“I began to seriously question the practice when I understood the purpose behind it and the possible implications on one’s sexual life,” iterates Aarefa Johari, a journalist and a FGC survivor. Mariya who confesses to have ignorantly perceived her sister’s khatna as a “joyous occasion with her sister crossing a milestone,” too grew critical of the practice on learning about the irrational motives behind it. “FGC is a patriarchal cultural tradition carried out with the intention of subjugating women and controlling their bodies. The practice serves to oppress women, reinforcing the perpetuation of their marginalisation and inferior status in the society,” she says.
Besides their objection to the structured gender politics and clear violation of these women’s rights as humans, fgc is strongly condemned for the serious implications it has on one’s health. FGC can cause mild-to-severe pain and can also deter a woman’s sexual and reproductive health. However, Aarefa Johari emphasises while reasserting her reproval for the custom, that FGC practised by the Bohras is the least severe of the four types and the health consequences cannot be compared. However, regardless of how mild or grave the physical pain is, one cannot ignore the unspeakable psychological trauma a woman is subjected to once she undergoes the practice. A child taken to a strange place under false pretexts, partially stripped and inflicted with excruciating pain in one of the most private and sensitive part of her body with no rational justification given whatsoever, is not something one nonchalantly writes in a journal, places it in an old trunk and forgets. An incident like this is bound to resurface every now and then; on one’s first sexual experience, sexual intimacy and so on. Many circumcised women tend to resist blades in fear and some women are even believed to have gone through therapies to be able to feel safe and comfortable with their husbands. “The trauma of being violated in childhood leaves psychological scars that scares them from getting sexually intimate in adult life,” avers Aarefa. Moreover, the whole idea of a child being made to undergo the process usually at ages roughly 7-9 (in girls) and infancy (in boys) when he/she is not adult enough to decipher and give consent to it renders the practice clearly violative and inimical — a reason why Aarefa discourages circumcision in males too.
Over the last few years, women like Aarefa and Mariya have come out and denounced this custom publicly. Some women like Tasleem (anonymous) have even started petitions in 2011 urging the late Syedna Burhanuddin, the Dai — a religious head — to end this practice. Despite these positive initiatives, change in the Bohra community in this regard is hardly discernable. Even today, majority of the Bohra members refrain from discussing the subject, maintaining its clandestine nature. Practised with much discretion and usually passed on from mother/grand-mother to daughter and daughter-in-laws some of the men in the community are completely oblivious to the custom. Even though implicit resentment can be felt among the Bohra community, open denouncement of the practice is rare.
The fear of social ostracism, of being stigmatised socially and fear of bringing trouble to close one’s (in case they are actively involved in the practice) are some of the reasons why many prefer to remain silent. The Bohras being a minor community have assumed an insular nature and take the word of the Dai as the law or the doctrine. In 2011, when the anti-FGC petitions were being circulated, the then Dai, Syedna Burhanuddin’s spokesman Quresh Raghib ruled out any changes, dismissing the whole issue as irrelevant: “I have heard about the online campaign but the Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument.” So whatever the Dai says is expected to be followed with no questions asked and, anyone digressing from their rulings is tagged as blasphemous. There have been instances of the religious leaders ordering members to keep the whole subject under wraps. One of the common reasons amongst individual fgc survivors for refusing to fiddle with the issue is the idea of being viewed as a victim. Most of the FGC survivors find victim-based narratives disconcerting, which for them comes with a lot of negative connotations.
With a barrage of reasons like supposed religious sentiments and cultural and social obligations and religious patrons clutching and consistently pulling them down, these women have a long way to go before this gruesome custom of FGC is criminalised or put an end to. However, with the increasing number of women from within and outside the community at least beginning to talk about it, the crescendo of change shall gradually find its way towards the law makers.