Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Yin, Wounded

A primitive rite for Bohra women sees its first murmurs of protest

The Yin, Wounded
The Yin, Wounded Amit Haralkar

A Cutting Tradition

  • Female circumcision, now widely referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • Dawoodi Bohra Muslims are Ismaili Shias and trace their origins to the region in and around Egypt, from where they might have adopted the practice besides other local customs. Now intrinsic to their identity.
  • Most of the community lives in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Population: 10 lakh. Are prosperous traders and well educated.
  • Most Bohras are under the control of the clergy, headed by the Syedna. Those who question the clergy’s authority find themselves excommunicated.
  • Bohra girls undergo genital mutilation when they are seven years old. It is a clandestine ritual unlike male circumcision that is publicly celebrated. No other Muslim sect in India observes this ritual.
  • The hood of the clitoris is cut off. This is followed by application of an antiseptic and an indigenous medicine called abeer that cools.
  • The crude mutilation of the clitoris exposes the nerve endings and is meant to discourage
    masturbation and limit possibility of sexual pleasure from clitoral stimulation
  • The procedure is called khatna, it is carried out by select elderly women of the community and often without medical supervision, using just a razor
  • Little details are available of the extent of this practice, given the secrecy. There are claims, though, that some choose to go to hospitals to get it done.
  • Justified in the name of community traditions and religious sanction. Critics, however, say there is no mention of it in the Quran.
  • Online forums like Rage of Bohri Women are encouraging women of the community to speak up.


It has been 53 years since she was subjected to the agony. But as Zenab Bano, a retired political science professor in Udaipur, recounts the horror of that day, the wound is laid bare all over again—still raw, still unhealed. Barely seven years old then, she was told to go with her friend and her grandmother to a function for children at the end of which she would get a gift. “Before I realised what was happening, there was this woman pulling down my undergarment,” she says. “I had no idea what she was doing. It hurt a lot and I cried.” What Bano describes is the female circumcision ritual called khatna that most Bohra Muslim girls in India had to go through then. And which is still a rite of passage for many even today.