FGM in India: Learn More - Equality Now

FGM in India: Learn More

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) - the cutting or removal of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons - occurs in some form across all continents.

In India, the practice is most common amongst members of a sub-sect of Ismaili Shia Islam known as the Dawoodi Bohra community, though it is also practised by a sect of Sunnis in the southern state of Kerala. In Bohra communities, FGM is known as ‘Khatna’ or ‘Khafz’ and is usually performed on pre-pubescent girls by traditional practitioners called ‘Mullanis’.

FGM/Khafz is a violation of the human rights of women and girls, under both international law and the Indian constitution, including the right to bodily integrity. It has no health benefits, and in fact, often has both short-term and long-term health and psychological consequences.

The practice was largely shrouded in secrecy until 2015, when the first-known anti-FGM/Khafz case against a Bohra religious leader, circumciser, and mother went to trial in Australia. More recently, a Michigan-based doctor from the Bohra community was arrested, along with two others, on genital mutilation charges - the first time anyone has faced FGM/Khafz charges under the federal law in the United States.

Tackling Khafz in Bohra communities is difficult. For a long time there was a misconception that FGM/Khafz didn’t happen in India, despite UN’s global target to eliminate FGM/Khafz in all countries as part of their global Sustainable Development Goals. Women and girls in India are also not explicitly protected by law as the practice is not currently illegal, although there is a current FGM/Khafz case before the Supreme Court of India.

But there is also resistance to banning Khafz within Bohra communities. Despite a recent survey by anti-FGM/Khafz campaigning group Sahiyo suggesting that there people within the community who oppose the practice, and evidence from a recent WeSpeakOut report on the prevalence and harms of FGM/Khafz in India, it remains common. In expat Bohra communities, including in the US, it has even become increasingly medicalized, often being performed by doctors.

Eliminating FGM/Khafz in India requires concerted effort and a comprehensive and collaborative approach among government, civil society, survivors, communities, and international actors.

Significant progress has been made recently in bringing the issue of FGM/Khafz to public attention in India.

  • The Minister for Women and Child Development, Mrs. Maneka Gandhi has publicly stated that FGM/Khafz is a crime under existing laws, and has asked the religious head of the Bohra community to take measures to put an end to the practice.
  • In an ongoing case at the Supreme Court, the judges on the bench have made remarks stating that FGM/Khafz prima facie appears to be a violation of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution. The Court also notes that there seems to be no scientific or medical basis for the practice of FGM/Khafz, which is likely to cause a significant amount of trauma, pain and bleeding.

However, we have a long way to go in the struggle to end FGM/Khafz. Immediate action needs to be taken to tackle this pressing issue and ensure that India fulfils its commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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Note on terminology: There are many terms and acronyms, including female genital mutilation (FGM); female genital cutting (FGC), female circumcision, Khatna, and Khafz that refer to practices which involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The terminology used in this statement “FGM/Khafz” is intended to be inclusive of the various acronyms and terms referencing the practice.