Masooma Ranalvi still recalls the day, at age 7, when she was taken to dirty apartment in Bhindi Bazaar in Mumbai with the promise of ice cream. The horror of that day remained with her as a shameful secret until, in college, she was able to put a name to her experience: female genital mutilation.
In the Fall of 2015, Masooma spoke with several Bohra women about their khatna experience and many, like her, were outraged by the practice and refused to subject their daughters to the same practice. She started a Whatsapp group and within a month, the group had grown to over 40 women from India, the UK, the US, Australia and Canada.
The group discussed their personal experiences as well as providing support to each other and helping each other speak out about their khatna at conferences and in the media. They also researched information about FGM in different countries as well as news from within the Bohra community.
In November 2015, in the first conviction under Australia’s FGM laws, a Bohra mother and the midwife who performed the khatna were found guilty for subjecting 2 sisters to khatna when they were 7 years old. Also, the Aamil of the Sydney jamaat was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact by attempting to help cover up the FGM after police began investigating. This case brought a huge amount of attention to khatna and to the Bohra community but it also gave the Bohra community a prime opportunity to change.
In December 2015, 17 women from the Speak Out on FGM group put their names to a very public petition directed to India’s Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, to demand a law against FGM in India as there is currently no law on the books. With the seat of the Bohra leadership based in India and the majority of Bohras residing there, it was important to push for an anti-FGM law so that Bohra girls would have some protection.
In 11 months, the petition exceeded 82,000 signatures with many Bohras expressing their support to end the practice within our community.
On February 6, 2016 to coincide with the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Speak Out on FGM, in collaboration with Sahiyo, began the Each One, Reach One campaign where women pledged to reach out to a friend or family member to talk about khatna. These talks prompted further discussions with more people, men and women, and the subject of khatna became a whisper campaign among Bohras. Backlash ensued from some, with Speak Out members being accused of being non-Bohras or part of a conspiracy arranged by the rival claimant to the position of the Dai, Khozema Qutbuddin. This did not deter the members and they were able to bring awareness of the practice to the broader community. This was an important step, especially in a very insular community like the Bohras.
A pledge campaign called Not My Daughter saw 126 Bohra parents publicly pledge not to subject their daughters to khatna.
It has also been important to include men in the conversation and 21 brave men started a petition to encourage other fathers to protect their daughters from this cultural practice. Some of these men had allowed khatna to be done to their daughters previously and were living with much regret for their actions.
Starting with Sydney on February 9, 2016, individual jamaats in countries outside of India, started releasing letters to their jamaat members stating that khatna could be considered FGM in their country so parents should refrain from practicing it on their daughters. Since that first letter, nearly 20 more letters have been released spanning jamaats in Australia, USA, UK and Europe, all countries where FGM has laws against FGM.
After several letters from Speak Out to Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin asking him to declare a ban on female khatna went unanswered, he cryptically stated in a confirmed sermon on April 25, 2016 that “this practice” must be done, in the open for boys and in secret for girls. The Syedna’s press office denied that he was talking about khatna but many people who heard the sermon clearly determined that it must be about khatna.
The rival claimant to the position of Dai of the Dawoodi Bohra community, Syedna Taher Fakhruddin, son of the late Syedna Khuzema Qutbuddin, after listening to many of his female congregants state their displeasure that khatna was still occurring, released a statement on May 7, 2016 that khatna muct not be done on underage girls:
Then on June 6, 2016, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin‘s press office released the following statement which left many people confused. Female khatna was a “religious obligation” but should not be done if khatna was illegal in your country of abode: