If Allah sent us whole why should we cut for the sake of God?
By Saleha Paatwala
I was seven-years-old when one day my grandma took me to an unfamiliar place. I was informed that it would be a huge gathering and children like me would come as well. I got so excited, held my granny’s hand tightly and went happily with her. We came to the second floor where we were advised to sit by a woman as old as my grandma. It didn’t appear to be an exceptionally happening place and, out of interest, I asked her why we were there. The woman just grinned and said that everything would become clear soon. I did not know that what happened next would continue to haunt me until the end of time.
After an hour, another woman came in and asked us to follow her. It was a miserable room on the terrace, small and messy. My grandma and I sat on the little bed. The woman took out some cotton, a blade and some harsh fabric. I just couldn’t comprehend what was happening. She asked me to lie down, but I was very young and could never have imagined anything terrible could happen. I believed my grandma and sat down when she insisted. The other woman now began removing my underwear. This scared the hell out of me. I began fighting back, but all the women, including my grandma, held my hands and feet tight so that I could not move. I was yelling as loud as possible, but in vain. After she had successfully taken off my underwear, the second woman spread my legs, grabbed the blade and cut something between my legs. The pain was unbelievable and intolerable. She then put some cotton on that part and put my clothing back. My grandma and two other women began giggling and saying, “Mubarak ho, iski khatna hogayi hai.” (Congratulations, she has been circumcised).
At that age, who has ever considered going through such an agony in the most intimate area that no youngster would even like anybody to see or touch? I didn’t really see the amount of blood that had gushed out because I had no courage to. Only after I reached home and went to pee, I saw the cotton and figured it out. I couldn’t urinate properly for three days as it hurt me to an unbearable degree.
All these years, I never had the courage to open up and discuss. My grandma told me that ladies get to be devout after completing khatna, and that time I accepted it, considering it to be a religious practice. Then one day, we were shown a film on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in my college. It gave me goose-bumps and took me all the way back to my childhood when I had been through this assault. In that film, my own community members were spreading awareness and battling this practice. It made me realise, unmistakably, that what happened wasn’t beneficial for me, wasn’t useful for anyone. That little film gave me so much courage that today I share my story with everybody, even though it is still a taboo in my community.
When I started discussing FGM with my family and friends, I received both positive and negative responses. But to my surprise, there were many who didn’t know about females getting cut and there still are people who don’t know about this dangerous ritual. Many have mistaken this ritual to be a religious practice and a compulsory act according to which, if a girl isn’t cut, she isn’t pious and there are chances of her becoming promiscuous.
One day I gathered all my courage to talk about it to my mother. “Beta (child), your Aunts underwent this practice when they were 7-years-old. They cried a lot after coming home and I was scared because next was my turn,” she said. Like many others, she didn’t know the reason behind it, so she never argued, never questioned her mother on this topic. She couldn’t even stop her own mother from getting her daughters cut. But today she supports this movement and wants FGM to end.
I want more and more people to speak out on this ritual. I didn’t know much about this practice even a few months ago. Only after I spoke to people, I got to know many deep hidden things which I wouldn’t have known otherwise. When I started sharing my views on FGM, many of my friends came up and asked me if it’s true because none of them had ever heard of a female getting cut.Only when you talk, you get different views from people which make you think more about it and straighten your facts. I feel proud to be able to get in touch with such brave and strong Bohra women who are not only fighting every day to end it but also working hard to spread awareness.
Bohras are considered one of the most well educated, progressive and financially well-off communities in the country. It saddens me when this barbaric practice still happens in the name of religion, where a girl’s sexual desires are decided by not her but others. I am Bohra and I oppose khatna because my sexual desires do not need moderation.
I iterate that there is no religious aspect to this ritual. It is only a cultural practice, a hazardous and destructive custom, which is being perpetuated by few individuals who want to control female sexuality. It wasn’t just a little piece. It was a piece of me, my private area that no one has a right to touch without my consent. If Allah has sent us whole, why should we cut for the sake of God, to make a lady pious?
Saleha Paatwala is from Noida and has a career in Journalism and Mass Communication. She believes that speaking out against FGM has given her the courage to demand an end to this practice.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.