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The painful secret (FGM)

"My mum told me to come; I'll take you out and buy you chocolates. I happily went with her. She took me to Bohri mohalla (in Mumbai), a cluster where 90% Bohras live. We went into this dark decrepit building. I remember being taken into a room. The curtains were drawn. She said lie down. Like an obedient child, I lay. My grandmother was holding my hands. An oldish woman pulled down my pants I started crying. Grandmom said don't worry, it will be over in a jiffy. I shrieked in pain I experienced a sharp, shooting pain and she put some black powder there I came home and cried and cried and cried..."[1]

Masooma Ranalvi (FGM victim)
Founder (We speak out)

Masooma is one in lakhs of victims whose lives have been ruined by Female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM has not only ruined but has also taken numerous lives. All over the globe, around 200 million girls and women are suffering from this 'pain' but everyone keeps it a 'secret'? But what is this 'painful secret'?

FGM is the partial or complete removal of the clitoral hood (which is the external part of female genitalia) by cutting it with a sharp object or complete or partial sealing of the vaginal opening with stitches (infibulation) in the name of religious purity citing promiscuous (having or involving many sexual partners) nature among females of the Dawoodi Bohra community. It is also known as khatna or khafz and is done to small age girls of 5-15 years. It is estimated that around 3 million girls face this inhuman act annually and at least 200 million women and girls subjected to FGM are alive globally.[2]

But the question that arises here is, why does this community do such an inhuman act with their girl child?
People cite social and cultural factors as the reasons for the performance of FGM. Rejection by the community, increasing marriageability, helping in resisting extramarital sexual intercourse, the notion that girls are beautiful and pure after the removal of ugly or unclean body parts, and preparing for womanhood are major causes that followers cite for the performance of FGM. But what I think is, these are not the only reasons for its performance rather the biggest reason is gender inequality which is prevailing in those communities since time immemorial.

It is gender discrimination that makes only females responsible for resisting premarital sexual intercourse. Isn't its inequality when a female's clitoral hood is being cut and removed citing it as impure and ugly while a male's penis is not? The whole concept of FGM lies in gender discrimination against their future husbands but husbands are allowed to marry an end number of times. And to ensure that only females should bear this responsibility, they are subjected to this inhuman act of female genital mutilation.

Only pain, no gain!
FGM is not something that harms a female's body only physically but also hampers a girl child psychologically and emotionally. They not only experience the pain of being cut but also the pain of betrayal by their mother or grandmothers as most of the time they only took them to be cut by luring them for something. Believing their mother or grandmother, girls follow them where they are being cut. This cut not only removes the flesh from their body but also trust for their loved ones from their heart.

when girls are cut, there is not only pain but also, a very high risk of hemorrhage, shock, or even can lead to death. This was experienced by a Tanzanian human rights activist too, Rhobi Samwelly when she was cut at the age of 13. She was unconscious for 3 hours and women around her thought that she could awake alive. Just a year back, Rhobi Samwelly had lost her friend, when she bled to death after being cut. [3]

But even if they survive the pain of cutting or infibulation(stitching), the miseries don't end here as they are going to face difficulties and pain when they urine, menstruate, while having sexual intercourse or have childbirth. It also results in tissue damage, infertility, tetanus (when the cutting object is rusted), a range of infections, and many more complications during their life. Those girls who had infibulation(stitching) experience even more pain again and again when the stitches are cut open for sexual intercourse and again for childbirth.

A girl who is subjected to FGM, from the day of cutting or stitching to the end of her life, only experiences pain and there is nothing for her to gain. And these pains of millions of girls and women are for what? Just to ensure the virginity of a girl before her marriage. Isn't this gender discrimination?

