One might've thought Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not prevalent in India anymore but as it turns out, that's far from true.
But what is FGM?
FGM has its roots in certain religions with archaic rules that govern a woman's body. It's a non-medical procedure comprising partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, including the clitoris. According to a report by WHO:
"More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated."
The number itself speaks volumes about the inhumane and barbaric act that has been practiced in many countries for far too long.
Girls as young as 6-9 years of age are forced to go through the painful, life-threatening procedure. In India, only the Dawoodi Bohra community was believed to be practicing this ancient technique. But a recent investigation by Aarefa Johari and Aysha Mahmood from Sahiyo, a collective fighting against FGM, revealed that a community in Kerala has been following this practice as well.
Sahiyo found a medical clinic in Kozhikode (Calicut) where two doctors admitted that they perform the procedure of 'sunnath', or circumcision, on both boys and girls. The investigation was conducted when Sahiyo got a tip about the clinic.
The procedure is performed by an 'ozathy,' a traditional cutter without proper medical training or sanitization. According to the report, a small clinic in Kozhikode, run by a doctor known for performing male circumcisions, admitted to practicing 'sunnath' on girls as well.
During the investigation, a woman from Sahiyo posed as someone who was in need of 'sunnath'. Upon reaching the clinic, she asked if they perform it. The lady doctor at the clinic admitted to the availability of such a procedure. She also added:
"The practice involves 'cutting the foreskin of the clitoris' to increase sexual pleasure, and that it is 'good for married life.' It is not compulsory, but if your mother-in-law has told you to do it, then it is compulsory for you, you have to get it done."
When they spoke to the male doctor who performs 'sunnath' on young girls, he said:
"The practice is mentioned in four or five Hadiths, or Islamic texts containing the teachings of the Prophet. You should read up about it, this is also done in Saudi, Egypt and Africa."
"But these days a lot of women prefer to get it done for themselves immediately after delivering their baby when they’re also getting other stitches to their vagina. That way they have to deal with two pains in one go," he added.
The investigation brings to light the fact that an archaic tradition which was on the decline is now widely being practiced in India's most literate state.
According to WHO, the partial or full cutting of the clitoris such as the practice of sunnath falls under Type 1 form of FGM, also known as clitoridectomy.
The community that practices the illegal procedure claims there are major health benefits, including increased sexual pleasure. But in reality, it interferes with the natural functioning of a woman's body and puts her at risk of various infections throughout her life.
The practice is deep-rooted in religious beliefs and the five Hadiths that the male doctor mentioned during the investigation. Since the texts were written in ancient times, no pronouns were used. Therefore, it became applicable to both men and women and has been used to support FGM as well.
According to the hadith narrated by al-Bukhaari (5889) and Muslim (257) from Abu Hurayrah, the Prophet said:
"The fitrah is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubes, cutting the nails, plucking the armpit hairs, and trimming the moustache."
No one knows how much of it is actually an ancient text supporting a ridiculous practice like this. However, many Islamic scholars and leaders have denied, and on multiple occasions, condemned it. But a lot of communities practice FGM regardless.
In a personal account on Sahiyo, a Bohri woman recounts how she was circumcised at the young age of 5. It's not only barbaric but inhumane and a violation of basic human rights. There are women across the globe who've been through the same ordeal just because some religious text was twisted to suit the interests of a few men.
It's a heinous crime against women, and it's time we ended it.
You can read the full investigation by Sahiyo here.
All the images are for representational purposes only.