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FGM (Khatna / Khafz) Persists In Bohra India – UK Politicians Can Help To Stop It

June 28, 2017

The practice of female genital mutilation in India remains little known – not least because the Bohra community which continues with it insists on silence about what they call ‘Khatna’ (male or female ‘circumcision’) or ‘Khafz’ (explicitly the female version). But slowly this harmful traditional practice, like early ‘marriage’ in wider Indian society, is being exposed; and now some outspoken Bohra women want the international community to support their #EndFGM demands.
British politicians can add considerable weight to this campaign.

Britain and India have always maintained close contact and in the UK some half million British residents have Indian heritage. Of  these however only a small proportion are Dawoodi, Sulemani and Alvi Bohras, which are sects noted for their tight-knit, closed communities, found particularly in some areas of large cities such as London and Birmingham.

Dawoodi Bohras against FGM
FGM is practised by all Bohra sects but it is Dawoodis, originating in a Shiite branch of Islam based in Gujarat, who are leading the campaigns to end FGM around the world.  Perhaps half a million Indian women and girls are at risk.

Dawoodi Bohra clinicians in the USA (here and here) and in Australia have recently been arrested and charged with performing FGM, whilst Bohra FGM survivors in India and the USA – including individuals in the WeSpeakOut (formerly Speak Out On FGM) and Sahiyo organisations, formed in 2015 by survivors such as Mubina Jamdar, Zehra Patwa and Mariya Taher, and in Canada, Australia and elsewhere – have raised awareness of this practice.

Activists have also petitioned the Indian Government to make FGM illegal in that country; and as in other cases around the world, this legal approach is not uniformly welcomed, but it is surely necessary?

So now we have a situation in which, thanks to determined EndFGM activists, the previously well-obscured issue of FGM in parts of India has become global knowledge – as have the parallel facts in other parts of the Middle-East and South-East Asia.

Thus we see media reports of the occurrence of FGM in India and, very worryingly, also of its medicalization, both in that country and (above) in Indian diaspora locations: one rather puzzling aspect of Bohra adherence to FGM is that there is also an emphasis for men and women alike on education and professions such as medicine and the law, yet FGM continues.  Nonetheless, a Guide to Eliminating the FGM Practice in India has been produced by Indira Jaising and colleagues of the Lawyers Collective and Masooma Ranalvi of WeSpeakOut (published March 2017).

And the upshot of this new awareness is that we in the West can help campaigners on the ground to make FGM history.  The links between India and the UK are, for instance, deep and constant, and senior Indian religious and political leaders often visit Britain.

Quietly continuing with FGM?
One such leader is the 53rd Dai al-Mutlaq, Dr Syedna Mufaddal Salfuddin, head of the Dawoodi Bohras in Mumbai, who says that FGM (Khatfz) must be carried out unless prohibited by national law.  And even then, activists suggest, despite an official statement (from his office, 6 June 2016), he actually means ‘do it anyway, but do it quietly’.  Here are quotations from the (translated) text of his recent sermon:

“And whoever, whatever the world wants to do, we, we should keep our things strong, we should stay firm, keep our feet firm, we should not be knocked, that they say this, whatever they say, even the big sovereign States, whatever it is they say, but if it makes any difference to our things, then we are not prepared to understand! Whoever it may then be, whoever it is, whoever it is in the world, it can never make a difference to us any day. We are not prepared to even talk to them.
What can they say to us! That if you do this, it is not right, – I will not go into detail about what I am saying, – they say that this is not right, you should not do it. What! Who are you to teach us!  He needs to understand, they all need to understand, that alcohol, which is the enemy of intellect, why do you not do it to that. Why do you not prohibit those who drink alcohol, prohibit those who smoke cigarettes, why do you not tell them, those who do adultery, you do not tell them!  They do these bad deeds, is there any humanity in them. It is such a bad act. They fall from humanity. And they come to tell us, that we do this!
The procedure, the procedure, the procedure has to happen! If it is a man, then it is right, it is openly, and if it is a woman then discretely but the deed must be done. You understand what I am trying to talk about, you understand properly about. In the man it is open, in women it is discrete, but the procedure must be done! Whoever it is, whoever says it.
But we will do according to our shariat says, according to the Prophet has said, the Prophet will never say anything against humanity. He will only say that in which there is benefit. Our Imams and our Dais will only say that, in which there is benefit and in which there is good. In terms of bodily things and the soul.  That which benefits the body, apart from that won’t be.
The Prophet has said it. Who are these people to tell us! That you do this. That this is harmful! Never mind what they say! If necessary then tell them whatever is needed, that we are not scared of anyone!”

