India’s Thousand-Year-Old Dark Secret: Female Genital Mutilation
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India’s Thousand-Year-Old Dark Secret: Female Genital Mutilation


We know India holds many dark secrets in its dark corners. Sometimes the women, the young girls have suffered for some inhuman dark practices. One of the most perilous practices is Female Genital Mutilation. The women are suffered in the name of traditions, sexual reasons and etc and this has been practicing very secretly.

Imagine a little girl is taken to a dark room, and then some old lady with a knife forced the girl to lie down. She then took off her underwear. The knife being heated on the gas stove and she took the hot knife to slice her clitoris. And the girl was screaming in tremendous pain.

Yes, this is the exact scenario during the practice of cutting a girl’s genitalia.

More than 200 million girls in the world have already been cut and the number is increasing. This cruel practice on young girls is generally happening in Africa but it is also practiced in India. In our country, young girls aged between six and seven regularly being cut. Untrained midwives from Bohra community, a Shia sub-sect with origins linked to Africa and which is thought to number more than one million in Mumbai continue this practice.

For a long time, the Bohra community kept it a secret and this had never to be discussed until some women who were also suffered at the hands of Bohra tradition chose to talk about it and created awareness.

A Delhi-based publisher Masooma Ranalvi put her name to an online petition with 17 other women against the practice. She herself was an FGM survivor.

She told her personal story. “My mum told me come; I’ll take you out and buy you chocolates. I happily went with her. She took me to Bohri mohalla (in Mumbai), a cluster where 90% Bohras live. We went into this dark decrepit building. I remember being taken into a room. The curtains were drawn. She said lie down. Like an obedient child, I lay. My grandmother was holding my hands. An oldish woman pulled down my pants… I started crying. Grandmom said don’t worry, it will be over in a jiffy. I shrieked in pain… I experienced a sharp, shooting pain and she put some black powder there… I came home and cried and cried and cried…”

young girls

So what are the reasons for practicing FGM

The reasons fall generally into five categories

Sociological and cultural reasons: FGM is as part of a girl’s initiation into womanhood and as an intrinsic part of a community’s cultural heritage. Sometimes myths about female genitalia (e.g., that an uncut clitoris will grow to the size of a penis, or that FGM will enhance fertility or promote child survival) perpetuate the practice.

Psychosexual reasons: One of the reasons is to control women’s sexuality. Sometimes it is said to be insatiable if parts of the genitalia, especially the clitoris are not removed. It is done to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity and to increase male sexual pleasure.

Religious reasons: FGM is not endorsed by either Islam or by Christianity, supposed religious doctrine is often used to justify the practice.

Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: Some believe the external female genitalia are considered dirty and ugly and are removed apparently to promote hygiene and aesthetic appeal.

Socio-economic factors: In many communities, FGM is a condition for marriage. FGM sometimes is a prerequisite for the right to inherit. It may also be a major income source for practitioners.

FGM happens differently in different communities. Ranalvi said in India the Bohras cutting the tip of the clitoral hood. The Bohras called this process “khatna”. The community’s current religious leader Syedna Muffadal told the practice has been taking place for 1,400 years.

masooma renalvi

Generally, a Bohra girl’s own mother or grandmother takes her secretly to a place where she is physically controlled at the time the practice is performed.

In her own experience, Ranalvi said, “Not only are you not prepared, you are told a lie. You are told you’re going to get a candy or given a dream, and then this happens. It’s a double whammy.”

During her campaign “Speak Out On FGM”, she once asked a young Bohra girl about her experience on FGM. The girl’s response was appalling, “She started shivering and sweating profusely. She told me that after the incident she would always shriek at the sight of blood, and couldn’t go swimming for a long time.”

Many countries have banned FGM then why has not India! Because all the cases related to FGM take place in a single community, so the government does not recognise FGM as a larger human rights issue.

Ranalvi’s campaign was started by petitioning the Government of India with over 80,000 signatures to ban the cruel practice. It also petitioned the UN to recognise India as an FGM prevalent state.

The good news is many old survivors are coming forward. They are going to advise their daughters, daughters-in-law and sons to protest against this practice.

Like “Speak Out On FGM”, Sahiyo is another Bohra women-led organisation and their purpose is same. The groups like “Bohras For Change” and “Reformist Bohras” are bringing men to fight against it.

The UNFPA and UNICEF’s joint programme on the eradication of FGM would give the Bohra activists the global support to push the Indian government into action.

In Ranalvi’s words “Even if a law is passed, the practice is so secret it’ll go underground. We need a change in hearts, minds and understanding. We have a long battle ahead and it won’t happen easily.” “But even if one woman is stopped from getting her daughter cut, it’s a big victory for us. That will make me happy.”

Inputs from “Youth Ki Awaz”, “UNFPA”.

Suchismita Biswas
Pen is mightier than swords - these words make me passionate about writing. Except writing I love to travel , love to explore the unknown places, love photography and love listening to music. Also I am an avid reader of books. I'm a simple girl but I am what I am.

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