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Female circumcision anger aired in India

Published Apr 23, 2012 05:53am

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Bohra-women
Women from the Bohra community walking past a shop selling pictures of their religious leaders, outside a mosque in Mumbai.—AFP Photo

NEW DELHI: Eleven years ago, Farida Bano was circumcised by an aunt on a bunk bed in her family home at the end of her 10th birthday party.

The mutilation occurred not in Africa, where the practice is most prevalent, but in India where a small Muslim sub-sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra continues to believe that the removal of the clitoris is the will of God.

“We claim to be modern and different from other Muslim sects. We are different but not modern,” Bano, a 21-year-old law graduate who is angry about what was done to her, told AFP in New Delhi.

She vividly remembers the moment in the party when the aunt pounced with a razor blade and a pack of cotton wool.

While the sect bars other Muslims from its mosques, it sees itself as more liberal, treating men and women equally in matters of education and marriage.

The community's insistence on “Khatna” (the excision of the clitoris) also sets it apart from others on the subcontinent.

“If other Muslims are not doing it then why are we following it?” Bano says.

For generations, few women in the tightly-knit community have spoken out in opposition, fearing that to air their grievances would be seen as an act of revolt frowned upon by their elders.

But an online campaign is now encouraging them to join hands to bury the custom.

The anti-Khatna movement gained momentum after Tasneem, a Bohra woman who goes by one name, posted an online petition at the social action platform Change.org in November last year.

She requested their religious leader, the 101-year-old Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, ban female genital mutilation, the consequences of which afflict 140 million women worldwide according to the World Health Organisation.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin is the 52nd Dai-al Mutalaq (absolute missionary) of the community and has sole authority to decide on all spiritual and temporal matters.

Every member of the sect takes an oath of allegiance to the leader, who lives in western city of Mumbai.

When contacted by AFP, Burhanuddin's spokesman, Qureshi Raghib, ruled out any change and said he had no interest in talking about the issue.

“I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument,” he said.

A gathering protest

But over 1,600 Bohra Muslim women have since signed the online petition.

Many describe the pain they experienced after the procedure and urge their leader to impose a ban.

“The main motive behind Khatna is that women should never enjoy sexual intercourse. We are supposed to be like dolls for men,” 34-year-old Tabassum Murtaza, who lives in the western city of Surat, told AFP by telephone.

The World Health Organisation has campaigned against the practice, saying it exposes millions of girls to dangers ranging from infections, hemorrhaging, complicated child-birth, or hepatitis from unsterilised tools.

In the Middle East, it is still practised in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

“It is an atrocity committed under the cloak of religion,” says Murtaza, who along with her husband was asked to leave their family home when they refused to get their daughter circumcised.

“My mother-in-law said there was no room for religious disobedience and we should move out if we cannot respect the custom,” she explained. “It is better to live on the street than humiliate your daughter's body.”

Speaking out

Asghar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim and expert on Islamic jurisprudence, has known the dangers of fighting for reform.

He has authored over 40 books proposing changes, particularly around the status of women, and has been attacked by hardliners inside a mosque in Egypt and had his house trashed by opponents.

While both France and the United States have laws enabling the prosecution of immigrants who perform female circumcisions, the practice remains legal in India and Engineer expects this to remain the case.

“Female circumcision is clearly a violation of human rights, the Indian government refuses to recognise it as a crime because the practice has full-fledged religious backing,” he said.

“No government has the courage to touch a religious issue in India even if the practice is a crime against humanity.”

He says many fathers are simply unaware of the damage they are doing by following the custom.

“I prevented my wife from getting our daughters circumcised but in many cases even fathers are not aware of the pain their daughters experience,” he says.


