Stop FGM! Female Genital Mutilation in India

FGM in India?

It was indeed a disturbing truth that the brutal practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) continues in parts of the African continent. What most of us did not expect was the ugly revelation that this method of oppression was being practiced in our own backyards. Reports of the prevalence of FGM (known as khatna in the community) among the Dawoodi Bohra community have taken many gender activists by surprise. FGM is an uncomfortable reality, about which few Bohra women had so far dared to talk about openly was brought to light by an anonymous letter to the chairperson of the international NGO, Tostan. Here are some excerpts from the letter:

A young Indian woman recalls her experience

“…I, an Indian woman who has been to University, have myself experienced the practice of FGC.  I know this may surprise you, but it is true.  Did you know that FGC also exists in India?  Many people do not, not even many Indians!

I hail from the Dawoodi Bohra community, whose head is called the Syedna – we are a sect of the Shias, which came to India from Yemen some centuries ago.

As in many parts of the world, parents in the Bohra community suffered from “son stroke” as did my parents, who prayed hard for a son, after having four girls. They did succeed and we finally had a boy in the family.

I was the third among four sisters.  We were very close and shared many secrets. But none of us, not the ones before me, nor I myself, ever shared or warned the ones closest to us about the frightening and incomprehensible experience that we would one day be forced to go through.  It was not spoken about then and it is not spoken about even today.
I am 60 years old now, but will remember that fateful day for the rest of my life. I must have been around 7 years old when my mother told me we were going to my grandma’s house to spend the day with her.  When we reached my grandma’s house, my cousin (my mum’s sister’s daughter), who was a year younger than me, was also there. We were happy to meet each other.

Then, we were both led to a small room, which had a bed and asked to lie down. We kept asking “Why?” Suddenly, a lady dressed in black came into the room. By now, my cousin and I were terrified, not aware of what was to follow.

Our dresses were pulled up and our panties pulled off, and we were asked to keep our legs apart.  There were our mothers and our aunts holding our legs apart and then I felt something cold being applied to my clitoris, and then to my horror, the lady in black, actually held a scissor-like instrument and cut me there – I screamed and screamed but no one seemed to care. Then this same thing was done to my cousin, who was right next to me on the same bed.

Both of us kept screaming and crying in pain. Everyone left the room and asked us to lie down with our legs apart, and told us that all would be well soon. They locked us in for almost the whole day. The burning and painful sensation between my groins is something I will never ever forget.

I felt betrayed by and angry with my mother and humiliated too.  I just could not understand how my mother could have been so cruel and put me through this horrific experience.  Much later I was told that all Bohra girls must go through it, and that it is ‘good’ for you.  I then understood that my mother had no choice, that for her, she was only doing what was expected of her.  She was being a “good mother” because this is a practice that had been carried out in our Bohra group for centuries and was considered essential for a woman’s good reputation and marriage chances.

Little did I know that this would affect my sexual life to such a great extent that reaching an orgasm would be a difficult thing for me!

My husband and I have made sure that our daughter does not go through the same thing. We warned his mother and mine that they dare not do anything behind our backs.  We know of friends from my generation, who did not want their girls to go through FGC, but often it was the grandma or the aunts who took them away and secretly got it done!

The sad part is that my sisters and I, and my cousins too, did not really discuss our experience till many years later. We have spent years feeling shame and humiliation for a senseless act that we were subjugated to as children, incapable of defending our human right to keep all organs of our body”.

I first came across the letter at

The letter exposes how practices designed to subjugate women have seeped into our social fabric. They have been internalized by entire communities over the years and are being perpetuated simply because people are too afraid or too embarrassed to speak out against such oppression. The stated reasons behind the practice of FGM, in the Dawoodi Bohra community (residing mostly in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan) range from “disciplining women”, “purity” to ensuring social acceptance within the community.

A young girl undergoing the procedure by force experiences not just immense physical pain and risk of contracting infections due to the unhygienic manner in which FGM may be carried out but also extreme humiliation, and the realization that she must be subject to such torture because of her gender. Further, the basic aim behind FGM is to curb sexual desire in order to ensure that the women are not “unfaithful.” Such suppression is a blatant attack on the right to a dignified life and personal freedom.

While any attempt to “discipline” women (or any other social group) is by itself arbitrary and unjustified, the brutal and violent nature of FGM, the pain and trauma that it unleashes on young girls and the associated physical consequences make this practice absolutely deplorable.


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