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India
17 Feb 2018

Ending female genital mutilation in India won't be easy

Emboldened by the Supreme Court's triple talaq verdict, a movement called 'WeSpeakOut' wants the government to now ban female genital mutilation (FGM), popular among Dawoodi Bohras and Kerala's sunni Muslims.

Despite it being a criminal offense, several appeals to courts and promises by Maneka Gandhi to end it, FGM is still prevalent.

Here's all about the inhuman practice and why it's thriving despite sustained opposition.

In context

All about India's worst-kept secret: Female genital mutilation

Explained

What is it?

Also known as khatna, FGM involves cutting off a girl's clitoral head, either partially or fully, primarily to curb her sexual drive.

Though it's usually performed by untrained midwives on young girls, older women are also subjected to this barbaric practice, which believers take for a religious custom.

It scars girls and women for life, making sexual intercourse extremely painful and non-pleasurable for most.

Support

A religious obligation

About 75% of the Bohra women get genitally mutilated. But despite widespread protests, it's still prevalent because it has several supporters who think of it as a religious obligation, much like male circumcision.

They oppose any suggestion to ban it, saying it attacks their freedom to practice religion. In fact, according to them, it's not mutilation since it involves just nicking/pricking the clitoral hood.

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Global status

FGM is a violation of human rights: UN

The United Nations passed a resolution in 2012 declaring FGM criminal and illegal worldwide. Since then, it considers all acts that alter/injure female genitalia for non-medical purposes as a human rights violation.

In fact, it observes February 6 as International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation every year to raise awareness and curb the practice across nations.

India has no specific law to punish perpetrators

FGM is banned in at least 41 countries, but India does not have any specific law for it yet, which is primarily why it usually goes unnoticed. However, several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and POSCO Act make khatna a criminal offense.

No intervention

Does anyone care?

Though the misogynistic tradition is centuries-old, women have begun to dissent only recently.

Bohra women tried to make noise through an online petition "Speak out on FGM" in 2015 but were not heard.

In May 2017, the SC asked the Centre and four states to respond to a PIL on banning FGM. It's been nine months since, and girls are still being cut.

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