(On 6 February 2019, The Quint published a statement by WeSpeakOut – an organisation led by survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – on why there needs to be an end to confusion over FGM terms. Following this, the Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom (DBWRF) reached out with a counter-statement that The Quint also published. Their statements can be read in this article. Now, Masooma Ranalvi, founder of WeSpeakOut, responds with her opinion piece below.)
The DBWRF is trying to make an imagined distinction between the harmful practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) vis a vis what it calls the ‘harmless’ practice of Khafz. I say imagined because FGM/Khafz both involve the cutting of the genitals of a girl child.
There are testimonies of scores of women who have described in detail the pain, trauma and psychosexual impact Khafz has had on their bodies and minds. In constantly repeating, ad nauseam, that Khafz is harmless, we are committing the sin of turning our backs on the women in our community who have suffered, and questioning their credibility.
Yes, the Dawoodi Bohra women are undoubtedly educated, but it is some of these very educated women who are today unquestioningly following the lead of a religious leader who categorically defends khafz for all young girls while ignoring the pleas of those who have suffered.
For So Many, Khafz is a ‘Bad Memory’
We are hearing from many women, some of whom wish to remain anonymous because of fear of social boycott (and this shunning does happen within the small close knit business-based community), who tell us that they no longer agree with khafz, and are quietly retiring the practice in their own families while publicly stating that their girls have been cut.
These women tell us that khafz is a bad memory, has had a negative impact on their sense of sexuality, and feels archaic and wrong – which is why they will not risk this potential for harm on their daughters.
Even if khafz is the "mildest form" of FGM, it involves cutting a child's clitoral hood for no medical reason. The clitoral hood is a very thin membrane and doctors have stated that it is very likely that both traditional cutters and medical doctors will do damage to the clitoris even if a cut to the clitoris was not intended. The clitoral hood has a function – it is not extraneous skin – so what is the purpose of removing it?
What psychological function does it serve to put 7-year-old year girls through this frightening ritual? Why are they told to never speak of it again? What does it teach them about their bodies and specifically, their genitals and sexuality? It teaches them that they don’t have any control over them.
Let us also remember that any change and social reform always stems and starts with a few. It is their efforts and zealous work to do the right thing that creates more awareness amongst people – and it is always a few who question the status quo and have the courage to stand up against oppressive patriarchal practices. And, yes, it is true that our voices are being drowned out by many in the community who are backed by money and political clout.
How many women have to have suffered for it to matter?
What is the True Purpose of Khafz?
In the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (who is a respondent to the PIL filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India) in categorical terms, records that there is no prevalence of FGM in India today nor any studies on the same. The reference is to the NCRB ( National Crime Records Bureau) records.
Nowhere in Indian Law is FGM specifically defined and enumerated as a crime, thus, how would it be regarded as a crime and how will the NCRB have any records of it as such?
For there to be any data on FGM, the government must carry out studies to determine national estimates. This is exactly one of the main demands of the WeSpeakOut campaign and we have petitioned the Government to do this – but so far, studies have not been authorised.
FGM is not the same as Male Circumcision. There is no mention of FGM in the Quran. FGM is not practised uniformly in the Muslim world. Only some communities in some countries do so. In India, out of the 180 million Muslims, only the 1 million-strong Bohra community and a small sect in Kerala practise it that we currently know of. In fact, historians have found that FGM predates Islam and Christianity and was part of feudal Arab tribes. It is clearly a hangover from a feudal history wherein women’s sexual desires and sexuality were believed to be so powerful that they had to be controlled.
If women are independent, educated and no longer considered the property of men, then what is the true purpose of khafz?
It's time for women to have control over their own bodies, once and for all.
(Masooma Ranalvi is Convenor, Speak Out On FGM. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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