A woman’s open letter to PM Modi on freedom from Female Genital Mutilation
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 :
Dear Prime Minister Narendra Modi,
It was heartwarming to hear you specially refer to the plight of Muslim women who suffer from the practice of triple talaq, which is anti-women, on Independence day.
Our independence will always be incomplete if women are subjugated, raped, burnt and tortured in the name of custom, tradition and religion. Our constitution pledges to give us equality but in reality it is denied every time a girl foetus is killed, every time a bride is beaten up or tortured or even burnt in the name of dowry, every time a child is married off, every time a girl is molested, harassed and sexually assaulted.
Yes, unilateral triple talaq is unjust, but that is not the only issue which plagues the women of this country. I want to tell you about the practice of female genital mutilation which is performed on young minor girls who do not have the freedom to choose. Whose bodies are violated beyond repair despite there being a huge outcry against this practice across the world.
I take this opportunity to draw your attention to the horrific practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as khatna or khafz, which is being perpetuated for centuries in our Bohra community. Bohras are a Shia Ismailia sect which are largely based out of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. There are approximately 2 million bohras.
Let me tell you what happens in my community even today. Whenever a girl child turns 7, she is taken by either her mother or grandmother to a local dai, or now a local doctor, surreptitiously without disclosing anything to the child and there the dai or midwife or the doctor cuts a part of her clitoris (specifically the clitoral hood). The resultant excruciating physical, sexual and emotional trauma of this act is life long.
There is one and only one reason this inhuman practice is performed: to tamper with the sexual desires of the girl/woman.
According to WHO, “FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s right to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”
For hundreds of years, this practice is being continued under a shroud of secrecy and silence and no one outside of the Bohra community even knew of its existence. Since November 2015, we, a group of Bohra women came together under the banner of ‘WeSpeakOut On FGM’, to just voice our sorrows, pains and traumas to each other. We found immense strength and courage when we connected with each other and vowed to start a battle against the pernicious practice of FGM in the Bohra community.
The collective, ‘WeSpeakOut On FGM’ has unsuccessfully tried to reach out to our clergy His Holiness Syedna Muffadal and have through letters pleaded with him to hear our voices and our concerns and end this practice in the community. Sadly our voices fell on deaf ears and not only does the practice continue unabated, the Holiness has now even publicly announced through his religious sermons and a public press statement that the practice of FGM has to continue as it is a 1400-year-old practice which must be continued at any cost. Little concern has been shown for gross human and child rights violation and the physical, emotional and mental trauma that each and every Bohra girl and woman has to face and live with.
Let us look at the world outside. On December 18, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a Resolution which reaffirms its call to ban FGM worldwide. Further ending FGM is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the UN and India stands committed to it.
Honourable Prime Minister you have on an earlier occasion rightly said that the Muslim women also have to be protected and be given equal rights as per the Constitution of India. I felt much relief with your words then, that, “getting Muslim women their rights as per the Constitution is the responsibility of the government and the people of the country”.
You have also said, “In democracy, there should be discussion”. So, I urge and request you to allow me and my Bohra sisters who are in the forefront of this struggle and who have endured FGM to be given an audience with you to share first hand our plight and to tell you of our struggles.
In December 2015, ‘WeSpeakOut On FGM’ had started a signature campaign on Change.org in India to mobilise public opinion on the subject of FGM and to appeal to the government to have a dialogue with us on banning this practice. We have garnered 90,000+ signatures supporting us, but unfortunately we have not received any response from the government.
Honourable PM, we the Bohra women are waging a battle for equal rights and a gender-just system, it has got nothing to do with religion. The Koran has not prescribed FGM and in India the majority of Muslims do not practice FGM except for the Bohras and some communities in Kerala. This is a cultural tradition which has been perpetuated for centuries. We are now in the 21st century and the world is a changed place. Women are no longer chattels who can be taken and any part of their body be cut to curb their sexuality. We humbly request the Government to take note of this and act now on ending FGM in India.
More than 23 countries in the world have banned FGM and made it a punishable offence. Countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Australia and other European countries have been extremely pro-active in punishing the perpetrators of this practice and do much to spread awareness in communities about the harmful effects of FGM on the girl child. As of 2013, according to a UNICEF report, 24 African countries have legislations or decrees against FGM/C practice; these countries are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria (since 2015), Senegal, Somalia, Sudan (some states), Tanzania, Togo and Uganda Zambia and South Africa. In 2015, Gambia has also banned FGM. India needs to do the same.
The national and international media have given enough coverage to this practice but what we now need is an active intervention from the state.
One last point that I want to bring to your notice is that what we are asking for is really doable without in any way affecting our religious tenets, rights , practice and traditions. There are several countries in the world like USA, UK, France, Australia etc., where already the Bohras are banned from performing FGM and are being prosecuted if and when they violate the laws in their countries which ban FGM. The same can be very well done in India and a pernicious centuries old practice can be ended under your stalwartship.
Please ban FGM/Khafz in India and through it Bohra Beti Bachao.
Convener – ‘WeSpeakOut On FGM’