Masooma Ranalvi: We need stringent laws to ban practice of khatna

Sole Indian representative at Rome event speaks on political fight against female genital mutilation

Masooma Ranalvi at BanFGM conference in Rome last week
Masooma Ranalvi at BanFGM conference in Rome last week

It is one of our secret shames. But when the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation today, Masooma Ranalvi and her group of 50 Bohri women from across India will have it split wide open.

Also read: Say Na to Khatna

Ranalvi (50), a former Mumbaikar who now resides in Delhi, was the only Indian representative at the two-day BanFGM conference held in Rome last week. The conference, attended by nearly 30 countries, aimed at addressing current challenges that countries face in ending female genital mutilation (FGM).

Ranalvi tells mid-day she discussed the prevalence of the practice in India, locally known as khatna in the Bohri community. “Many didn’t believe that it happens here.”

But there could have been no one better than her to convince them of it. For, she was ‘cut’ at the age of 7. “All of us were deceived into being cut. It was my grandmother who took me. The experience was horrific,” says Ranalvi, who founded Speak out on FGM comprising 50 women in 2014.

Also read: Online plea launched to protect girls from genital mutilation

A city member from Speak Out on FGM says the practice is a violation of a child’s right, and its physiological and psychological impact is lifelong.

As the practice was conducted in secrecy — mostly by untrained midwives — women like Ranalvi did not get much chance to talk about it openly. This changed in 2014, when three people practising FGM in Australia came under the scanner, and were subsequently convicted. “The Indian media started covering it as well. And, it was around the same time ‘Speak out on FGM’ was formed.”

The Rome conference
The Rome conference looked at FGM beyond Africa — which has the highest incidences of FGM — as well as a prospective legislative framework that countries could look into to prohibit FGM. “Countries with such laws were discussing their efficacy and the problems they faced.”

Another key debate conducted at the conference was on the medicalisation of FGM, which Ranalvi calls a “dangerous argument”.

Mumbai scenario
The anti-FGM campaigner says in Mumbai, the Bohri community is “very large”. The city is also the headquarters of the Syedna (the spiritual head of the community).”

Also read: Month-long campaign on female genital mutilation launched in Mumbai

As most Bohris live in clusters, there is greater control over perpetuating the practice. The fear of social boycott, too, enters the equation. “One of the problems we faced was that not many people were willing to openly oppose FGM, fearing consequences from within the community.”

She says she wrote last year to many religious leaders within the Muslim community, including Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, on abolishing FGM, but there has been no response.

Syedna says

Syedna Taher Fakhruddin’s office
‘In view of the trauma that many girls undergo and in keeping with the law of the land, Syedna Taher Fakhruddin (from one of the two factions) says khafz (khatna) of girls should only be allowed after they attain legal adulthood, when they are free to make their individual decision...FGM is an un-Islamic and horrific practice’

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