Bohra Physician charged under US FGM law

The arrest of a Detroit emergency room doctor, Jumana Nagarwala , 44 of Northville, Detroit USA on April 13,2017 under the charge of performing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on 2 minor girls aged 7 has once again brought to the limelight the undeniable fact that FGM exists and is thriving within the Bohra community.

According to the press release of the US Justice Department Dr. Nagarwala performed FGM on girls who were approximately 6 to 8 years old. This is believed to be the first case brought under 18 U.S.C. 116, which criminalizes FGM “knowingly circumcis[ing], excis[ing], or infibulat[ing] the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years. Nagarwala was arrested and is scheduled to appear in federal court in Detroit. If the charges get proven in court, she could be facing a long time in prison.

The case against Dr Nagarwala dates back to February this year when the FBI launched an investigation after receiving a tip that Nagarwala had performed female genital mutilation on 7 year olds at a Livonia medical clinic according to the complaint.

As part of this investigation the FBI obtained a court order to review Nagarwala’s phone, which indicated several calls to a Minnesota number. Furthermore, hotel records show two families each with a young girl stayed there on February 3 and this was confirmed by the surveillance video footage. Seven days later an FBI child forensic interviewer talked to one of the girls, who said she was brought to Detroit for a “special girls trip”. According to the complaint, a procedure “to get the germs out” was performed on the first girl. Both the girls were asked to identify the photo of the doctor which they identified as Dr Nagarwala. The girls were also asked to keep the practice a secret.

What is even more despicable is that despite her oath to care for patients, Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed acts in clear violation to the medical code of conduct.

FGM also known as khatna is still widely prevalent in the Bohra community in India and among the diasporic community worldwide. It is portrayed as a religious and cultural practice and is rooted in the patriarchal belief that the sexuality of girls has to be curtailed to prevent them from becoming “promiscuous”. Sworn secrecy is the hallmark of this practice and girls of seven who are barely in a position to oppose this act are almost always lied to when they are taken for this procedure by their parents. The procedure almost always leaves strong physical and psychological scars on the lives of these girls which last through life.

The two million strong community based out of India is largely located in western parts of India. Large numbers of Bohras have immigrated to different countries in the world and have taken this practice along with them.

A strong anti FGM movement has taken root in the community over the last few years, with large number of women who have been subjected to FGM openly speaking out against the practice.

Speak Out on FGM a movement spearheading a campaign to end FGM amongst the Bohras has also started a signature petition appealing to the Government of India to pass a law banning FGM in India

FGM is a criminal offence in many states in America. Interestingly on 11 May 2016, the Detroit Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat, Anjuman E Najmi had issued a resolution which clearly stated that the practice of khatna/khafz comes under the US definition of FGM and is hence banned, the resolution also said that law of the land should be followed and hence advised parents to abstain from FGM/khatna.

Clearly this resolution was an eyewash and Bohras continued to practice FGM as is evident from the Detroit case. The fact remains that Bohras owe undisputed allegiance to the Syedna and every word uttered by his holiness is gospel. In April 2017, the Syedna himself stated in a sermon in Mumbai that khatna for girls must be done. The Times of India quoted a translation of a recording thought to be from his sermon:

 

“It must be done. If it is a man, it can be done openly and if it is a woman it must be discreet. But the act must be done. Do you understand what I am saying? Let people say what they want…they say?…that this is harmful? Let them say it, we are not scared of anyone.”

 

It is time for the community to understand the harm they are causing to the young girls and take a stand against the practice. The world’s leading health body, the World Health Organization categorically states that there is no medical benefit of FGM, on the contrary it causes irreversible bodily, sexual and psychological harm.

 

Due to the nature and consequences of FGM/C, it is also a violation of the human rights of women and children. It infringes on the right to life and physical integrity, the right to health[1] and the right to freedom from torture, cruel and unusual treatment, and violence. Since FGM/C is mostly practiced on girls below the age of 18 years, it is also a violation of rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (UNCRC) and violates the guarantee of non-discrimination. Hence FGM cannot be justified as a cultural or religious practice.

 

Speak Out On FGM unequivocally condemns the practice of FGM and we appeal to the community to give up this practice. Criminal prosecutions like the one in Detroit and the one in Australia before bring shame on the community. We pride ourselves to be educated and sophisticated and yet we continue a medieval practice which harms our children and our very social fabric. Let us all unite in this fight to end FGM from our community.

 


[1] Article 12, ICESCR: 1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

  1. The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;
  2. The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;
  3. The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;
  4. The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.”

Full text of ICESCR available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

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