Until now, it was believed that the practice of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in India is prevalent only in Dawoodi Bohra community and some other sub-communities of Bohra. But a recent investigation by an NGO, Sahiyo has revealed that FGC is rampantly practiced in some other communities and parts of Kerala as well.
Female Genital Cutting is a practice in which external genitalia of a female is cut or removed fully or partially. Apart from some parts of India, it is performed in a number of religious and cultural groups all over the world, parts of the Middle East and North Africa being some of these.
During an investigation, Sahiyo, an NGO that works for the building of public awareness around FGC and its criminalization, has found that the procedure of FGC, locally called “sunnath” is still performed in a medical clinic of Kozhikode. The clinic carries out the procedure on boys as well as girls and claims that several local Muslim women go there to get sunnath performed on their daughters, daughter-in-laws and themselves.
The doctors at the clinic said that the prepuce of the clitoris, also known as the clitoral hood is cut in the FGC. According to them, the cutting is good for married life and “some husbands insist on it”. The doctors declined that the procedure could be harmful to health in any way.
It is important to note that the sunnath, as conducted by the clinic of Kerala, falls within the definition of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) of World Health Organization. WHO defines FGM/C as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.
The WHO recognizes the act as a violation of human rights and that it constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women, and reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes.
The international organization also maintains that the procedure has no health benefits for females. Moreover, it also states that it can cause,
Severe bleeding and problems in urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn death”.
The practice of sunnath, as it is called in some parts of Kerala, comes as shock since it is known for being the most literate state in India. Even more distressing is the fact that it is carried out by people who have no medical training and do it with a traditional cutter called ozathy without even sterilizing it.
Sahiyo’s investigation was based on a tip-off from a Keralite who had come to know of sunnath on females through some online forum. During the investigation, a Sahiyo reporter portrayed herself as a woman who wanted to get sunnath done and came to know that it is widely practiced in a local medical clinic of Kozhikode city of Kerala. The Sahiyo reporter, during her probe, came to know that the clinic can carry out FGC on women of any age and that the doctors at the clinic believed that the process has religious significance attached to it.
However, FGC is not a practice particular to Islam and is practiced in Jewish, Christian and animist communities too. Also, it is illegal in around 41 countries that include Egypt and some countries of Africa. So far, India does not have any specific law against FGC but a Public Interest Litigation by an independent lawyer is being heard in the Supreme Court of India.