Female genital cutting in India
Al Jazeera

Khatna: Learning to live with the cut

When Saba was eight, an older man cut a part of her clitoris. Female genital cutting (FGC) is a common practice among Dawoodi Bohras in India. Here’s a personal account…

Saba (name changed) is a 25-year-old human rights lawyer from Mumbai.

Forfeiting to traditions

I was given a fairly advanced education. My parents enrolled me into one of the better schools and colleges in the city and always encouraged me to achieve more. As a child, even as an adult now, my parents are the only people I trust blindly. I never thought my mother who was extremely well educated and a super achiever herself would ever make a bad decision regarding her own children.

She was a successful fashion designer and set the most telling example for her daughter. My mother could do no wrong. She was my ultimate protector. Until one day I found out about how she let me succumb to female genital cutting (FGC).

I studied law for five years and decided to pursue human rights law – especially women’s rights law. It wasn’t an easy choice to make. I knew that I will learn several disturbing realities along the way. Every day, you learn about a new violation, a new world problem and ultimately a new way of solving it.

This is precisely how I learnt more about FGC. I haven’t stopped being angry since then. I haven’t stopped feeling grossly violated and I haven’t been able to make sense of it at all.

A trip to the past

A couple of years ago, I had to discuss and present a social concern at my work place. I researched for days before stumbling upon the whole concept of FGC. During that time, FGC was a topic nobody spoke about. I researched, read and gathered all kinds of information about this barbaric practice. During my research, suddenly it dawned upon me that I was a victim too! As a child, my rights were violated and I did not even know about it.

An instant flashback and I was transported back to the day it all happened. I remember it so vividly. I remember what I was wearing, where we went and who accompanied me. I recollected the whole ghastly event like it had just happened. The memory of being wounded had been severely etched but suppressed in my memories. But clearly it was not forgotten.

I was taken to a little clinic in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. I was wearing maroon shorts and a beige t-shirt. I might have been eight years old. I went inside a room and an old man with a beard conducted the procedure with a blade. I distinctly remember being given a lot of coconut water to drink after I was cut.

Many of my childhood friends were also dragged. Nobody told me that I was subjected to this ‘nipping’. Nobody thought it was important to tell me about this when I grew up and became a teenager or even an adult. I was just asked to pull my shorts down and the old man nipped a pinch of skin from my private parts. Everyone, including my family behaved as though it was perfectly normal and casual.

To know more about FGC practice in India, watch this national award winning documentary now!

 

 

 

Control over your desire

Years later, when I learned all about the practice, I demanded answers. I remember storming into the room and bombarding my mother with questions. All she said to me was sorry. She told me how she was also very young and how she couldn’t understand or find courage to oppose the procedure.

She was lied to and told that the process, more commonly called as ‘khatna’ within the community was done for easier childbirth. It also had religious and cultural reasons. Whilst the naked hard truth is that it is done to primarily curb sexual desire in women. It is hereby the one and only grievance I ever held against my late mother.

She should have known better. I was her baby and she should have protected me. My father refuses to acknowledge it or talk about it. My maternal grandmother and other family members just think I am an arduous rainbow baby. The kind of girl who just questions everything. They often talk about how my choice of career has made me very strong-headed. Oh boy! I am so glad about that!

I am still at a loss of answers. I have raised questions regarding FGC amongst the learned in my community, with women of knowledge and women who come from the high priest’s royal family. People say that tradition has specific reasons and must be followed. It’s a stance from the patriarchal, uneducated, uninformed age and it is scary how many people still live with such impressions.

Women of virtue?

It is disheartening to learn that your family takes you through this barbaric procedure. According to them, it makes you a woman of virtue and helps you not feel sexual desires. That’s not really the case. Undergoing FGC didn’t decrease my sex drive at all. If anything, I am extremely fond of sex, my body, men and everything that I wish to be fond of. It probably only alters your sensitivity and ability to orgasm.

I know that sex isn’t the same for me or even if it is, I just would not believe it. I feel incomplete, violated and infuriated. I feel like a part of me was taken away – without my permission, without any logic. I don’t think FGC is very different from the other kinds of violations against women today – be it rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment or even stalking.

This article was first published by Sahiyo. Sahiyo is an organisation dedicated to empower Dawoodi Bohra women against female genital cutting.

What do you know about female genital cutting in India? Is it still prevalent? Share your thoughts via comments or write them on Facebook. If you have any questions, visit our discussion forum

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