Leave her clit alone



The fight against female genital mutilation is led by mainly women, but for change to take place, men need to join the movement.

Eleven minutes into the documentary, a 40-something Bohra woman brought up the subject of men and khatna. “They are clueless that something like this happens in the community,” she says articulately, sitting on the sofa in her living room. The room is dark enough to conceal her identity. Natural light parading in through a distant window casts out her silhouette. “I am willing to bet,” she continues “…ten on ten men are like ‘What? Does it really happen?’”

We were watching A Pinch of Skin, a 30-minute film on Female Genital Mutilation (also Female Genital Cutting) practised by Dawoodi Bohras, the only community in India to do so; a practice they call khatna or khafz. Did men really not know, I began to wonder. Did my boyfriend not know? I wanted to dive straight into his mind, as he sat beside me at Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre. My boyfriend was a Bohra, and though we had discussed everything from elections and inflation to politics and pop culture, khatna, somehow, never really came up. That day, for the first time in our five-year relationship, I wondered if he really knew. If yes, what and how much? Had he never asked his mother or sisters or cousins if they had been cut? Did his brother, father, and male friends ever question khatna, its implications, or why it’s perpetuated in the first place? My mind was exploding with questions. But I had no idea what was going through his head, as he watched women from his community recount their experiences of being cut as little girls.

His body language didn’t give anything away, but I knew he was consumed, not in a good way. Finally, when the film ended and the lights came on, he turned to me and said, “We can never do this to our daughter.”

The year was 2013. We got married two years later and now, two years into our marriage, I still don’t have answers to all my questions. My husband has never explicitly articulated his views on khatna except that he won’t let our daughter go through it.

In his community, khatna is a hushed affair and speaking against it puts you in a spotlight that community members don’t appreciate. Most Bohra men, even in 2017, refrain from resisting khatna. From small shop owners and big businessmen, to doctors and lawyers, to those born and raised in liberal homes, will have their daughters, granddaughters or, say, nieces, subjected to khatna because they’d rather submit than question. My husband couldn’t help but wonder if his mother and sister went through the same ordeal. He has never asked them, for several reasons. Khatna, even in the most modern Bohra homes, is still a topic that’s neither discussed over dinner nor is it brought up in private conversations. Khatna is still practised discreetly and any discussion round it still remains a taboo.

The first time my husband learnt about khatna was when he was 14. He thought it was a ritual that involves “a nick down there”. Nothing too big. It didn’t seem anything like the violating act presented to us by the documentary. He didn’t know that what is cut is actually a part of the clitoris; and that it’s cut by a midwife with a hot blade in a non-sterile environment. Most of all, he had no idea that khatna is essentially done to curb a woman’s sexual urge, so that she remains faithful in a marriage or doesn’t pleasure herself by clitoral stimulation. That evening, he said, as he heard stories of little girls being tricked into a dark room under the pretext of a birthday party or an outing to buy chocolates or toys, his stomach turned. For the first time, he realised how extremely regressive and disgustingly sexist that “small little nick” truly was. Even though the women’s identities in the documentary remained masked in silhouettes, behind curtains and in close-up shots revealing only their hands and feet, my husband could feel the pain, anguish, and detestation in their voices

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