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Female genital mutilation (FGM) in India and why it must be banned

WHAT IS FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION OR  FGM?

According to WHO, “Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” [1] FGM is an unnatural intervention into something that is completely natural. FGM is broadly categorized into four types. This categorization is based on the extent and method of mutilation which range from completely removing genital organs to scraping or pricking the genital organs for non-medical purposes. The Mutilation of genitals is often seen as normal sexual behavior in the societies that carry out FGM. It is usually carried out by traditional circumcisers and almost always carried out on girls between the age of a few months to fifteen years. More than three million girls, mostly from Africa, Middle East and Asia are at a risk of FGM annually. Over two hundred million women who are alive today have had some sort of experiences related to FGM.

FGM: HOW WHERE AND WHY?

The Exact origin of FGM is unclear, but it seems to have pre-existed before Christianity and Islam. Signs of FGM can be found on some Egyptian mummies. Greek records suggest that FGM was carried out by the Ethiopians and Hittites. There are evidences of FGM being carried out in the Philippines and some tribes in the Upper Amazon. FGM is performed in some Latin American, Eastern European and Asian communities as well. As late as the 1950s, in Western Europe and United States, clitoridectomy was seen as a cure for diseases like epilepsy, mental disorders, nymphomania, masturbation and melancholia. FGM has been carried out across borders throughout the different time periods for various reasons. Even though the reasons for performing FGM vary from community to community, more often than not FGM is performed to prepare a girl for adulthood and marriage and to follow the already set social norms. In many societies, it is believed that FGM ensures virginity in women, increases her chances of getting married sooner and prevents women from having extra marital affairs as it is believed that FGM reduces a woman’s libido. More or less, FGM is an accepted sexual behaviour. It is associated with the cultural ideas of modesty and femininity believing that women who undergo FGM are purer and more beautiful. FGM shows the deep-rooted stigma associated with female sexuality in various societies across the continents. No doubt, FGM is a clear violation of the rights of a woman and is also a basic human right violation. Often, FGM is carried out using poorly sanitized equipment and under unhygienic conditions which leads to girls developing various reproductive infections and infections in the urinary tract. Most of the times, girls suffer from sexual problems later in life and also have to get corrective surgeries once they mature. Even though there are no religious scripts that support FGM, some religious leaders support it whereas others consider FGM to be irrelevant to religion.

FGM IN INDIA

In India, FGM is known as Khatna or Khafz and is carried out in the Dawoodi Bohra community. Dawoodi Bohra is a Shia subsect of Islam religion and a large number of its population resides in India, Pakistan, Yemen and East Africa. This community is known for its trading and business acumen. In India, this community resides in Gujrat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. As with other communities that carry out FGM, even this community believes that FGM prevents women from indulging in extra marital affairs and the clitoral skin is a source of sin that will drive young women away from marriage. Attention was brought to this issue after two cases concerning FGM took place in Australia and in Detroit, USA. In 2018, a study published by WeSpeakOut, a survivor-led movement, revealed that "75% of daughters (aged seven years and above) of all respondents in the sample, from the Bohra community, were subjected to FGM/C. Approximately 33% of the women surveyed reported that FGM/C had negatively affected their sexual life".[2] FGM is carried out in India under complete secrecy. Hence, there are no laws or legislations against this practice.

The practice of FGM deprives a woman belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community to benefit from the Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India. This practice does not only pose grave threat to a woman’s health, but also violates her basic right to equality. It violates her right to live a dignified life and a life without any discrimination.

In a case filed in the Supreme Court of India, in the year 2018, lawyer Sunita Tiwari asked for a complete ban on this practice. "Mr. AM Singhvi, representing the Dawoodi Bohra community claims that female circumcision is practiced in a safe and non-mutilating manner by Dawoodi Bohras. Mr. Singhvi questions the relevance of the WHO’s report, given that it pertains to FGM, not circumcision".[3] The community claims that conducting FGM on females is their right under Article 25 and Article 26 of the Constitution of India. The then Chief Justice of India, Mr. Dipak Misra, said that “women do not live only for marriage and their husbands” and have several other obligations beyond marriage, and also that “subjugation to a husband will not pass the test of constitutionality.”[4]

Also, the POCSO Act specifically states that the touching of the genitalia of a minor girl is illegal.

The division bench, on September 24, 2018 referred the case to a Constitution Bench. As the Division Bench believes that the case needs a thorough assessment to determine whether FGM is an essential religious practice or not.

CONCLUSION

"WHO has conducted a study of the economic costs of treating health complications of FGM and has found that the current costs for 27 countries where data were available totaled 1.4 billion USD during a one year period (2018). This amount is expected to rise to 2.3 billion in 30 years (2047) if FGM prevalence remains the same – corresponding to a 68% increase in the costs of inaction. However, if countries abandon FGM, these costs would decrease by 60% over the next 30 years".[5] In the year 1997, WHO along with UNFPA AND UNICEF issued a joint statement in which it took steps to curb FGM in certain regions. In the year 2007, UNFPA and UNICEF initiated a joint response on Female Genital mutilation and cutting for faster abandonment of FGM. A statement was issued by WHO in the year 2008 for faster elimination of FGM.In the year 2012, UNGA adopted a resolution on the elimination of female genital mutilation. Recently, in the year 2018, WHO released a handbook for improving the knowledge and skills of Health Care Providers working for the prevention of FGM and managing complications arising out of FGM.

Amid the COVID-19 madness that has engulfed the entire world currently, Sudan recently passed a law seeking a complete ban on FGM. People found guilty of the crime would be awarded a jail sentence for three years. The international community lauded this move.

In India, we must first recognize that Female Genital Mutilation exists. Once we recognize that we must understand that this practice promotes inequality and is discriminatory. It reinforces the stigma regarding female sexuality that exists in our society. It deprives a female of her basic human rights and further subjects her to an array of health problems. It also subjects her to mental and emotional trauma. This practice violates Article 14, 15 and 21 that is granted to every citizen of this country under its Constitution.

We must recognize the fact that this practice has not even one benefit. It subjects a woman to emotional, mental and physical harassment and is violative of her very basic human rights and a few of her Fundamental Rights. If other countries can pass legislations against this practice, then so can India. We must not let these women face anymore discrimination and denial and we must ask for a complete ban of this practice.

  • [1] WHO Website
  • [2] Amnesty International
  • [3] Supreme Court Observer
  • [4] The Better Indian
  • [5] WHO Website

 

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