February 6 was marked by the United Nations as Zero Tolerance to FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) Day.
Until a few months ago, I and several of my Bohra sisters, and, indeed, most people in this country were unaware of this day, its importance and its relevance in India.
According to the UN statement issued on Zero Tolerance Day, "FGM comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women." The statement goes on to talk about a huge program to ensure FGM is eliminated by 2030; the program focuses on 17 African countries.
However, the question which comes to my mind is why is India still not on the UN radar, even though the 1.5 million-strong Bohra community practices FGM here? How can a complete eradication of FGM ever be possible if there is no effort, no mention and little attention on the issue of FGM among the Bohras here?
I belong to this Bohra community in India, and I am an FGM survivor. I wrote about my experience for ndtv.com last year. Like me, there are hundreds and thousands of Bohra women who have been subject to genital cutting and thousands of seven-year-old girls who continue to be traumatized by FGM. The practice continues secretly, and there is a complete shroud of silence around it.
The Bohras are a sect of Shia Islam, of which the Dawoodi Bohras are the largest sub-sect. The ritual is referred to as Khatna or female circumcision, and involves cutting the tip of a girl's clitoris when she is 6-7 years old. The most common reason the community members give for practicing khatna is that it moderates a woman's sexual urges and prevents her from becoming promiscuous.
We have now rolled out a month-long campaign called "Each One Reach One" to spread awareness about FGM within the Bohra community.
This has become possible because in the last few years, a small and determined group of Bohra women have come together to talk, discuss and share the ordeal they suffered as children. These women have taken a brave stand against this practice in their community and are actively advocating an end to FGM among the girl children of their community.
Here is how we plan to take 'Each One Reach One' forward:
- Between February 6 and March 8, 2016, we will reach out to at least one Bohra woman or man and have a conversation about khatna/female circumcision. We will tell them about our signature petition and the reason why we seek to appeal to the government to ban the practice in India and request them to sign it if they agree. And to circulate it among their friends.
- During our conversation, we will share stories about khatna: memories of the day when the cut was done, feelings and emotions towards the experience, the reasons given for the practice, the reasons behind the silence around the practice, the physical, psychological and sexual impact of the practice for women.
- We will speak to Bohra men too. Silence can only be broken when men and women speak together and to each other.
Masooma Ranalvi is a Dawoodi Bohra. She works as a publisher and is actively involved in working on womens issues. She is committed to spreading awareness on the issue of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in her community.
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