‘Khatna’ or Female Genital Mutilation : A barbarism allowed in the name of Religion and Tradition

Is Female Genital Mutilation a religious practice or a tradition to be followed or just insane cruelty?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When I got it done for my daughter, I did it because it was  a custom to be followed“ said Sophie Johari to a newspaper. Aarefa Johari (29), journalist with Scroll.in and co-founder of SAHIYO, an organisation against FGM, was the unfortunate child of 7 years who had to go through the traumatic procedure of ‘khatna’. Her mother regrets not standing up for her daughter then and now supports her campaign on Facebook.

What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

According to WHO, Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Also according to their report more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries and is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.

Why is it practised?

In her book ‘The Hidden Face of Eve’, Nawal El-Saadawi, a Muslim victim of infibulation(a type of circumcision in which external genitalia is removed and the opening is sewn for bodily discharges) says,” Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls’ external genitals organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity and therefore her honor, with greater ease. Female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse.”

Debates on Male Circumcision vs. Female Genital Mutilation

Male circumcision has been a reality for hundreds of years in the name of tradition and religion for many Jewish and Islamic families. It has been a topic a global discussion that since circumcision is an unnecessary invasive surgery performed on un-consenting children, why is female genital mutilation criticized and male circumcision condoned.  Aren’t both supposed to be equally wrong? Why is one illegal while the other is not?

The biggest difference between male and female circumcision is the amount of tissue that is being removed in the process along with the conditions in which the process is being carried out. Mostly in male circumcision, part or all of his foreskin is removed or the tissue(frenulum) connecting the foreskin to the penis is removed whereas in FGM, entire clitoris maybe removed. Circumcision is usually carried out by or in presence of a medical practitioner whereas FGM is an undercover activity performed in an unhygienic manner by untrained midwives. But this generalization may not be true in every case since incidents of deadly male circumcisions have been reported.

Knives used for FGM: Wikimedia Commons
Knives used for FGM: Wikimedia Commons

Some sociologists and ethicist even disagree with the argument of attributing FGM with patriarchy and say it over- simplifies the social and cultural causes of the process. Throughout much of Africa, it is practiced around puberty for both boys and girls alike.

 Where is FGM practised?

Female Genital Mutilation is most prevalent in Africa, Egypt being the country with the highest number of cases. It is also practised in some parts of Middle East and Asia. In India, the practice is followed among the Dawoodi Bohra community, based primarily in states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Bhendi bazaar district in Mumbai is where the major Bohra Muslim population lives.

Who are Bohra Muslims?

Bohra is a Gujarati-speaking caste originated from Kutch area of India. These were predominantly a business community, some of whom converted to Islam. There was a dispute in leadership in the 16thcentury AD and the ones who chose to accept Dawood ibn Qutubshah Burhanudeen as their leader came to be known as Dawoodi Bohras. Their spiritual leader is called as ‘Syedna’. The community is well reputed for being progressive traders and wealthy. The current Syedna has close ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The spokesperson of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin has been quoted “Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument” on the issue of FGM. As described by a previous article, even the current Syedna in a sermon at the Saifee Mosque in Bhendi Bazaar said “This act has to happen! If it is a man, it can be openly done but if it is a woman, it has to be done discreetly”. He did not explicitly mention the act of FGM and left his words open to interpretation.

In India many campaigns are being carried out online and on the grounds to put an end to this barbaric practice. One such effort is undertaken by Masooma Ranalvi and Aarefa Johari in the form of an online petition to Smt. Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development. More about their efforts can be read here.

You can reach the author @ShivangiTripati


  1. Cutting male and female genitals are similar. 1) They are unnecessary, extremely painful, and traumatic. 2) They can have adverse sexual and psychological effects. 3) They are generally done by force on children. 4) They are generally supported by local medical doctors. 5) Pertinent biological facts are not generally known where procedures are practiced. 6) They are defended with reasons such as tradition, religion, aesthetics, cleanliness, and health. 7) The rationale has currently or historically been connected to controlling sexual pleasure. 8) They are often believed to have no effect on normal sexual functioning. 9) They are generally accepted and supported by those who have been subjected to them. 10) Those who are cut have a compulsion to repeat their trauma on their children. 11) The choice may be motivated by underlying psychosexual reasons. 12) Critical public discussion is generally taboo where the procedures are practiced. 13) They can result in serious complications that can lead to death. 14) The adverse effects are hidden by repression and denial. 15) Dozens of potentially harmful physiological, emotional, behavioral, sexual, and social effects on individuals and societies have never been studied. 16) On a qualitative level, cutting the genitals of male and female children are the same. The harm starts with the first cut, any cut. 17) The decision is generally controlled by men though women may be supportive.18) They violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 19) They generally exist together. 20) To stop one, we must stop both. Then we may better develop toward our individual and social potential. May courage overcome conformity.

    • I’m preaching to the choir for a while now: Girls are not off the hook as long as we throw boys under the bus. It’s not difficult, isn’t it?

    • It depends on the conditions in which the process takes place. Although doctors say that the adverse impacts of FGM, if carried out in its most intense forms, is far more than circumcision.

  2. Just to minimize the sexual desires of a female one will do female genital mutilation ? When will people grow up 🙁 For all those males who consider themselves as a superior breed over the female ones, change your mindset !! One has no right to bound other person’s desire. This is totally ridiculous.

  3. The WHO recommends considering circumcision as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention program in areas with high rates of HIV. Circumcision in general is associated with reduced rates of cancer causing forms of HPV and risk of both UTIs and cancer of the penis. Risks rates are usually very very low and only higher when the procedure is performed by an inexperienced operator, in unsterile conditions, or when the child is at an older age. Circumcision does NOT appear to have a negative impact on sexual function by multiple studies. Most reliable studies show there are benefits and negative effects are rare.


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