“An equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.”
Imagine being taken into a dark, dingy room. Imagine looking at a knife being heated on a stove. Imagine being struck by that knife in the most sensitive area of your body. This horrendous custom known as Khatna or Khafz is actively practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra community on approximately 200 million girls every year. The victims of this callous tradition are little girls, around six to seven years of age. Khatna involves partial or full removal of the clitoral hood which often results into several health hazards to women like extreme and prolonged pain, difficulty during pregnancy, psychological traumas and what not. No health benefits of the said practice have been discovered yet.
This traditional custom is prevalent in 30 countries across the globe and India is one of them. The 1400 year-old practice was essentially devised in order to prevent women from promiscuity. The goal of this custom is to regulate female sexuality and moderate sexual desires. The idea of having to write an article about women not having the fundamental right to their bodily integrity and choice points out to the patriarchal values that not only the society but also our entire legal system has soaked in.
The Dawoodi Bohra community claims that the main aim of moderating the sexual desires of women is to keep them loyal and faithful in marriages. This truly patriarchal value stands in contravention to the otherwise progressive paradigm that the community has. This suggests that patriarchy although hidden, is still prevalent. Moreover, it has been described as an essential procedure that women need to go through, which hints at the fact that the community assumes women to be capable of cheating. Thus, it questions their character. With that being said, I would now like to draw your attention to how it attacks the basic human rights that every person should unquestionably possess.
The female circumcision involves emphatic touching of a little girl’s genitalia and then eventually cutting it. This invades her privacy and the minute the knife touches her genitalia, her body is not hers anymore. The clitoris is said to have eight thousand nerve endings, making it an extremely sensitive area, which when cut off generates unbearable pain. What is even more disturbing is the fact that the mothers deliberately get their daughters cut, which is a violation of the Article 19 of the UN convention on child rights to which India is a party. The cut often leaves the victim psychologically scarred and she experiences difficulty during pregnancy, urinating and sexual intercourse, which even Maslow recognized as the basic needs of survival. It is undoubtedly an infringement of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.
Firstly, it violates Article 21, the right to life in the sense that the circumcision never has any benefits on the health of an individual. Rather, it opens up a bundle of problems that make life difficult for her. It is not easy for an individual to experience constant pain which further aggravates when she indulges in everyday activities. Thus, it is also an attack on her right to the enjoyment of life.
Secondly, it is a gross violation of Article 14 of the constitution which promises equality to every individual irrespective of their religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Khatna is only practiced on the females in the Dawoodi Bohra community in order to make them ‘marriageable’. This reflects stark discrimination between the two genders as women need to go through excruciating pain to get married while men, on the other hand, can have their cake and eat it too.
It was also argued that Khatna is a practice protected under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. This argument seems vague because the rights described under the said articles are subject to public order, morality and health. I believe that female circumcision is an immoral practice as it traumatizes a person, substantially. It also has numerous health hazards. Thus, it shall definitely be immune from the said articles. Moreover, the true tenets of Islam which acts as an umbrella for all the communities falling under it, say that we should not harm ourselves or others and considers that any kind of alteration in the creation of God is sinful. Thus, this really makes one question as to whether this practice is religious, at all?
And as per Islam, it is idolatrous to bow before a system or culture fabricated by humans themselves rather than God. :
“Behold, my Sustainer has guided me to a straight way through an ever-true faith, in the way of Abraham who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him.”
Lastly, I would like to shed light on the fact that our legislature has still not come up with separate legislation on this practice. Three years have passed since the public interest litigation was filed to demand a ban on Khatna and yet nothing has been done. I think it is extremely imperative to criminalize this practice as it is not only an attack on human rights but also a sacrilegious custom being practiced under the garb of religion. No religion advocates the infliction of pain on humans. It’s ironic that we live in a country where the government thinks it is immoral to practice chemical castration on rapists but stays silent when the clitoris of a woman is cut in the name of religion.
About the author
Shreya Tiwari a second-year law student at Symbiosis law school, NOIDA. She has always had an inclination towards writing. During her school life, she was actively involved in writing articles for the school magazine. She thinks that one studies law, in true terms, when one comes across a legal issue and expresses his/her opinions on the same. Shes aim to refine her writing skills with time and contribute to society in whatever way possible and to become a competent litigant someday. She says, “There’s something that really excites me about this profession. Choosing law as a profession was something that came very naturally to her.” Since childhood, she has loved debating and winning those debates pumped extra gallons of blood into my body. Law was something that could actually provide me an opportunity to pursue my interests. She thinks that no feeling can be matched to the one you get right after you win a moot. Studying law not only makes you aware of the legal system of our country but it also transforms you as an individual.