FGC
For a significant portion of women subjected to khatna, sexual pleasure becomes difficult and elusive to achieve.
Image source: Sahiyo/Facebook

"I remember my mum whispering with my granny and aunties that time had come now. Then she mentioned to my dad who said do what's needed. She told me we were going to buy a doll, took me to a woman's house in a bohra community housing set up. We were told to wait in the sitting area, another friend of mine was sitting with her mum,” narrates A.

“She was called in first, I heard screaming and then she came out supported by her mum. I was taken in next, the lady told my aunt to lay me on a table, remove my undies. My mum had left because she said she couldn't watch. My aunt held me down tightly, the lady removed a new razor blade in front of me and then bent down between my legs,” she narrates.

“I felt a sharp cut, heard myself scream and cry. The lady then gave me cotton wool and my aunt put it in my undies to absorb the blood. We were then led out of the room. For a week after, my mum washed my vagina with diluted dettol and the matter was hushed up and never talked about," she describes.

A is just one of the many women who has been subjected to khatna or female genital cutting (FGC). The story of A isn’t as rare as we would like it to be.

At least 200 million girls and women in 30 countries in South Asia, West Asia and Africa have been subjected to female genital mutilation. The WHO states that the procedure has no health benefits for girls and women and calls it a violation of human rights. 

Known by the name khatna in India, the practice is common in the 2 million strong Dawoodi Bohra community. And many women from the community are now fighting against a tradition that they call traumatic and humiliating.  80% of women from the Dawoodi Bohra community who were surveyed by Sahiyo, an organisation dedicated to ending FGC, said they had been subjected to khatna as children. 82% of them also said that they would not continue the practice on their daughter.

The survey report, titled "Understanding Female Genital Cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra Community: An Exploratory Survey", was released on February 6 on the occasion of International Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Mutilation.

According to Sahiyo, this is the "first large-scale, global research study on the subject of Khatna as practiced by Dawoodi Bohras", surveying 385 women between July 2015 and January 2016. 

These are some of the key findings from the survey. 

  • 66% of the participants were made to undergo khatna when they were 6-7 years old
  • 81% said their mothers too had undergone khatna. 88% knew a family member and 56% knew a friend on whom FGC was performed.
  • 86% of the women said they had FCG done at a private residence, whereas 12% reported that they underwent khatna in a health facility. 
  • 74% of women said that they were cut by an untrained, traditional cutter
  • 98% of women reported experiencing pain immediately after undergoing khatna. 

While some of the women were told what was going to happen to them, many others reported that they were not told or given any explanation, or were told that it was required to remove a worm or insect. A few were told that it was something all Bohra girls underwent or that genitals were dirty. 

Even afterwards, they were often not told what exactly had been done to them. Traditionally, in the Dawoodi Bohra community, khatna typically involves the removal of the clitoral hood, which according to the WHO is Type 1 genital cutting. 65% of respondents, however, said they did not know what kind of cutting had been performed on them.  

One woman in the report narrated,

Another said,

For a majority of women the entire incident was a terrible experience that left them very traumatised. 

23% of the women said they had also faced physical and health issues like pain, bleeding, burning while urinating, and so on. The majority of women said they could not remember if they had suffered health problems after the cutting.  

The trauma of the experience is visible in the narratives that many subjects of the survey reveal.

Crucially, for many women, having undergone khatna meant that sexual pleasure was elusive and difficult to achieve. 35% of those surveyed said that FGC had affected their sex life.

As one participant reported,

Another survey participant said,

Graphics by Akruti Rao