Govt will end female genital mutilation if Bohras don’t: Maneka Gandhi
The custom of female genital mutilation (FGM), practised by the Dawoodi Bohra community, is a criminal offence and if the community does not stop it voluntarily, the government will bring in a law to ban the practice, Union women and child development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi told Hindustan Times.
On May 8, the SC sought response from the Centre and four states on a PIL seeking ban on female genital cutting, which is mainly practised by Dawoodi Bohras, a Shia Muslim sect.
The Dawoodi Bohras are a two-million strong business community and they reside mostly in western cities including Mumbai.
“We will write to respective state governments and Syedna, the Bohra high priest shortly to issue an edict to community members to give up FGM voluntarily as it is a crime under Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, 2012. If the Syedna does not respond then we will bring in a law to ban the practice in India,” Gandhi told HT.
Commonly called khatna, the custom is inflicted on young girls, when they are six or seven-year old. Carried out mostly by untrained midwives, it involves cutting off the clitoral hood, in the belief that it will curb a women’s sexual drive.
The WCD ministry had already started consultations with community members and NGOs on the issue, after receiving several representations from Bohra women to end the custom, when the apex court stepped in 12 days ago.
“The 14th-century-old custom is tolerated even today, without enforcement of existing IPC provisions. Banning it will be a big step towards eradication of the practice,” said Shaheeda Tavawalla Kirtane of women’s group Sahiyo that works towards getting the practise eradicated.
Echoing Kirtane’s view, Gandhi said that despite the fact that the custom is illegal under Indian law, it continues surreptitiously. “It could be that the community is not aware of the specific provisions of law that makes FGM illegal. So we decided to sensitise them about the provision in law,” she said.
FGM is banned in 24 African countries. Many western countries, including the United Kingdom and the US have also outlawed the practice. In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution to eliminate the practice.
In her petition against FGM filed in the apex court, advocate Sunita Tiwari has said, “…it amounts to serious violation of the rights of children as even minors have a right of security of person, right to privacy, bodily integrity and the freedom from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment”.
In India, it is only recently that women from the community have started speaking up against the custom. In 2015, an online petition on the website Change.org “Speak out on FGM” was started by women from Bohra community.
Later on, non-Bohras also joined the campaign. But, except for the National Commission for Women that has backed the campaign; the government has mostly remained silent.