Female Genital Mutilation: A community’s and Chennai's dark, disturbing secret

The New Indian Express spoke to some of the women in the Bohra community in Chennai, discovering that many of them may have undergone circumcision at the hands of women with little medical training.

Published: 09th November 2018 02:51 PM  |   Last Updated: 13th November 2018 07:39 PM   |  A+A-

The practise is prevalent in Bohra Muslim community which believes that for a woman to be eligible for marriage it is essential for her to undergo circumcision in order to maintain her chastity. (File photo | EPS)

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

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  • Deepu Joy

    Well researched article which brings to light a dark inhumane practice. Congrats to the courageous young journalist!
    1 day ago reply
  • Kyle

    Almost all female genital cutting happens in Third World countries and it is illegal in most developed countries. Nearly all male circumcisions happen in Third World countries, too, and all developed countries are also turning against it. Some are trying to ban it. The world is moving against all genital cutting of children because they know it's wrong.
    2 months ago reply
  • Fatema

    My dear let me clear some facts. 1. Bohras practise just a nick on d prepuce and dont touch d clitoris at all. THERE IS NO LOSS OF SEXUAL PLEASURES. 2. The women are ensured equal or rather enjoy even more rights then men. 3. 100% literacy in Bohras speaks of the progressive nature. 4. FC is an equivalent of MC, a religious tenet. 5. No 1 ever certifies or asks. Its not at all mandatory to sit in thal, attend masjid, or marriage. I have not come across a single instance. 6. The rumours spread by anti lobbyists are stray instances of their parents inability to explain. They are affected by may b d words used not the procedure per say in itself. 7. As an educated bohra I and d majority refuse to succumb to Western influences and ever changing ideas that change even more quickly than the tides. WHO was known to oppose MC male circumcision as well. Why are Bohras made soft targets for FC. Any sane person on earth can understand that if MC is beneficial then FC surely would be as they are analogous. Let time proove it. Why shd we give up on something that the world may follow later? Why should we pay d costs of ban for others ignorance of truth. Untill now nothing in our Shariat as preached by Prophet Mohammed has been harmful. In fact while d world is still backward to pass on their heir from father to son Mohammed SAW has passed it to his Daughter Fatema and we are proud to be known as Fatemid Dawat. I urge all not to jump on d bandwagons of passing opinions, commenting or being judgemental about FC until u have a PHd in Medical Science and Bohra Religion indepths. We BOHRA WOMEN are EMPOWERED to make decisions..please do not DISEMPOWER OUR CHOICES TO FOLLOW OUR RELIGIOUS RIGHTS UNHINDERED. THOSE WHO DO NOT WISH TO FOLLOW HAVE A CHOICE TO LEAVE IT. By d way even to drive or walk on d roads people follow traffic rules just as they do follow in all religions as well. So why do u target the BOHRAS? Because they are a peaceloving clan?
    2 months ago reply
    • mani

      why dont you give scientific explanation for FC.. THAN THE SAME RHETORIC of anti-west ? why are people banning it if it is scientifically proven to be non-harmfull ? & dear.. you say that it's safe... but it is not practiced by a certified practitioner... ut is not regulated also ?? the procedure the use of tools ... the care treatment post the FC what about that ?? you argue it's safe... but not everybody is safe... there are cases of heavy blood loss... pain while urination .. pain while sexual activity ?? it's also the truth ... IT IS NOT REGULATED IT IS NOT DONE IN A SCIETIFIC WAY BY DOCTORS...OR OTHER CERTIFIED PRACTITIONERS. it is a custom that harms peoples body parts by the person who has no clue of what can go wrong
      1 month ago reply
  • Fatema

    This article is absolutely biased far from facts with lots of allegations on the entire Bohras. I am a Bohra and have not come across a single family
    2 months ago reply
  • Mohini

    FGM is a very regressive practice still followed religiously by Bohras through out India. It is a decision thrusted on every Bohra by their leadership .They cannot defy it as that would lead to Ostracization from the the tight knit community. The leadership justifies FGM as something similar to a nick on the arm.If it is so then what is the purpose of it.Is it like a Tattoo :a kind of fashion statement. Bohras should immediately abolish this practice if they are really progressive as they claim to be.
    2 months ago reply
    • mani

      well said
      1 month ago reply
  • ssn

    Does the writer know
    2 months ago reply
  • tmranaganath

    2 months ago reply
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