Announcement: A new research project on Khatna in Mumbai

by Keire Murphy and Cleo Egli

An exciting new research project is being undertaken in Mumbai and its environs this summer which hopes to bring a new perspective to the international discussion of khatna. The project, which is a cultural study on khatna, the Bohra community, and the current activist movement against the practice, is being carried out by Keire Murphy from Trinity College Dublin and Cleo Egli from University of North Carolina, who have been awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Fellowship in order to complete the project.

It will be interesting to see how an entirely external perspective engages with the Bohra culture and cultural specificities of khatna, which is so distinct from the practice portrayed in Western media. The stated goal of the project is to explore and understand not just the practice but also the culture (or cultures) of the Bohra community. The researchers hope that this will enable them to make recommendations to activists coming from outside of the community hoping to work on this issue on how to engage with this issue in a culturally sensitive and culturally specific way.

Murphy and Egli claim to have undertaken this project because of the lack of research that has been engaged in not only on the subject of khatna but also on the Bohra community itself, which they believe is an essential step to effecting lasting social and cultural change. For them, “In order to change, we must first understand”. The women want to explore the identities of the members, particularly the female members, who comprise the Dawoodi Bohra community, how the community defines itself, the tensions and divisions within the community as well as its unifying factors. They want to explore the “beauty and pride of the community in order to better understand its controversial underside.” They are particularly interested in exploring the current movement within the community, led by SAHIYO and Bohra women; how the movement is perceived by the people it is aimed at and what factors are integral for a woman deciding whether to continue the long-standing tradition or face the possible repercussions of breaking with the ancient mould; and what distinguishes a woman who simply doesn’t continue the practice from a woman who goes further and actively campaigns against it.

This project will hopefully be a significant stepping stone to bringing global humanitarian and academic attention to this issue that has often been overshadowed by African practices that, although put in the same category globally, so little resemble the experience of the Dawoodi Bohra. This project is also hoping to act as a precursor and guide for the more comprehensive studies that this issue deserves. This is an incredibly important time for the Bohra community both within India and Pakistan and abroad, with media attention being dramatically drawn to the issue by the highly publicised arrests of practitioners of khatna in the United States. The community may be facing a large amount of media attention in the coming years and it is the aim of this project to provide the members of the community with an opportunity to set the story straight from the beginning about who they are.

The study will take place in Mumbai from the June 24 to July 23, 2017, and researchers are calling for research participants, both in Mumbai on these dates, or in other parts of India from July 24 to the August 7. They also have an open call without date restrictions for participants who would like to engage in interviews over Skype. Participants can be male or female, and do not have to speak of their experience of khatna if they would prefer not to.

All Bohras are encouraged to participate, so that the research will be representative of all groups and opinions in the community. Submissions are also welcome, but interviews will be given more weight. All interested parties should contact

A part-time translator job opportunity is also available. To view job description, click here

Conversations on khatna and social norms with Mumbai community workers

On October 6, Sahiyo co-founders Insia Dariwala and Aarefa Johari were given an opportunity to introduce the topic of Female Genital Cutting to a host of grassroots social workers in Mumbai. This opportunity came through an invitation from the Justice and Peace Commission, one of many organisations run by the Catholic Church in Mumbai to work with local communities across religious lines. The Commission runs community centres across the city, but the session that Sahiyo conducted with more than 20 social workers was held at JPC’s headquarters at St. Pius College.

Most of the participants in the session were grassroots activists working in their respective communities and neighbourhoods on a range of issues, particularly women and children’s rights. The topic of FGC or khatna was new to many of them, and they were keenly interested in Sahiyo’s introduction to the issue, the explanation of the reasons cited for practicing khatna and how FGC is essentially a social norm like so many others.

Participants were then encouraged to discuss various social norms in their own cultures and how they could possibly be combatted. This was an enthusiastic and very involved audience, and the topic of social norms led to very lively discussions. Predictably, the women grew more lively while talking about menstrual taboos and one woman shared a heartening story of how her young daughter changed the norm in their home by refusing to follow her grandmother’s menstrual restrictions.

Most of the participants were women, but the few men in the audience spoke of the pressures to be ‘masculine’ as a social norm. One of the activists talked about how she makes both boys and girls at her NGO do household chores, even though the boys are not expected to do the sweeping or cleaning at in their own homes.

After the talk, several participants expressed an interest in discussing FGC with their own Bohra friends. We sincerely thank the Justice and Peace Commission for giving us this opportunity.