New study throws light on female genital cutting in India

Female genital cutting (FGC) or mutilation is a regressive cultural practice found mostly among Muslims living in Africa and Arab countries and also in Indonesia. Though Indian subcontinent has a huge Muslim population it is believed that  FGC is very rare  among Muslims in South Asia.

Still one sect of Muslims were known to be following this, the Dawoodi Boharas.

The Dawoodi Bohras are a sub-sect of Ismaili Shia Islam, who trace their roots back to the Fatimid dynasty of Yemen in the 11th century. The Dawoodi Bohras believe that the religious or spiritual leader of the community is the Da’i al-Mutlaq, referred to with the title of ‘Syedna’. The post originated in Yemen but moved to Gujarat, India, in the 1500s. Today, the Dawoodi Bohras are predominantly a Gujarati-speaking business community with their own distinct culture and a population estimated to be between one and two million. The majority of Dawoodi Bohras reside in India and Pakistan, but over the last few decades there has been a significant migration of Dawoodi Bohras to the Middle East, East Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, and other parts of Asia. The administrative headquarters of the Dawoodi Bohras as well as the office of the current (53rd) Da’i are in Mumbai, India.

Dawoodi Bohras are the most well-known Muslim community in India to practice FGC, known as ‘khatna’ or ‘khafd’ in the community – a ritual that many Islamic scholars around the world do not endorse. In most instances, the process involves the removal of a pinch of skin from the clitoral hood at the age of seven, or between the ages of six and twelve. While the Quran, Islam’s holy book, does not sanction FGC, the Daim al-Islam, a religious text followed by this community, does endorses the practice. It is likely that the practice came down to the Dawoodi Bohras from Yemen, where Dawoodi Bohras trace their roots and where FGC is widely practiced in several provinces.

Sahiyo founders Shaheeda Tavawalla-Kirtane, Insia Dariwala and Priya Goswami.- image credit Dailypao

Five women from the community who felt strongly about the ritual of ‘khatna’ or FGC in the Dawoodi Bohra community came together and formed  Sahiyo (the Bohra Gujarati word for ‘saheliyo’, or friends)  in 2014 . The group included a social worker, a researcher, two filmmakers and a journalist, who had all been speaking out, in their own ways, against the practice of khatna. The mission of Sahiyo is to empower Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end Female Genital Cutting and create positive social change through dialogue, education and collaboration based on community involvement.

Now they have come out with a comprehensive survey on FGC among their community members.


Shockingly 80% of survey participants had been subjected to Khatna as children. 66% were only 6 or 7 years old when they were cut and in 3 out of 4 cases they were cut by an untrained traditional cutter.

35% of those who were cut claimed that Khatna affected their sexual life. Out of those women, 87% said Khatna had a negative impact on their sexual life..

56% believed it is done for religious purposes alone while 45% thought it was done to decrease sexual arousal.

The good news is 82% said they are unlikely or extremely unlikely to continue Khatna on their daughter.

Female genital manipulations have a long history preceding all the modern religions.

 The time period when FGC first originated is uncertain, but it is widely acknowledged that this practice predates both Christianity and Islam (J.A. Black, 1995) and may be over 2,000 years old. Herodotus wrote about FGC being practiced in Egypt as early as 500 BC and the Greek geographer, Strabo, reported while visiting Egypt in 25 BC that one of the Egyptian customs was “to circumcise the males and excise the females” (Knight, 2001). Some scholars, citing evidence of FGC found on Egyptian mummies, have noted that FGC was practiced in Ancient Egypt as a sign of distinction among aristocracy (Momoh, 2005). Greek physicians visiting Egypt believed FGC was performed to reduce a woman’s sexual pleasure, thereby controlling her sexual behavior. The Romans performed a technique involving slipping of rings through the labia majora of female slaves to prevent them from becoming pregnant and the Scoptsi sect in Russia performed FGM to ensure virginity (Momoh, 2005). In the 19th and 20th century, within Europe and the United States, FGC was performed because it was believed to cure nymphomania, hysteria, masturbation and other “female disorders”(Momoh 2005).

Practices with deep cultural roots are not easy to eradicate by laws. It needs lot of hard work on the ground among the community by members with progressive views. It should involve open dialogue and raising of awareness on gender issues, sexuality and human rights so that they they themselves take the initiative in stopping such inhuman traditions.

This initiative of Sahiyo is such a big step in that direction.

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