Imagine a dark and alluding room with a girl screaming behind the curtains. You know you are next in line and whatever is happening to her is going to happen to you. Adrenaline coursing through your veins, you can feel the bumps rising in fear. Her screams get louder by the second and you have nowhere to run or hide. No one to help you, no one to trust, after all, it is your mother who brought you here in the first place.
Her screams die down and you are called. The first thing that you see upon entering is a pool of blood. You trace the origin of the stream only to arrive at the genitals of a girl your age. The girl is bound by ropes, with her wrists and knees bleeding profoundly showing clear signs of resistance. She’s not screaming her heart out now, not because she no longer feels the pain but because she can’t anymore. A woman with lifeless eyes stands a knife in her hand with blood dripping off it drop by drop. She motions you to a bed beside that girl. It is pure white, but won’t remain that way for long. It will soon be stained with your blood. No one can save you anymore, not even the law, because it is not even there in the first place. You don’t want this. You don’t want to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
FGM is a term used to describe various traditional practices that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia purely for traditional and cultural reasons in many societies. There is a reason why the middle ages have been referred to being the darkest time of the era. With killing, raping, chopping off the vital parts of a person’s body, arbitrary inquisition and crusades backed up by the legal sanctions; there was no recourse to justice for anyone. The laws were elucidated in a manner to degrade the status of women and making their life a pandemonium to live in which was justified by the horrendous interpretation of Bible, Quran, Vedas and other holy texts.
With the progress of the society, these laws and acts turned into customs conditioning the minds of millions of people to follow the pernicious path pejorating the condition of women. Females were considered to be cunning and were believed to bring about the destruction of the world if not dominated upon. This control over women was ensured by cutting off her genitals which gave the males the domination with the belief that she would always be loyal and submissive to just her husband. This led to the inception of Female Genital Mutilation and various aggravated forms arose which ensured the ‘chastity’ and ‘loyalty’ of a woman.
It was believed that the more severe the circumcision of a woman, the higher quality of a woman she is. There are various kinds of FGMs depending on the culture or the family which adopts the practice. The more severe it is, greater the honour of the family.
Following are the major types of FGM:
- Type 1 – Clitoridectomy
It is the gentlest type as it involves only the partial or full removal of the clitoris with razor blades or broken glass and rarely with anesthesia.
- Type II – Excision
This type is widely practiced type of circumcision. The labia majora and minora are completely removed.
- Type III – Infibulation
This is the most exotreme form of FGM, In this, the entire genital area and outer tissues are cut awat. External sides of the vagina are sewn together using thorns, leaving an opening the size of a pen for urination and menstruation.
- Type IV – Other
It involves clitoridectromy and the stitching of the inner leaves of the female genital.
These procedures are performed in non sterile conditions and frequently results in fatal infections. In some countries, dirt ashes or animal faeces are thrown into the wound to stop the bleeding which makes their condition worse.
Most of the women are circumcised at the age of 9-12 years as it is believed that they would not remember the pain and agony when they grow older. However, various studies have showed the contrary. It was found that it led to never ending psychological trauma and a feeling of distrust and betrayal for the family.
However, even after spreading awareness and education, the intransigent mindset of the society and diffidence among the females poses a hindrance to the reforms. The absence of specific laws for the prevention makes the situation worse. With the perpetrators only liable under the general sections under the IPC, there is no one to make them strictly liable for their acts. The tokenistic representation of the females in the legislature makes the policy making on the topic a lackadaisical process which has still not come into place making the issue; one, to be worked upon with full force.
Although India is a signatory to the UN general assembly’s resolution on ending female Genital Mutilation, there has not been any proactive effort on part of the government to make any specific law dealing with the same.
In India, FGM is practiced by the Bohra community of the Muslims. The girls from this community are circumcised when they attain puberty. The matter of FGM came into light when a mother and a former nurse were jailed in Australia for circumcision. Various NGOs through ardours effort brought this practice into light. However, even after the proof, the government did not take any step to curb the same. According to them, it was already being dealt with the provisions in IPC as mentioned below.
Section 320 deals with certain kinds of grievous hurt to any person. According to this section if anyone causes grievous hurt so mentioned would be punishable for the offence. According to the apex court, FGM comes within the definition of emasculation so mentioned in the section as it takes away the power and confidence of a female and subjects them to utter physical and psychological pain.
Section 326 of the IPC deals with voluntarily causing hurt by using any instrument, which when used as a weapon of offence would result in death. FGM clearly satisfies the conditions as various women lose their lives due to severe blood loss after the procedure.
Taking the interpretation of these sections, it was observed by the court that FGM is already covered and thus there arises no requirement for a separate law banning the same. Moreover, as majority of the victims of FGM are infants and children including girls up to the age of 17 years it violates the right of children as well as it goes against the best interest of the child; thus coming under POCSO Act which defines sexual assault under section 9 to include damage to the sexual organ of the child.
However, these laws have been in existence since a considerable period of time and there has been no decline in the cases of FGM in India. It is not a question of whether it can come under any law but whether the existent laws are enough to solve the problem. The practice violates a woman’s right to equality (Article 14) and the right to life (Article 21) as they are treated like the properties of their husband and have to be sadistically mutilated for their pleasure.
FGM is a torturous and discriminatory practice under the garb of religion. The practitioners argue their right to religion under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. However, the scope of article 25 can be limited when the practice goes against “Public order, morality and health”. Moreover, something declared illegal by the criminal law cannot be justified as an essential practice of religion.
Culture defines people’s belief. It takes time to change. Just like the Devdasi system and the Sati Pratha in India, FGM will take time but will be slowly eradicated. However to achieve the goal, women need to be made aware of their rights and the consequences of the tradition. The fight cannot be won with women themselves fighting against other women. They have to stand up for their rights and take control of their lives.
The most classic example of the same would be the all women tribe in Africa started by a woman named Rebecca when she spoke up against the practice and was casted out of her village. Instead of getting disheartened and submitting to the males, she started her own tribe which served as an abode to women who ran away from home to escape the deadly practice. She has successfully established matriarchy in the midst of one of the most patriarchal societies giving hope to various women to do the same.
She has stood up on Bob Marley’s Words “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. Get up, Stand up, don’t give up the fight.”
Authored By:- Naysa Yadav, Third Year Student Symbiosis International University