February 22, 2020
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“It Was Very Scary. I Was Mortified.”

Three Bohra sisters recount the horror of having to go through the community’s rite of passage

“It Was Very Scary. I Was Mortified.”

The three Ranalvi sisters—Ummul (50), Tasleema (49) and Masooma (45)—are among the courageous few who speak openly about the morbidity of being forced into circumcision when they were children. “You can’t imagine how it felt to have a part of your body violated, one that is so private, so gentle, so tender,” says Ummul. “It was very traumatic, very painful.”

Like other Bohra girls, they too weren’t told what exactly was going to happen to them. “It was a time when parents did not even know how to prepare their daughters. They just took you to somebody’s house and had it done,” Ummul tells us.

Recalling the horror, youngest sister Masooma too says the first sense of foreboding came when—like her sisters before—she too found herself in a dark, little room in central Mumbai. “It was a very scary experience. I was mortified,” she recollects.

It didn’t help that the sisters had a very progressive father. “My father was a rebel who had no fear of being excommunicated. Had he known about this, he would have completely stopped it. My mother was pressured into it by her in-laws,” says Masooma.

In a paper on the subject, retired IIT-Bombay professor Rehana Ghadially says that Bohra girls are circumcised around age seven as they are considered innocent enough not to understand what is happening to them but at the same time mature enough to continue the tradition if they have a daughter. “Being a child, they just coaxed you into it and by the time you understood, you had lost the opportunity,” says Ummul.

Looking back, the Ranalvi sisters also recall how the circumcision happened in a crude and unhygienic manner with just a blade and no medical supervision. “I’m told the practice has evolved somewhat, that the women are more trained and professional,” says Ummul. The three sisters themselves have gone on to marry non-Bohras. They have also spared their daughters the nightmare they themselves went through.

The sisters are also determined to lend their support to any campaign against female circumcision. They wonder why something so cruel should persist today. “It curtails a woman’s response,” says Tasleema. “Why subjugate her? There is no advantage for women. It has to be banned. But it won’t help if only those cut off from the community, who do not have to any more live in Bohra ghettos, speak up.”

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