Comments (32) Closed



vijay, chennai, India Apr 23, 2012 07:17am
This is news to me and shocking. Does this happen in India? i am ashamed. I know the Bohras who are modern in their outlook. this news really shook me.
Maz Apr 23, 2012 11:11am
Islam has no law or edict stating women to be circumcised i challenge all anyone that believe in such to produce their proof. the time of ignorance was before our beloved Prophet (saw) then came the time of illumination. so stop living in the dark ages and stating ISLAM for that.
shafiq Apr 23, 2012 10:45am
This practice will finish only when this issue start getting educated people change their sect to save their daughters.
Leo Apr 23, 2012 10:44am
This is a surprise for me. I always thought of Bohris as more progressive than Ahle Sunnat! They have proven me wrong. I wonder if this practice is prevalent in karachi as well.
ALI Apr 23, 2012 11:01am
But my dear circumcision of female deprives her form the pleasure of sex and makes her tool for sex without having any feelings about it. But its not the case for male as for as their circumcision in concerned.
Fahim A.B. Apr 23, 2012 10:44am
I'm working in Middle East since 1980, I fully agree with Mr.Mansoor Alam, he rightly pin pointed that its no where mentioned in The Quran and Hadiths, such acts are being followed by those few people who are not having sufficient education or very rigid to their wrong family traditions, majority of the people of Middle East don't practice it.
sanaullah bugti Apr 23, 2012 10:59am
absolutely nonsense!! Islam has got nothing to do with this insane practice. only circumcision of males is allowed in Islam. male circumcision is beneficial in many ways that is why it is widely practiced in many countries besides muslim world. female circumcision is connected with cultural practices rather than islamic. bohras do it as their own tradition and culture. they should never refer this to Islam.
tanveer Apr 23, 2012 10:56am
religious reasons are better understood by religious experts .if we lack knowledge we better refrain from insane comments
Ali Apr 23, 2012 10:18am
This practice is completely against the Islamic teaching and is a violation of human rights of woman and as such should be banned and should be punishable by law if carried out.
Z. B. Apr 23, 2012 10:06am
This act is not against Islam as some people think.
Satya Apr 23, 2012 09:56am
If female circumcision is violation of human rights, then why don't male circumcision also ? Men also feel pain male circumcision is mostly performed due to religious reason and men also loses sensitivity in their genitals.
Azazel Apr 23, 2012 09:50am
Dawoodi Bohras migrated from Yemen to India centuries ago.That's how this practice came to India.
Faraz Paracha Apr 23, 2012 09:20am
I did not know that, seriously, that is such a shame! Men's circumcision is healthy and helps him through his life, something that is being practiced even in the most modern of societies. For women its done so that they don't enjoy their sexual life, what a bleeding shame and who in the world authorized that?
Fiaz Apr 23, 2012 09:19am
this is totaly violation of human rights and i really support this campaign
Salman Apr 23, 2012 09:12am
this is simply gross immoral act and should be condemned in the highest forum. please send the information about theis heinous crime to maximum people so that preventive action be taken. there should be an immediate stop and violators in prosecuted in harshest manner and set an example that no one does total disrespect to women. Our religion is against all this and it is about fairness to all, whether it be muslims or non-mulims
WA Apr 23, 2012 07:12am
Mr. Ali, sounds like you are another fanatic in favor of these inhuman practices. It is the role of media to bring these unjust and ridicules social / religious practices to fore front.
avinash Apr 23, 2012 07:02am
Our religion is humanity. Anything against humanity is bad and we in the democratic world should oppose it.
Dilawar Apr 23, 2012 06:56am
Ali, why does it bother you. If don't want to read then move on- can you not read the title of this News. They only way to get away from practicing these things is to talk about it in open such as in mosques and in Imam bargah or wherever it can be discussed. We are living in 21st century. Freedom of expression.
Vishnu Dutta Apr 23, 2012 06:47am
It is my firm believe that some day India will lead and show the right path to all the muslims in the world via its most independent and openminded muslim population.
Umar Apr 23, 2012 06:35am
^^ yes Ali keep your eyes closed to problems with the Muslim world like you had yours closed during the 25 year Afghan bretheren Jihad support and Zia's push for Pakistan towards religious extremism.
EQ8Rhomes Apr 23, 2012 06:18am
Indian governments can't hide behind religious rituals that harm people. best recourse is world publicity. Bohra girls victims or not, have to say NO!
a a khan Apr 23, 2012 06:21am
please stop this, it has nothing to do with our religion. it is inhuman I am with all who are aganist this practice.
ali Apr 23, 2012 06:08am
What kinda newspiece is this? It should have marked viewer discretion .. wats wrong with you Dawn? Are you trying to beat Express Tribune in touching the taboo explicit topics ..
Mansoor Alam Apr 23, 2012 07:25am
I served in Egypt for three years. There, in Sudan and some other neighbouring Christian countries like Uganda, the practice is common and rampant, but it has nothing to do with Shariah. No where in the Quran or Hadiths has this practice been sanctifed or even permission given obliquely for it. This barbaric practice dates back to the darkest period of male domination and chauvinism in Africa. I am extremely surprised that it should be also prevalent in the Bohra community in India in which no other Muslim sect practices this cruel and totally irrational practice. It is sad that in spite of being an establised democracy, India should be scared to do the right thing. And if the Congress Government is scared let the Muslim MPS vote on it. I am sure that the Congress Government will win the vote hands down. As for such Muslims, all one can say to them mis that please do not make us feel ashamed of being Muslims.
Utkarsh Apr 23, 2012 07:23am
Are you trying to be sarcastic? 'taboo explicit topics'... This has remained taboo for so long that we have not rid the world of it.
Always Yes Apr 23, 2012 07:22am
Syed Apr 23, 2012 08:38am
How could you do that to a woman........digusting. Violation of human rights I support this online campaign
Goga Nalaik Apr 23, 2012 07:56am
OMG I always thought this evil practice existed in African communities.
Dr. Gopinath Apr 23, 2012 07:53am
The fault lies with the Government for turning a blind eye to this barbaric medieval practice.What religion? If your religion demands that you kill someone every full moon night will the Law allow it just because your religion says so? The practitioners as well as the supplicants are equally guilty of a gross malpractice. In Modern India individual religious idiosyncracies must be banned and everyone must come under one law. We need a Common Civil Code and must learn to live like citizens of a modren and enlightened world, not barabarians.
Tarik Apr 23, 2012 08:20am
Female circumcision is not backed by Quran and Sunnah. This is clearly a Bidat and hence haram. Male circumcision is done in accordance with Sunnah and it has a range of health benefits.
Guest Apr 23, 2012 08:18am
erm.. you may want to look up what male circumcision and female circumcision actually mean before commenting. Male circumcision involves just removing foreskin, and its mainly done for hygiene. Female circumcision is totally different, better described as a form of genital mutilation... Its done so a woman loses sensitivity in her genitals and cannot enjoy sex. Huge difference.
Abrar Shah Apr 23, 2012 08:15am
Fie on the leader of Bohra. He is denying the commands of God as well as Holy Prophet. he is introducing his own religion and vilating the the religion of God. It is great attrocity against girls and it is completely inhuman act. There is no any command in Islam for circumcision of girls. There is command of circumcision of of boys not for girls. And the circumcision of boy is also useful and better for health. So do not compare the circumcision of boy to taht of girl.