The Supreme Court, in a hearing of a PIL filed against the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) among the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim group, said that just because the practice dates back to the 10th century AD, it can’t be declared an “essential religious practice”. FGM is the practice of partially or completely removing the clitoral hood. In India, it is largely limited to the Dawoodi Bohras and some other Muslim groups in Kerala among which the inhumane practice continues even though it has been banned in 27 nations worldwide, including Egypt, a country where the Dawoodi Bohras have a strong presence.
Although religious actions are protected by law, through Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution that declare the right of an individual to practice the religion of their choice, there has to be a standard of constitutional morality against which such practices must be measured. A common ground has to be reached between tradition and safety. What’s more, with senior Bohra leaders, such as Syedna Fakhruddin, coming out against the practice, declaring it “un-Islamic”, the practice being a religious imperative in also comes under question. With the practice being carried out unscientifically—86% of the respondents to a survey by a leading FGM rights-based group, Sahiyo, said that the procedure was carried out by untrained midwives—it endangers the health of women, an already vulnerable group in terms of healthcare access. WHO recognises this practice as a violation of human rights, and the UN Convention on Rights of a Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both of which India is a signatory to, also label this as a gross infringement of children’s personage and rights. It is about time that India outlaws this barbaric practice and does right for a section of women whose rights are being so cruelly infringed.