They too are human! And humans have rights.
The pain they are subjected to and the reasons for which they are subjected (gender inequality) both are violations of human rights. And in 2008 itself united nations has declared FGM a violation of human rights and called it an irreparable and irreversible abuse of the human rights of girls and women. [4]

United Nations took 2030 as the year by which it targeted to eliminate FGM globally. Currently, the practice of FGM has been recorded in 30 countries of the world, mostly from Africa, the middle east, and Asia.[5] And most countries had banned the practice of FGM but some have not banned it yet and India is one of them. India doesn't even recognize its existence in the country as there is no data or stats available on this.[6]

Since the government doesn't even recognize FGM due to a lack of stats this doesn't mean that it doesn't exist in our country. India has over 2 million population of Bohra communities residing in the country. And according to research done by 'we speak out, at least 80% of the Bohra community population is practicing FGM. [7] In India, the clitoral hood is partially or completely removed as a practice of FGM. And this not only violates the right to life and dignity of the victims but also violates the right to privacy of women.[8]
  1. Violates right to life and personal liberty: FGM explicitly violates the right to life as it causes hemorrhage or sudden shock or even death while the cut is being made and causes bodily complications like pain while urinating, sexual intercourse childbirth, or several infections for rest of life. Psychological issues are also being faced by victims such as depression, trust issues, fear, etc. It also limits the ability of women from doing something better in life and violates their personal Liberty of women. And most importantly, FGM has been declared a violation of human rights by the united nations.
  2. Violates right to privacy: SC also observed that "FGM violates the right of privacy of women as they don't live their lives just for marriages. They have other obligations too." It involves non-consensual touching of genitals and also FGM is done for a non-medical purpose.
  3. Violates right to equality: it is violative of Article 15 of the Indian constitution as FGM is discriminative towards women and girls.
  4. Violates right to dignity: The intention behind FGM is to make a girl or woman favorable to her husband and this is not gendered sensitive. [9]
Citing FGM as a violation of the above right, a Delhi-based lawyer, Sunita Tiwari filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking declaration of a ban on the practice of FGM in 2018. On hearings, Mr. Singhvi, representing the Bohra community, argued that it is safeguarded by article 25 of the Indian constitution and also it doesn't violate

article 15 on basis of gender as males and females both are subject to circumcision. And after a few hearings, it was referred to the 5-judges constitutional bench, which after 1 year referred it to the 7-judges constitutional bench on November 14, 2019, to be heard with two similar pleas: the Sabrimala entry case and one regarding the entry of women in Parsi temple. After those things again went silent. And there is no outcome yet.

Things have not been easy for 200 million victims of FGM either globally or in India. Yes, there is some decrease in cases in the last few years but when we compare the rate of decreasing cases with an increase in population growth, we gonna find that the number of cases will rise significantly over the 15 years. [2] Also, it is making a loss to the world economy as $1.4 billion has been spent on treating health complications raised due to FGM and by 2030, it would cross $2.3 billion. [10] So, the globe needs to make more efforts for eliminating this inhuman act.

India may become a hub for this practice because FGM is banned in most countries and strict action has been taken against those who violated whether be it the sentencing of three Bohras in Australia or arresting of two doctors who were trying to cut the private parts of 6 girls in the USA.[11][12] Now, people from these countries, where FGM is banned, may fly to India to practice FGM as India has no law till now. So, India needs to ban FGM to save numerous girls and women from this suffering as well as to give justice to those who are victims of "the painful secret."

  1. S. Saaliq and Z. Kazmi, "INDIA'S DARK SECRET."
  2. E. Weir, Female genital mutilation, Cmaj, 2000.
  3. 5 ways female genital mutilation undermines the health of women and girls.
  4. Ending female genital mutilation. [Online]. Available: L2 ending female genital mutilation - advance unedited.pdf
  5. Ending Female Genital Mutilation by 2030, 2022.
  6. R. Chandran, No evidence of FGM, India government tells the court, appalling activists," 2017.
  7. J. Shelar, Declare India country with FGM prevalence,2016.'Declare-India-country-with-FGM-prevalence'/article16780276.ece
  8. Female Genital Mutilation Violates Women's Right to Privacy: SC, 2018.
  9. Day 2 Arguments Ban on Female Genital Mutilation, 2018.
  10. Female genital mutilation, 2022.
  11. M. Safi, Three sentenced to 15 months in Landmark female Genital Mutilation trial, 2016.
  12. M. Cuevas, Michigan doctors charged in first federal genital mutilation case in the US.

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