For some, the word ‘khatna’ brings back painful memories, for others it is unheard of; there are also those who see it as a mandate and the ones who demonise an entire community because of it. For Sahiyo the understanding of khatna or Type 1 Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in the Dawoodi Bohra community does not stop at the surface. Instead, it has depth which combines different narratives to show the world and realities of young girls who were and are subjected to a procedure which removes their prepuce/ clitoral hood.
Sahiyo puts the spotlight on a type of FGM called Khatna in the Dawoodi Bohra community
An online survey of Bohra women conducted by Sahiyo revealed that 80% participants had been subjected to khatna as children. A majority of them were cut at the ages six or seven, by an untrained traditional cutter and didn’t know the part of their genitals which was cut. Importantly 81% want the practice to stop.
Sahiyo is amongst the first collectives to speak out against the khatna in the country. Its founding team comprises of filmmakers Insia Dariwala and Priya Goswami, social worker Mariya Taher, journalist Aarefa Johari and Shaheeda Tavavalle-Kirtane who works with a non partisan think tank. With their mission end the practice of khatna, the five have have started a dialogue about a practice which was once a taboo.
She The People’s Gazal Shekhawat talked to the team about the truths and untruths around khatna amongst other things. Here is a glimpse:
On differentiating a social norm from a religious practice.
Khatna has religious support, however, it is important to note that there is no mention of it in the most holy book of the Islamic faith – the Quran. It has become associated with religion as the communities which practice it as a social norm are mainly muslim.
We want to talk to the community and understand why people choose to perform khatna on their daughters and we want everyone to hear these reasons. We want to encourage dialogue, because even if one woman suffers as a result of a social norm that was forced on her without her consent, then her suffering is significant and it is something that we must all be concerned about.
On working together despite having diverse professions.
Mariya is the brains behind research, Shaheeda connects with the medical community in India, while Aarefa and Insia are at the forefront of media and public relations. Being a filmmaker, I step in, handling visuals and multimedia, along with films on the subject.
Today we operate out of three different time zones, bring forth experience unique to each one of us, to create non –stop content for our social media and website.
On the psychological impact survivors face
The impact varies from person to person. But just to point out some of the Key Findings in our report, with regards to the mental impact. 51% of the survivors experienced fear, 21% experienced Anger, and 15% felt a lot of sadness post the cut. Other responses included confusion, shame, numbness, humiliation, despair, mistrust, and trauma. Personal interactions with survivors also revealed trust and intimacy issues in marriage.
On the misconception about FGM/C being an Islamic practice.
FGM/C is definitely not just an Islamic practice. Christian communities in Egypt also practice. Here in India, FGC is most well known to be practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra community, who do it as a religious practice, but it does not happen with the rest of the Muslims. While FGM/C may be carried out under the guise of religion, it is in fact a tradition, deeply rooted in patriarchy, irrespective of which community practices it.
On the possible backlash people may face for speaking out against FCG/M
So far, we have not heard of anyone being officially ostracised for speaking out against khatna. But, we know we are being monitored online – not just us but everyone who is publicly involved in the movement.
On transformation within the community
People are always curious to know about what kind of opposition we face, but I think any opposition we have faced has been a step in the right direction because it means that people are engaging in dialogue on this topic in a public way. For decades, the religious authorities did not speak about khatna openly and now they have given an official statement on it.
I’m always constantly surprised at how people will just come up to me and start talking to me about it because they know I am a safe person to talk to. I think that is an experience that each one of the Sahiyo founders has had.
Image courtesy: Sahiyo
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