A girl was happy that today her mother offered to take her to the movies. This 7-year old girl was excited as this was her first movie in a long time. She left the house hoping to have a great time with her mother. Soon, she senses something amiss. Her mother led her into a building that in no way resembled a theatre but looked like dilapidated remains of a building she seen in the movies. However, she was far from scared as she had all she needed to be safe- her mother. Soon they enter a dark room, and she held her mother’s hand more firmly. Now, the mother asks her to lay down on the floor. She was petrified and clueless as to what to expect next, yet she obediently laid down. Soon, she realizes that she could not move her arms as they are firmly held down by two middle-aged women, who are standing right over her head. She can feel that someone was taking off her underwear. She asked them to stop, as she was uncomfortable. Her resistance grew with the commencement of experiences which would haunt her for the rest of her life. Suddenly a familiar voice falls onto her ears, asking her to trust her, and promising that she won’t hurt her. With great difficulty and prowess, they manage to hold her little body still. Just when she was screaming with all her might hoping that the intensity of her voice would melt their heart, it became impossible for her to utter a single word. But none come to her rescue. She felt an unbearable pain between her legs, one she never has or will experience in her lifetime. The ceiling before her eyes began to fade out as the pain was overpowering her whole body. The blades that pierced throughout her clitoris caused an excruciating pain that will clinch her body and soul for her entire lifetime. She experienced one more pain along with the unbearable pain inflicted by the blade, the pain of being betrayed.
The above scenario describes the experience of girls subjected to Female Genital Mutilation. While the International community and various nations have been enacting laws and opening up discussion about this inhumane procedure practised largely on minor girls, India has turned a blind eye towards it. With no specific legislation in place denouncing the practice, it has become a custom within the Bohra community in India.
What is FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation entails clipping of clitoris, a part of a women’s vagina. The practice, otherwise known as ‘khatna’ or ‘khafz’ in the Muslim Bohra community, is deeply rooted in the patriarchal need to keep a check on female sexual desires. The community considers clitoris, as ‘haraam ki boti‘ or ‘source of sin’. Thus, to avoid any disgrace, the community or family performs the procedure of FGM on minor girls, before they become sexually active.
Why is it problematic?
The quality of medical care and procedure during and after then the marring of female genitals is abysmal. Due to the taboo around the whole issue, this takes place in clandestinely, headed by unqualified mid-wives using unsterilised blades and sanitary pads as their medical supplies. The absence of anaesthesia subjects girls to an intolerable physical pain during and after the procedure. While the physical pain debilitates over time, the mental pain lasts forever for the girls.
The decision to perform FGM on minor girls is taken by their parents or guardians. Consent of parents to perform such a procedure which is without any medical benefits, is a product of social pressure, religious beliefs and constitutes an of
FGM in India
An organisation formed by Bohra women called ‘WeSpeakOut’ along with another women’s organisation called ‘Nari Samata Manch’ have evinced the blatant and rampant practice of FGM within the Bohra community. Their study titled “The Clitoral Hood A Contested Site”, revealed that 75% of 94 respondents interviewed had subjected their daughters to FGM. An alarming rate of 94% of the girls/women undergone FGM recalled it as ‘being very painful’. This study is consequential as it refutes the Indian government’s claim about the absence of data indicating the prevalence of FGM in India.
The practice constitutes an offence under Sections 321 to 326 of the IPC that concern with voluntarily causing hurt or grievous hurt. As the victims include minor girl child, POCSO Act, an legislation protecting children from the sexual offence will be applicable. Sections 3 (penetrative sexual assault), 5 (aggravated penetrative sexual assault) and 9 (aggravated sexual assault) which entail imprisonment of up to life term, will be applied in the cases of FGM, provided it is reported. An absence of specific legation prohibiting FGM and the lack of legal literacy perpetuates a false notion that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the customary practice of FGM. It is to consider a crime by the communities practising it. Thus, such incidents go unreported.
Additionally, no amount of religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution of India permits the non-interference of State and allow the practice of FGM to continue. The Rights of life of women will always take precedence with pitted against the Religious freedom of any community to practise FGM.
This is a serious violation of child rights. Child is individuals of society that are entitled to basic human rights like equality, life, dignity, among others. Even the consent of the guardians is immaterial as FGM violates the Right to life of children, guaranteed by the virtue of Article 21 of the Constitution.
FGM and International Community
The International Community has been fighting the inhumane and barbaric practice of Female genital mutilation since the last decade. India, a party of the CEDAW convention has long failed to the acknowledge and ban the diabolic custom.
26 African nations and the Middle East have enacted a legislation to ban the practice of FGM decree. The United Nations has declared FGM a Human Right Violation and declared 6th February as ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation’.
The need of the hour is the acknowledge the abundantly obvious prevalence of the practice of FGM in India. Also, it must be realised that the present legal framework is inadequate to protect the human right of minor girls and women, who are victims of FGM. The voices of women subjected to FGM are first silenced by the community and then by the State. Introduction of a specific litigation banning FGM in India, providing adequate legal redressal and protection of victims of FGM is of paramount importance. Such a legation will bring out a social awakening in the society and opening up conversations about the not so innocuous practice of FGM.