researchers have directly violated a person’s right to privacy. The question also limits respondents to only those who have signed up for such an ITS number. This, therefore, rules out the participation of many individuals born into the Bohra community or to a Bohra parent who may not have signed up for the ITS card for a variety of reasons, but who have had to undergo FGC as children because of a decision made by a family member or community member.

The mandatory requirement of disclosing one’s ITS number can also discourage an individual from filling out the survey for fear of backlash from the religious community for disagreeing with the practice of Khafz Such backlash occurs on a regular basis against advocates speaking against FGC as can be viewed on Sahiyo’s social media accounts. (See Sahiyo Activist Needs Assessment to learn more about the challenges individuals face when they speak in opposition to FGC).

3) Biased questions Khafz survey Q2

Besides the problematic ITS number, the wording of subsequent questions on the new Khafz survey is biased and considered to be leading questions that prompt survey respondents to answer in a specific manner.  Khafz survey Q5

For instance, Questions 2, 5, 9, and 10 make assumptions about religious freedom, media, and activists, rather than posing the questions and response choices in a more neutral, open-ended form.

Khafz survey Q9n10

Questions 12 and 13 are perfect examples of problematic, leading questions: Question 12 Khafz survey Q1213offers a definition of the word “mutilation” without any context to why the word is being asked. Question #13 then frames the question in a manner that can minimize or under report a participant’s level of distress associated with khatna/khafz, and also automatically suggests to the participant that the practice is not mutilation. 

Question 14 is confusing for another reason. The introductory paragraph by the researchers suggests that male participants can take part in the study, however, Question 14 is written and geared towards female participants who undergo Khatna/khafz. Khafz survey Q14Yet, because of the asterisk (*), the question is mandatory for all respondents, meaning men would have to submit a response to Question #14. This inclusion of information would automatically invalidate the data collected as men have NOT gone through khafz. The wording of the question also infers that all Dawoodi Bohra women have undergone khatna/khafz, which, from anecdotal reports and previous research on FGC in the Bohra community, we recognize is not the case. In fact, we do see a trend in the Bohra community of people wanting to give up the practice on future generations of girls. Yet, the survey makes no mention of this trend or suggests that it is even an option amongst survey respondents.

Overall, the Khafz/Khatna study is problematic for an entire milieu of reasons, not only the ones I have listed here. However, as a researcher, a social worker, and a woman who has undergone FGC because I was born into the Bohra community, what saddens me the most about this survey is that it is yet another attempt to discredit and disbelieve the numerous women and girls who have spoken up and stated that FGC was harmful to them. These women have spoken up for no other reason than to be believed, and instead of comforting them, the researchers of this new Khfaz/Khatna questionnaire are trying to silence them.