CHENNAI: "My clitoris was completely scrapped out, yes completely! It hasn't grown back. It was done by two popular and experienced midwives in our clan. I was circumcised when I was in my second grade," recalls Fathima* (21), a resident of Chennai's suburbs." My cousin was recently circumcised by the same ladies," she added.
According to UNFPA and UNICEF, about 20 crore girls and women alive today have undergone the horrors of circumcision - suffering for years with recurrent pain during menstruation, no sexual pleasure in marriage, psychological damage, infertility and running an increased risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
In India, the practice is said to be rampant among the Bohra Muslim community. They believe that for a woman to be eligible for marriage it is essential for her to undergo circumcision as this maintains her chastity.
In Chennai, the practice is prevalent among the Bohra community in the northern parts (Vada Chennai). Due to the secretive nature of the ritual and the community's minority status in the city, the issue is often hushed up.
But the truth remains that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not just limited to the continent of Africa. The New Indian Express spoke to some of the women in the Bohra community in the city, discovering that many of them may have undergone circumcision at the hands of women with little medical training.
"I was holding my mother's hand stiffly. Mama knocked the door and an aunty in a rida (traditional Dawoodi Bohra attire worn by women) opened the door and welcomed us with a warm smile. She took me to the room and asked me to lie down. She lifted my skirt and spread my legs. Minutes later, I found few drops of blood oozing out of my genital. I didn't know what actually happened but all I thought was I got my periods."
"She took me to the washroom and cleaned the stains. Initially, I had a bit of irritation and eventually I was back to normal. My mother told it was normal and nothing to worry about. Only last year I got to know that it was circumcision," said Bhanu*, 21, a resident of Parrys, Chennai.
In May 2017, a petition against FGM was filed by Sunita Tiwari, a lawyer who practices in Delhi High Court. She quoted the WHO classification that termed FGM a gross violation of human rights of girls and women. The petition demands a ban on the practice based on the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 2012. The practice also contravenes fundamental rights, Tiwari says.
The Government of India is firm in its denial that such a practice exists. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is categorical."Female genital mutilation... are not practiced in India," it stresses. It even told the Supreme Court that "At present, there is no official data or study which supports the existence of FGM in India."
Traditionalists explain that 'Khatna' is different from FGM as it is done by experienced midwives and doesn't cause any harm. Doctors, experts and activists have rubbished this argument. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies 'Khatna' as type-1 FGM as there is partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.
According to Dr Shalini N, a Chennai-based psychiatrist, "it is shocking to know that this practice exits in Chennai and no one has raised the issue." Her book 'Konjam Darwin Konjam Dawkins', all set to be released soon, has a chapter that focuses on FGM.
"The practice causes genital infection, infertility and painful menstruation. In the worst case scenario, the woman cannot enjoy sexual pleasure. The conservatives in the garb of religion have oppressed women by stating comparisons with male circumcision," Shalini adds.
Societal judgments and conditioning might have stopped women from crying out till now, but Shalini's words underscores the urgent need for action.
*Names have been changed