Female circumcision anger aired in India

2012-04-25 11:09

New Delhi - Eleven years ago, Farida Bano was circumcised by an aunt on a bunk bed in her family home at the end of her 10th birthday party.

The mutilation occurred not in Africa, where the practice is most prevalent, but in India where a small Muslim sub-sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra continues to believe that the removal of the clitoris is the will of God.

"We claim to be modern and different from other Muslim sects. We are different but not modern," Bano, a 21-year-old law graduate who is angry about what was done to her, said in New Delhi.

She vividly remembers the moment in the party when the aunt pounced with a razor blade and a pack of cotton wool.

The Bohra brand of Islam is followed by 1.2 million people worldwide and is a sect of Shi'ite Islam that originated in Yemen.

While the sect bars other Muslims from its mosques, it sees itself as more liberal, treating men and women equally in matters of education and marriage.

Burying custom

The community's insistence on "Khatna" (the excision of the clitoris) also sets it apart from others on the subcontinent.

"If other Muslims are not doing it then why are we following it?" Bano says.

For generations, few women in the tightly-knit community have spoken out in opposition, fearing that to air their grievances would be seen as an act of revolt frowned upon by their elders.

But an online campaign is now encouraging them to join hands to bury the custom.

The anti-Khatna movement gained momentum after Tasneem, a Bohra woman who goes by one name, posted an online petition at the social action platform in November last year.

She requested their religious leader, the 101-year-old Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, ban female genital mutilation, the consequences of which afflict 140 million women worldwide according to the World Health Organisation.

No argument

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin is the 52nd Dai-al Mutalaq (absolute missionary) of the community and has sole authority to decide on all spiritual and temporal matters.

Every member of the sect takes an oath of allegiance to the leader, who lives in western city of Mumbai.

When contacted by AFP, Burhanuddin's spokesperson, Qureshi Raghib, ruled out any change and said he had no interest in talking about the issue.

"I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument," he said.

But over 1 600 Bohra Muslim women have since signed the online petition.

Many describe the pain they experienced after the procedure and urge their leader to impose a ban.

Under the cloak of religion

"The main motive behind Khatna is that women should never enjoy sexual intercourse. We are supposed to be like dolls for men," 34-year-old Tabassum Murtaza, who lives in the western city of Surat, said by telephone.

The World Health Organisation has campaigned against the practice, saying it exposes millions of girls to dangers ranging from infections, haemorrhaging, complicated child-birth, or hepatitis from unsterilised tools.

In the Middle East, it is still practised in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

"It is an atrocity committed under the cloak of religion," says Murtaza, who along with her husband was asked to leave their family home when they refused to get their daughter circumcised.

"My mother-in-law said there was no room for religious disobedience and we should move out if we cannot respect the custom," she explained. "It is better to live on the street than humiliate your daughter's body."

Asghar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim and expert on Islamic jurisprudence, has known the dangers of fighting for reform.

Human rights violation

He has authored over 40 books proposing changes, particularly around the status of women, and has been attacked by hardliners inside a mosque in Egypt and had his house trashed by opponents.

While both France and the United States have laws enabling the prosecution of immigrants who perform female circumcisions, the practice remains legal in India and Engineer expects this to remain the case.

"Female circumcision is clearly a violation of human rights, the Indian government refuses to recognise it as a crime because the practice has full-fledged religious backing," he said.

"No government has the courage to touch a religious issue in India even if the practice is a crime against humanity."

He says many fathers are simply unaware of the damage they are doing by following the custom.

"I prevented my wife from getting our daughters circumcised but in many cases even fathers are not aware of the pain their daughters experience," he says.

  • Bhavana - 2012-04-25 11:26

    "The harmful practice of female genital practice has affected millions of girls and women. I would like to suggest a documentary “Walking the Path of Unity” in which the community members of the village of Diegoune in the herat of Casamance (southern Senegal) collectively decided to abandon the tradition of female genital cutting (FGC). To watch the documentary online visit:"

      Preshen - 2012-04-25 11:29

      female circumcisions is a rip-off

  • rambo919 - 2012-04-25 15:48

    Female circumcision by way of removing the clitoris makes no sense since the male equivalent would be to chop off the penis head...

  • Kimberly - 2012-04-25 17:18

    Once again, as if the story itself weren’t horrific enough, girls forced to undergo this abomination are subject to further assault by the fact that the international media is STILL using the incorrect, antiquated and discriminatory term - 'circumcision' for the barbaric practice of the systematic mutilation innocent girls' genitals which occurs in many parts of Africa, and is on the increase. The correct term is 'Female Genital Mutilation' or FGM as it is commonly known to people who describe the practice properly. The practice bears no resemblance to male 'circumcision' (where only foreskin is removed, leaving the male with full sexual function), but most often involves mutilation of the genitalia such that female sexual function is compromised, thereby depriving women of their sexual dignity for the rest of their lives. Frequently it results in permanently impaired function and in many cases, permanent disability and death from infection caused by the procedure. By equating FGM with male circumcision, the media is suggesting that FGM is equally acceptable, implicitly condoning the practice and adding to gender discrimination. To people in the international media, we ask that you please use the term Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which will assist in stopping this physical abuse of innocent girls.

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