Female genital mutilation in India
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practised in India by some Islamic groups. The procedure is generally performed when a girl is seven years old and involves the total or partial removal of the clitoral hood. Consequences of FGM may range from discomfort to sepsis.
FGM is practised by the Dawoodi Bohra, a sect of Shia Islam with one million members in India. In the community, FGM is performed on six- or seven-year-old girls in a form known as khatna or khafz involving the total or partial removal of the clitoral hood. The spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, has stated that male and female circumcision (respectively khatna and khafz) are required as "acts of religious purity". The term khafd is also used to describe the practice. Other Bohra sects including the Sulemani Bohras and the Alavi Bohras, as well as some Sunni communities in Kerala, are reported as practising FGM.
In May 2017 a public interest litigation (PIL) case was raised in India's Supreme Court. The case was filed by Sunita Tiwari, a lawyer based in Delhi, seeking a ban on FGM in India. The Supreme Court received the petition and sought responses from four states and four ministries of the central government.
An advocate for the petition claimed the practice violated children's rights under Article 14 (Right to Equality) and Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India, while an advocate opposing the petition argued that khafz is an essential part of the community's religion, and their right to practise the religion is protected under Articles 25 and 26.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development reported in December 2017 that "there is no official data or study which supports the existence of FGM in India." Earlier, in May 2017, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi announced that the government will ban FGM if it is not voluntarily stopped.
In April 2018 India's Attorney General K. K. Venugopal asked a bench of the Supreme Court to issue directions regarding the case, saying that FGM was already a crime under existing law. The bench adjourned the case and issued notices to Kerala and Telangana, having earlier notified Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi.
In November 2011 a Bohra woman posted an online petition requesting that Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, religious leader of the Dawoodi Bohras, ban FGM. A spokesman ruled out any change saying "Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument".
On 10 December 2016 (Human Rights Day) a group of Dawoodi Bohra women started an online petition calling for FGM to be banned. A similar petition was conducted by the group a year earlier; that petition was submitted to India's Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi.
Two Mumbai-based groups, Sahiyo and We Speak Out, launched a campaign in February 2016 called "Each One Reach One"; the campaign was repeated during Ramadan in 2017. The campaign promoted conversations about female genital cutting.
In December 2016, Dawoodi Bohra women petitioned the United Nations demanding that India be recognised as a country where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is practised.
In September 2017, when the 36th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was conducting a Universal Periodic Review of India, a written submission on FGM in India was presented at a side event. That was the first time the issue of FGM in India had been raised at the United Nations.
The group Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom (DBWRF) was established in May 2017 by six Bohra women to support their "beliefs, customs, culture and religious rights", including their right to practise FGM. The group claims to represent "tens of thousands of Dawoodi Bohra women in India". The DBWRF states that female circumcision is a harmless procedure and not mutilation. Their mission is to "stand for the rights of Dawoodi Bohra women in India" to ensure they have the same freedom as other citizens.
In July 2018, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi represented the DBWRF during proceedings in the Supreme Court and stated that "the practice of khafz is an essential part of the religion as practised by Dawoodi Bohra Community and their right to practise and propagate religion is protected under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India."
Dr. Meghana Reddy J, a gynaecologist, reported that khatna can lead to complications in later life including difficult deliveries and urinary infections. In one case a girl had developed sepsis after having had khatna and great effort had been required to revive her.
In conjunction with a small study, the first of its kind in India, twenty Bohra women were examined by Dr Sujaat Vali, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, who reported that only a specialist would be able to separate and cut only the clitoral hood without also cutting the clitoris, and the clitoris had been cut in most cases examined. Dr Sujaat Vali also stated that "Half of them feel some kind of irritation, while 30% either feel discomfort while walking/urinating or have lost sensitivity in the area". The study covered 83 women and 11 men from five Indian states and found that 75% of the respondents' daughters who were at least seven years old had been subjected to FGM.
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