International travellers
Yet this man has been welcomed in the UK just a week or two ago, by UK politicians and British Indian heritage community leaders in London and Birmingham. Hopefully these UK citizens will now reach out to tell Dr Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin that any form of FGM, anywhere, is intolerable and would be illegal under British law.

And pressure is also required to make FGM illegal under Indian law (though, as the lawyer Linda Weil-Curiel successfully established in France, FGM must surely be illegal anyway, since it is non-consensual and assault?). The Indian government minister Maneka Gandhi made a commitment to bring about anti-FGM legislation, but has since backed off under pressure from (women) traditionalists and the perhaps from the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has sought common beneficial cause in economic and financial matters, despite differences across the Hindu – Muslim divide.

Again, judiciously curated international pressure might be helpful in persuading Ms Gandhi to re-energise her ambition to make FGM history.

How to make progress?
So how best to support the efforts of our fellow EndFGM campaigners in India?

We each have our own public and private contacts, and sometimes discretion will procure more progress than overt demands.  But on the other hand, if there is one thing we can learn from anti-FGM programmes over the past few years, it is this:

What people don’t know about, or perhaps know about but don’t realise the horror of, will more likely continue. The unrelenting light of day will change things, perhaps with backlash on the way, but bringing into vision what was previously hidden will have effect.

There is a tipping point, a time when public opinion consolidates around what is for the good and positive.  The media and our political leaders can do much to speed this process, speaking out for progress to end FGM, Khatna (or ‘cutting‘, whatever euphemism you will).  Every voice helps in securing our determination that FGM must stop.

We must speak out for those, the children, the vulnerable women, who have no voice.

. . .

Here is a PETITION you can support to End Female Genital Mutilation in India

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This blogpost has been written as a companion piece to a similar one on the wider context of FGM in India and Pakistan.

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Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).   Full contents and reviewsHERE.

FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).   Full contents and reviews HERE.

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FURTHER INFORMATION AND ACTION

There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or email: fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

Details of NHS Specialist Services for FGM here.
More info and posts on FGM here.
Activists, service providers and researchers may like to join the LinkedIn group Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Information, reports and research, which has several hundred members from around the world.
The (free) #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

Also available to follow at no cost or obligation is the #NoFGM_USA Daily News.

Twitter accounts:

  @NoFGM_UK@NoFGMBookUK@FemaleMutlnBook@FGMStatement@NoFGM_USA@NoFGM_Kenya@NoFGM_France@GuardianEndFGM [tag for all: #NoFGM] and @StopMGM.

Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity

Email contact: via Hilary.

[NB The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation,  The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]

PLEASE NOTE:This article concerns approaches to the eradication specifically of FGM.  I am also categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus of this particular piece.Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation is asked please to do so on the relevant dedicated thread, originally developed in June 2012:The Other FGM Debate: Is Male Circumcision (MGM) Also Child Abuse?Pending further notice, discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on this dedicated page. Thanks.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2017 12:07

    Among the ways people can help raise awareness is by showing A Pinch of Skin (on FGM among Bohra Muslims). Hosted by Modern Abolitionist, I was fortunate to dialogue with the producers via Skype in Studio 294 in Frankfurt am Main on 20 January 2017.

    Facebook page: A Pinch of Skin

  2. June 29, 2017 12:54

    Reblogged this on Far be it from me –.

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