Circumcision battle on web

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  • Published 19.12.11

Mumbai, Dec. 18: A Mumbai-based Bohra woman has begun an online petition against the practice of female circumcision that young girls of the Ismaili Shia Muslim sect are made to undergo.

The petition, which has garnered over 500 signatures, will be sent to Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the religious head of the Dawoodi Bohras, asking for a ban on the practice by the community.

Started by Tasleem, a woman in her 40s who does not wish to reveal her second name, the petition calls the practice “cruel, inhuman and undemocratic”.

With a population of over a million, the Dawoodi Bohra community is largely concentrated in western Maharashtra and Gujarat and is the only Muslim sect in India to practise female circumcision.

Scholars of the religion say the practice finds no mention in the Quran and has its roots in Africa, where some tribes still practise female genital mutilation.

A medical expert said that unlike male circumcision, which has medical acceptance and is proven to reduce sexual diseases, female circumcision has no advantages.

“No medical organisation permits it because it is not beneficial to a woman in any way. On the contrary, it hampers a woman’s quality of life. Depending on which of four types of circumcision has been done, she can witness immediate or delayed effects such as infection, adjacent tissue injury, vascular bleeding, bleeding during menstruation or urination, and even sexual dysfunction and other psychological effects,” the expert said.

“It is a patriarchal practice that goes back to the thinking that women are not entitled to pleasure and their sexuality needs to be curbed.”

Tasleem said she began her campaign by first joining a group for Bohras on social networking site Facebook.

“I posted anti-female genital mutilation pictures, looked for people in the group who had little girls and pleaded with them not to do this,” she said.

Tasleem’s parents did not make her go through circumcision, nor has she subjected her daughter to it. Bohras say the women are generally circumcised around the age of seven, by an elderly woman from the community who is allowed to practise the technique by the clergy or, these days especially, by a doctor and under anaesthesia.

“I was taken to a house in the local community along with my mother and other women. An elderly woman asked me to lie on the ground on my back. I was seven then and vaguely remember having felt pain,” said a young Bohra woman.

“I forgot about it till my growing up years. It was only later when I realised what had been done that I questioned and criticised my family about it.”

Another woman said: “We were always told that it is done to both men and women and is good for one’s health and helps prevent sexual diseases.”

According to some Bohra women, while some parents are opting out of the practice, many others try delaying it but continue with it as otherwise they face constant pressure from the elder women in the family.

While the public relations office of the community remained unavailable for comment, the petition has found mixed reactions online. Some have said they would continue to do it to their daughters, calling it an “honour”.