Will the Syedna finally denounce khatna now?
Dr Jumana Nagarwala
The Dawoodi Bohra community has long been divided over the practice of khatna (Female Genital Mutilation), with constant internal strife over its propriety. Now, it may have to take a stand with the arrest of a Michigan-based doctor for carrying out khatna on two 7-year-old girls.
In what is considered to be a first-of-its-kind for the US judicial system, Detroit doctor Jumana Nagarwala, belonging to the Bohri community, is facing life in prison after being charged with performing FGM, made illegal in the US in 1996.
Acted on tip-off
According to the case prosecutors, Nagarwala is said to have been performing the banned practice on girls aged between six and eight for the last 12 years. After the authorities received a tip-off, she was investigated and arrested on Wednesday.
According to media reports, she was arraigned on Thursday and charged with three felonies: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and conspiracy; and making a false statement to a federal officer. If found guilty, the doctor now faces a life sentence in federal prison.
Calls to end practice
The arrest has sent shockwaves within the community in India, too. Sahiyo, a non-profit by five women, including those from Mumbai, to raise awareness against khatna, says, "We are shocked and truly saddened by the news. It is a serious breach of medical ethics for any doctor to perform this non-medical procedure that is categorically recognised as a form of gender-based violence and a violation of human and child rights," adding, it is a pivotal moment in the fight against khatna so "It is imperative for the community leadership to call for a clear, unambiguous, world-wide end to the practice of khatna."
Masooma Ranalvi, founder of 'Speak out on FGM' movement in India, in a written statement noted, "In 2016, the Detroit Anjuman E- Najmi issued a resolution advising parents to abstain from khatna as it was against the law of the land. Clearly, this resolution was eyewash. The fact remains that Bohras owe allegiance to the Syedna and every word uttered is gospel. If FGM is against the law of the land, what steps have they taken to create awareness in the community about its illegality? If your religious leader says that FGM should be practiced, then people will follow it."
"The Anjumans (administrative body of the local congregation) of Detroit and Minneapolis had passed edicts in May and March 2016, respectively, requiring their members to abide by the federal and state laws and cease the practice. It is unfortunate that certain individuals did not abide by them and violated the laws of the country," said a Bohra community spokesperson.