I was introduced to the ‘Princess Trilogy’, written by Jean Sasson in my early teens. The author has penned down an interesting biography of Princess Sultana who hails from the royal family of Saudi Arabia. The princess grew in the lap of luxury and enjoys life to the fullest. But her heart goes out to all the other women who suffer from the whims of religious norms that accord their lives. The roots of religion have entrenched deeply in the Islamic patriarchal set-up. It wouldn’t be erroneous to state that religious fanatics and bigots have lost the plot completely. Many and most, have misconstrued the true teachings of Islam. Religion is used as a means of imposing control on the ‘weaker sex’, subjecting them to physiological and psychological tortures. I was stunned to read, that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was rampant in the Middle Eastern countries. I was happy to believe I grew up in a nation that didn’t encourage this callous practice.
Image Credit: Heer Kothari
A few years later, the bubble burst when I spoke to Ummul Ranalvi. Ummul and Vasudevean Shrinivasan (husband), are an entrepreneurial duo who’ve started ICAS India and CETC India. While speaking about their esteemed ventures, Ummul recounted her horrific experience with the practice of Female Genital Mutilation that is just as rampant in India. I was in for a rude shock and couldn’t believe my ears! I spent the night tossing and turning, thinking of the pain these little girls went through, at the tender age of six to eight years.
I found myself going online to learn more about FGM. But honestly I didn’t find much. A few months later Ummul, who is also a co-founder of WeSpeakOut, introduced me to her sister Masooma Ranalvi, who is a Delhi-based practicing lawyer and the founder of WeSpeakOut.
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WeSpeakOut is the first registered organization to speak out on FGM that started in 2015. “We were a simple group of women, from around the world voicing our concerns on the issue of FGM on Whatsapp,” states Masooma Ranalvi. In due course of time, these women decided to take a step-up in the positive direction, and hoped to address the Indian Government, urging the ban on FGM in India. We have also written an open letter to our esteemed Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. However, the initial pleas were overlooked owing to the lack of evidence. “These procedures are conducted under-cover, in dark dingy places; that don’t even have a trace of hygiene. Also, there is no law that can controls or curbs the practice of FGM.”, States Masooma Ranalvi. The link of the report attached at the end of the blog gives detailed insight on the laws that the lack of evidence, that compels the government to dismiss this issue as a needless one. One can also find an open letter to the Prime Minister of India, attached on this link. http://www.wespeakout.org
The Bhora Muslims are an affluent trading community. Since the community is rich, the men and women from the community are highly educated. But there are certain ruthless rituals like ‘Khadaf’ that continue to this very day in the name of religion. It is believed by most (sadly even the women believe the same) that the practice keeps a woman’s sexual urges in control, and doesn’t allow her to steer away from her husband. What they don’t think about is..
- What if the woman is unable to keep with her marriage owing to the lack of intimacy? This will invariably lead to a divorce. According to the study report that was released on the 6th of February 2018, which was also marked as Zero tolerance day for FGM, states that most women have found the practice of ‘Khadaf’ psychologically hampering, as they are unable to trust men. Some experience extreme anger, betrayal, anxiety and fear.
- The physiological ramifications are endless. The women suffer from extreme pain during intercourse; oversensitivity in the clitoris, recurrent UTI, and the procedure has vastly affected their sexual drive too.
Even to this day 75% of the Bhora daughters undergo this practice. 97% of these women recall this experience as painful.
Today, modern Bohras insist on using medically sound measures, to conduct the procedure under the watchful eye of a trained doctor. But according to W.H.O., any altercation of the female genitalia is considered as a violation to her mere existence. Yet, they don’t seem to want to abate with ‘Khadaf’. “We have voiced our concern in an open letter to our religious heads and clergy’s. But the incessant pleas have gone unnoticed.” The unnoticed pleas have also been accounted for in the study report on link attached. http://www.wespeakout.org
FGM has been banned in the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, and many other first world nations. But, traditional Bohras residing in these nations, especially come back to India to conduct the procedure when their daughters come of age. Airport authorities of some nations have made a conscientious effort of addressing any suspicious move by stripping these travellers off their boarding pass just before they embark on a flight to India. The efforts of these brave people haven’t gone unnoticed.
Image Credit: Heer Kothari
It is interesting to note how the plot is created. An older aunt or grandmother tricks the young child into believing that she is going to either a birthday party, or just going to the market, where the grandmother or the aunt would buy her a present. In the event, the child is taken to some dark and dingy place, where her trousers or shalwar is lowered, two strong women pin her arms and legs down, and the procedure is performed using rudimentary implements such as a blade or knife. In most cases the cutters don’t only cut the Clitoral hood (as is expected to be cut, ‘Haram ki boti’) but cuts the part of the clitoris too. The distance between the clitoral hood and clitoris (which comprise of more than 8000 nerve endings) is negligible (calculate in less than millimetres). When these cutters cut the hood in the way they do, they often damage a lot more.
As an organization, WeSpeakOut on FGM is making notable efforts. The organization has made their efforts evident on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Their story is trending on Twitter, and they have successfully released a study complete with documentation and proof as to why the government needs to ban the practice.
On an endnote, we at Kyra and Vir support the movement in our very own way, and hope that team WeSpeakOut is able to foster a positive change enabling the ban of this heinous practice in India.
- FGM is also known as female circumcision in the layman terminology. It is also recognized as the practice of Khadaf or Khatna according to the Muslims.
Sign petition here: https://www.change.org/p/end-female-genital-mutilation-in-india
Written by Heer Kothari