Khafz: How female genital mutilation is a threat to women

By Humra Laeeq

The issue of female genital mutilation went unheard of until a couple of years in India. The reality of the practice existing within the cultural folds has some traumatising stories to tell. Preceding the International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM, a study titled “The Clitoral Hood A Contested Site” was released, which concluded that 75% of Bohra women have undergone the operation. The study was under the supervision of Lakshmi Anantnarayan, Shabana Diller and Natasha Menon and We Speak Out, a collaboration of Bohra women and the Nari Samata Manch.

The practice of Khafz

Khafz is practised in particular Bohra communities within Shia Muslims in countries like Afghanistan and also in some parts of Western Mumbai. It involves the cutting off of the clitoris in six to seven-year-old girls as a method of preventing sex drives. The Dawood Bohra community believes that clitoris, the female site for orgasmic pleasure is the “manifestation of the devil”. The community clergy validates it by saying it is a ‘religious order’ even though sources mention that there is no mention in the Quran. The consequences of the practice have been documented in the study. Victims have reported adverse impact on sexual life, frequent urinary tract infections in one in every ten women, and cases of excessive bleeding. The women who remember their circumcision say it was ‘a painful experience’.

The ban on female genital mutilation: A long drawn fight

The Supreme Court ruled earlier that no data exists on the issue of FGM, contrary to the lived experiences and the results of the study. Now, there is not just the evidence of the number of people but also statistics regarding the kind of people who carry out Khafz. It is apparently highly prevalent in lower socio-economic groups, with 100% participation compared to economically higher groups with 64% participation. The reason is the high vulnerability and lack of awareness and education in the former. They are more prone to following religious leaders, however wrong or right they might be, without a critical lens.

The protest against FGM-highly filtered and low

That is the same reason why the movement against FGM has gathered little momentum. With a high majority practising Khafz with full belief, the major activists are few in number and are prominent personalities. The founder of We Speak Out is Massoma Ranalvi, a victim of female genital mutilation herself. Shashi Tharoor has voiced concern for the ban, saying that the state avoided more ‘politically challenging issues like FGM’ and resolved triple talaq to gain public points. Maneka Gandhi has said in a statement that if the Bohra community does not stop the practice, the state will bring in a law.

In all these instances, the people are only those who have a public personality and stand weak without mass support. There is little support because there is no awareness. There is no awareness because there is no knowledge and acknowledgement of the issue. The need is to mobilize the masses and reach out to the public regarding the issue and educate the Bohra community itself, which is in dire need.

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