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India: Ban this barbarous practice!

29.7.2014. Hindu Businessline. By RASHEEDA BHAGAT

Why condemn the ISIS alone? India’s prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community also practises female genital mutilation

There has been worldwide furore on the ISIS — which has declared an Islamic state in parts of Syria and Northern Iraq — supposedly issuing a fatwa on female genital mutilation in the areas under its occupation, particularly Mosul in Iraq.

This was first revealed last week, after some murmurs appeared in the Iraqi media, by the UN’s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock. She told mediapersons that up to four million women and girls (aged 11-46 years) faced the risk of genital mutilation, particularly in Mosul. Calling it an ISIS fatwa, she said, “This is not the will of Iraqi people.”

As outrage erupted in both traditional and social media, some analysts said the wording of the edict, in Arabic, did not sound like the ISIS and contained grammatical errors. Later the ISIS dismissed the said fatwa as “false propaganda” but local media and some Mosul residents and Kurdish officials were reported by the western media to be confirming the shocking edict. However, the fact remains that this barbaric practice, against all medical and human principles, continues to be followed in many African and Asian countries, including India.

In India, what is shocking is that while other Muslim sects — both Sunni and Shia — do not engage in this horrendous practice known as khatna (circumcision), the supposedly liberal, educated and financially better off Dawoodi Bohra community still torture their little daughters by subjecting them to it. This is a Shia subsect and trading community from Gujarat which has branched out all over India and overseas.

Bohras continue FGM

While the affluent take their daughters (aged 7-8 years) to five-star private hospitals where local anaesthesia is given before the torment is inflicted, the common folk get it done by “experienced” practitioners. But wait, there has been some progress: earlier while some black paste was applied after the mutilation, apparently these days the child is made to sit in a tub of hot water after scarring her for life!

Female genital mutilation practices range from clipping or removal of the clitoris to mutilating and removing other female genitalia. It is done to curb the woman’s sexual appetite and keep her on the straight and narrow path of morality. This would be hilarious, if it weren’t so tragic.

Not Islamic

Let’s get one thing clear. The much maligned religion of Islam does not propagate khatna or make it mandatory. That is why in countries like Iraq and Iraq, FGM is not prevalent. But it is common in African countries — Somalia (98 per cent), Egypt (91), Mali (89) and Sudan (88) — as depicted in a map of African countries carried with this data in a BBC news report, which also lists the associated medical complications.

An Indian daily last week quoted a Deoband spokesman saying categorically that khatna is not practised in India. He needs to check his facts: Dawoodi Bohras continue the practice even today. This community — my community — loves to torture its women. Here the iddat (complete seclusion of the widow after her husband’s death) extends to over four months compared to only 40 days for other Muslims. And during this period, her torture chamber has no mirror, television, music system…

To recheck that other Shia sects in India don’t practise khatna, I call two friends in Lucknow. Hussain Afsar, an Urdu journalist, a staunch Shia, and father of three girls, categorically rules out its prevalence. “This might have happened in pre-literacy days, but I haven’t heard of any family in Lucknow following this terrible practice. The Sunnis don’t do it either. I know for sure that in my family, for many generations nobody has heard of any such thing happening.”

Worldwide, it is estimated that about 130 million women have undergone such mutilation.

Britain bans FGM

With the ISIS’ diktat, true or false, raising the issue all over again, at the Girl Summit in London last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a worldwide ban on female genital mutilation and child marriage.

He announced that parents in Britain would face prosecution for subjecting their daughters to FGM, and said this, along with child marriage, should be outlawed in the developing world as well. On Sunday, a 72-year-old Ugandan man who landed at Heathrow airport with an 11-year-old girl was arrested, along with another woman living in London, under Section 2 of the FGM Act 2003, for aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a girl to carry out FGM on herself. The girl, a UK national, is now under the care of social services.

Former CBI Director RK Raghavan says FGM is not banned by law in India. But the crime is punishable; if a minor girl subjected to FMG protests against it or suffers from pain/injury, and complains to the police, it is obliged to register a case under the Indian Penal Code (Section 326 — causing grievous hurt) against the parents and the person performing the mutilation.

If a girl above 18 is subjected to this form of mutilation on the direction of her parents and she complains, “the private individual or medical practitioner who performs FGM is liable under the IPC”. So, legal remedies are available to girls subjected to this savagery. Raghavan agrees that “a major movement against FGM is required in India and pressure should be built on the Government to bring a special legislation. Of course there are religious implications.”

It is high time the Modi government followed suit. If a uniform civil code is required, then this scarring of the second gender for life in the Bohra community should be brought under the scanner as well.

Hopefully the Prime Minister’s bonhomie with the Bohra community top guns, as well as some community leaders in Gujarat (Surat houses the plush Jamia Milia, a state-of-the-art educational institute where Bohra priests of the future are trained), will not prevent the Government from introducing the harshest punishment for this torture of the girl child.

The Dawoodi Bohra community prides itself on saying how peace-loving it is and does not encourage or breed any terrorist activity.

A business community, it is focused more on money-making — but isn’t female genital mutilation as horrendous as a terrorist activity?