“Hardly any part of the body which can be unnaturally modified has escaped. … The motives are various; … certain mutilations are connected with religious rites, or they mark the age of puberty, or the rank of the man, or they serve to distinguish the tribes. Amongst savages the same fashions prevail for long periods, and thus mutilations, from whatever cause first made, soon come to be valued as distinctive marks.” That was Charles Darwin, one of the frontiers of propagating the rational thought in the Victorian era in his, “the Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” in 1879.
Let us move onto something more recent, shall we?
“Mama tied a blindfold over my eyes. The next thing I felt my flesh was being cut away. I heard the blade sawing back and forth through my skin. The pain between my legs was so intense I wished I would die.” That is Waris Dirie, the United Nations Population Fund Goodwill Ambassador and spokesperson on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or Female Circumcision is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons“. According to the WHO, around 125 Million women are affected by this every year. It has no known health benefits but many complications. Many a times, it takes away lives. It often leads to severe pain and shock, infection, urine retention, immediate fatal hemorrhaging, extensive damage of the external reproductive system, cysts and neuromas, complications in pregnancy and child birth, psychological damage, sexual dysfunction and difficulties in menstruation. The chances of this occurring increases when it is not done by an experienced medical practitioner, which occurs in the majority of all cases. It is done under the farce of customs, traditions, religion, social acceptance, family honour, enhancing fertility and increasing sexual pleasure for males (while it actually inhibits sexual pleasure for the female).
Prevalence in India
One might think that this is prevalent only in Africa, but little do we know that this is one of India’s best kept secrets. It very much exists in India. It is largely practised by the Islamic Shia-Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community, a million strong sect prevalent in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. They are also present in Pakistan. They follow their 101 year old religious leader, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. FGM is termed as “Khatna” (the excision of the clitoris) by them. It is carried out on girls between the ages of four and twelve. This particular group is said to be more liberal in the laws for its women, apparently giving them equal rights with regard to men when it comes to marriage and education.
The Religious Front
The strange thing is that there is no mention of FGM in the Quran. In 2006, several leading Islamic scholars called for an end to the practice. In 2007 the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research in Cairo ruled that it has no basis in Islamic law. But religion and chastity remain intertwined. Asghar Ali Engineer, a writer, reformist, social activist, researcher in Islamic laws- who led the Progressive Dawoodi Bohra movement stated that “the custom has African roots and no Muslim sect permits it.”
The International Scenario
Apart from existing in India, FGM is also seen in approximately 29 nations in Africa and the Middle East, Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia; and among the immigrants in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia.
In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution to ban FGM worldwide. WHO also stands firmly against this practise. Many countries like Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, UK and USA have made specific legislations that make it illegal. According to the 2013 UNICEF report, 24 African countries have made it illegal. In 2003, the African Union espoused the Maputo Protocol, which seeks to end FGM.
The Legal Scenario
India, on the other hand, states that FGM is not prevalent in India and hence, has no specific legislation regarding it. Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860- Grievous Hurt and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 are the immediate legal solutions to FGM in India. A specific law passed in this regard would only make justice more effective, potent and constructive.
Implications of FGM in India
More than a thousand Bohra women have been campaigning against FGM since the last couple of years. They have made their voices heard in the internet arena. But this is only the beginning, as the religious framework in a country like India is beyond rigid. FGM speaks volumes about our society, our legal system and the attitudes of the people of this country. FGM is more of a relevant and a contemporary issue now more than ever. In a country where fashion shows are juxtaposed with the plight of farmers, where road side pani-puri wallah’s stand outside infinite outlets of Café Coffee Day’s and McDonalds, where modernization rebels against traditions, where westernization is at war with a different form of theocracy, where plunging necklines are blamed for rapes- evolution of the society and the law is our only saviour for peaceful sustenance. The law must be the catalyst in the process of building a progressive country. Real hidden issues must go far and beyond front page headlines. There is no end to the discussion about the power inequality between the sexes in India. Whether it is the Women’s Representation Bill or the violence inflicted on women, the Indian society has failed to safeguard the rights and dignity of women of the country. FGM stands for all of the above. If the wretched situation does not change for the better, then the implications of being a “free” and “democratic” country becomes preposterously meaningless.
About the Author:
A ferocious dreamer, a confident speaker, a propagandist of rational thought, a determined debater, an incandescent poet and a voracious reader; she is a student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She takes keen interest in International Law and Human Rights and wishes to pursue the same in the future. She hopes that her intricate eye for detail and innate ability to analyse will enable her in getting more out of new experiences in life. She also enjoys sarcasm, political humor, convoluted characters in novels, good music and a cup of hot black coffee during rains.