Women and children are abused all over the world in one or other way, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one such gruesome method of exploitation. FGM defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as comprising ‘all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The infringement of women’s rights is usually exercised in the name of tradition, religion, social cohesion, morality, or some complex of transcendent values. It is always justified in the name of culture. There are various forms of the practice, ranging from partial clitoridectomy to a full excision of the clitoris, labia minora, and Majora followed by infibulation (the stitching of the vulva leaving a small opening for urine and menstrual blood).
It is understood that cutting the clitoris reduces a woman’s sexual urges. Thus, FGM reinforces the idea that women are property and men are masters of female sexual function. FGM is celebrated as a ritual of a girl coming of age and becoming pure. Girls who are not circumcised are not marriage material. FGM is a social pressure to fit in the value system of that society is a strong motivation to propagate the practice. Following the practice bring them respect and acceptance from their community members.
A major health concern of FGM is that this ritual often is not performed by medical practitioners. Unsterilized blades and tools are used to sew the vaginal lips together leaving a tiny hole for urine and menstrual flow, which disrupts the natural genital state. This practice has many health consequences which makes it a concern about human rights. The short term health risks are excessive bleeding, swelling and inflammation in the genital area, infection, urinary problems and in some extreme cases, even death.
The long term consequences include chronic genital infections, recurring urinary tract infections, painful sexual intercourse, and complications during pregnancy, labour, and delivery of the child, perinatal risks and debilitating psychological consequences like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. In some cases, it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, and consequently, the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks. Victim not only suffers from physical and sexual problems but also psychological problems.
India is a signatory to CEDAW which clearly states that “it is the responsibility of States Parties to take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women in an effort to eliminate practices that are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
There are various legislations which makes the practice of FGM punishable like the Indian Penal Code provide punishment for grievous hurt, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) addresses penetrative sexual assault by any person on any child. The Goa Children’s Act, 2013 which defines, Sexual assault and specifies it as “deliberately causing injury to the sexual organs of children”. However, there is no specific law that prohibits the practice.
DAWOODI BOHRA COMMUNITY
In India, the Dawoodi Bohras community are victims of a social boycott because they questioned religious and administrative practices within the community. The Supreme Court in Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb v. State of Bombay held that the Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act, 1949 which was enacted as a redressal sought by some boycotted members of the Dawoodi Bohra community is unconstitutional because FGM is legitimate practice of a community protected under Article 26 which grants every religious denomination or any section, therefore, the freedom to manage their religious affairs. The matter is still pending in the court for the reconsideration of the decision.
In 2016, the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed, to prohibit social boycott of not only Dawoodi Bohras but other communities also. The fear of ex-communication and religious sanctions act as a compulsion to the Bohra community to perform FGM. There is no doubt that legislation has been passed to prohibit the social boycott, however, till now no legislation was passed to prohibit the practice of FGM.
Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution guarantee the right to freedom of religion and freedom to manage religious affairs but such freedom is subject to fundamental rights including the fundamental right to equality, non-discrimination based on sex as guaranteed and right to life under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Such freedom is also subject to public order, morality, and health. FGM is practised in the garb of religion and the object to protect girls and women, victimizes women and violates their rights to physical autonomy. The practice of FGM regardless of being a religious practice of the Bohra community are not subject to constitutional morality and the Bohra community will have to bow to the constitutional norms of equality and non-discrimination. FGM is unconstitutional as it gender stereotypes women and girls and thus is violative of their fundamental rights.
In 2017, PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the cruel practice of FGM practice by Dawoodi Bohra community. The contention is that this practice is nowhere mentioned in the Quran or any other religious text and this practice is carried out without any medical reason.
The current scenario is that the cruel practice of FGM is challenged in Supreme Court but the petition is still pending before the Supreme Court as no bench has been constituted to hear the matter.
FGM is a social consequence that is affecting girls socially, psychologically and physically. Women’s rights are violated in the garb of religion, tradition social cohesion, morality, etc. Thus, such practice is violative of various fundamental rights. To annihilate practice, there is a need for education campaigns which impart knowledge on human right violations and harmful effects of FGM.