Whither Muslim women’s rights?

Justice for Survivors of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in India

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. In India, FGM/C (also known as Khafz or Khatna) is known to be practiced in India by the Dawoodi, Alvi and Suleimani Bohra communities, as well as certain sections of Sunni Muslims. In the Bohra community, the practice of FGM/Khafz involves the cutting of the prepuce or clitoral hood, and is mainly performed on young girls around the age of seven. Independent research studies have shown that there is a prevalence rate of around 75% of girls within the Bohra community who have been subjected to FGM/Khafz.

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

FGM/Khafz is primarily aimed at controlling the sexuality of women and girls. It is a violation of their human rights, under both international law and the Indian constitution, including the right to equality and bodily integrity. It has no health benefits, and in fact, often has both short-term and long-term health and psychological consequences. The practice of FGM is condemned by international human rights treaties to which India is a party. Despite this, India does not have any specific law prohibiting the practice of FGM/Khafz. A public interest litigation requesting a ban on the practice of FGM/Khafz is pending before the Supreme Court, and has recently been referred to a Constitution Bench. Prior to this referral, the judges on the bench have noted that there seems to be no scientific or medical basis for the practice of FGM/Khafz, which is likely to cause a significant amount of trauma, pain and bleeding.

The Minister for Women and Child Development, Mrs. Maneka Gandhi has publicly stated that FGM/Khafz is a crime under existing laws, and has asked the religious head of the Bohra community to take measures to put an end to the practice. However, there has been no action taken by the government to ban FGM/Khafz or put an end to the practice.

Recently, a collective of Muslim women’s groups, as well as the BJP’s women’s wing (Mahila Morcha) have demanded the inclusion of a law against FGM as part of election manifestos ahead of the Lok Sabha general elections. Rather than engaging in political opportunism in the name of empowering Muslim women, our leaders need to listen to the demands made by Muslim women’s groups. Survivors of FGM/Khafz are courageously speaking out about their experiences and are leading the fight to end FGM/Khafz in India.

Much needs to be done to ensure justice for survivors of FGM/Khafz and to protect more girls from being cut. Better research and data is required on the prevalence and consequences of FGM/Khafz. Professional medical associations need to take a public stand against FGM/Khafz and forbid doctors from performing the practice. The government needs to pass a law banning FGM/Khafz in all its forms. In the absence of action by the central government, the State governments should take the lead and pass such laws within their states. It is high time that that political commitments are backed up by concrete action.

By Divya Srinivasan

Divya Srinivasan is South Asia Consultant for the international women’s rights organisation Equality Now

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