04/12/2015 11:39 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

In A First, Dawoodi Bohra Women Loudly Protest Forced Genital Mutilation

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For the first time in India, seventeen women from the Dawoodi Bohra community have publicly called for action against female genital mutilation (FGM) in India.

The petition, started on December 1 by these seventeen women, several of whom in turn have been subjected to the ritual of genital excision, or ‘Khatna,’ has already received over 3,000 signatures and increasing.

In spite of being outlawed across several countries and termed as a violation of human rights by the World Health Organisation, FGM still continues to be practiced within this predominantly-Muslim, Gujarati community. This ritual practise is typically carried out by a traditional circumciser with a razor blade on young girls, usually before they turn 5, and frequently without anaesthesia.

“It is historic that 16 (other) Dawoodi Bohra women, who've all been subjected to FGM, have signed the petition openly,” said Masooma Ranalvi, the first signatory of the letter, who is also a founder of a Platform of Bohras called Speak Out On FGM, according to Scroll.com.

Having undergone genital cutting herself at the age of seven, according to the Mumbai Mirror, Ranalvi claimed that this petition was addressed to the ministries of health; women, and child development, and law and justice. “It is extremely unsettling that this practice continues. There is absolutely no consent involved,” revealed the 49-year-old publisher. “We don’t have any valid reason as to why someone is tampering with our body.”

By revealing their identity in the petition, these women risk social boycotting from their own community that protects FGM as a closely-guarded custom. “Because this is a very educated, middle-class community, people think nothing goes wrong,” said Ranalvi. “But this is a closely knit community over which the clergy has a tight control. A lot of women want to speak out, but they don’t want to be identified because of a fear of persecution.”

Here's the complete petition. Click here, if you want to sign it:

At the age of seven, I was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Mumbai, in a most unhygienic and clandestine manner. The shock and trauma of that day are still with me.

Like me, there are thousands of my Dawoodi Bohra sisters who have been subjected to genital cutting as children and even today thousands of Bohra girls are being subjected to this practice, since it has been ordained by the clergy of our community.

A few months ago, women like me got together under the forum - ‘Speak out on FGM’ - to begin a conversation on this extremely secretive ritual which has caused physical and psychological damage to each of us in some way or the other.

We the undersigned women, who have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also known as ‘Khatna’ belong to the Dawoodi Bohra community which has its major adherents in India.

The practice of FGM is done surreptiously and in a clandestine manner to all the girl children in our community, without any consent whatsoever. The alleged reason for this tradition is to curb the sexual drive of women and control them.

The Dawoodi Bohras are amongst the most educated in India, yet we are also the only Muslim community in India to practice FGM. The practice has nothing to do with religion and is more of a cultural practice.

Most of us are too scared to speak out publicly. We fear ostracization, social boycott and exclusion of our families from the rest of the community by our religious clergy if we object to the continuation of this practice.

FGM has no health benefits, in fact it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies. FGM is often done without anaesthesia, without medical supervision and sometimes the procedure goes horribly wrong.

It often leads to pain, shock, tetanus, genital sores, excessive bleeding, etc. It also has long-lasting psychological impact on the victims, ranging from sexual disorders, fear of sexual intimacy, nightmares and post traumatic stress disorder.

In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution on the elimination of FGM. Across the world FGM is being outlawed in many countries. Nigeria and Gambia recently made FGM illegal after women came together, campaigned and raised their voice. FGM is banned in over 20 countries in Africa itself.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. According to WHO, FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.

In Australia, three Dawoodi Bohras were held guilty of FGM recently by the Supreme Court of New Wales, Australia. The case was closely watched by the Dawoodi Bohra community in India.

We urge the Government to pass a law banning this practice in India, such that anyone found involved in aiding, abetting and perpetrating this practice should be punished. Pressure of this law and fear of punishment will be the best way to put a stop to this cruel practice.

I along with my Dawoodi Bohra sisters want to raise our voice against FGM in India and put an end to this. You can support us by signing this petition.

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