Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Unsigned Letter

Sometimes we stumble upon things which force us to thank our stars that we haven't been exposed to them. Yet, in our own small way we want to contribute and help the victims. The letter that follows is one such collection of words which made me cringe at this harsh reality. This letter was written by an Indian woman revealing the true face of FGM- Female Genital Mutilation.

“Dear Molly,

I am an Indian woman living in Mumbai and I attended a seminar in the United States recently where you spoke on the subject of Female Genital Cutting in Africa.  That day, I know I was the most intent of all listeners, the most interested in what you had to say. Why, you might ask?

It is because I, an Indian woman who has been to University, have myself experienced the practice of FGC.  I know this may surprise you, but it is true.  Did you know that FGC also exists in India?  Many people do not, not even many Indians!

I hail from the Dawoodi Bohra community, whose head is called the Syedna – we are a sect of the Shias, which came to India from Yemen some centuries ago.

As in many parts of the world, parents in the Bohra community suffered from “son stroke” as did my parents, who prayed hard for a son, after having four girls. They did succeed and we finally had a boy in the family.

I was the third among four sisters.  We were very close and shared many secrets. But none of us, not the ones before me, nor I myself, ever shared or warned the ones closest to us about the frightening and incomprehensible experience that we would one day be forced to go through.  It was not spoken about then and it is not spoken about even today.
I am 60 years old now, but will remember that fateful day for the rest of my life. I must have been around 7 years old when my mother told me we were going to my grandma’s house to spend the day with her.  When we reached my grandma’s house, my cousin (my mum’s sister’s daughter), who was a year younger than me, was also there. We were happy to meet each other.

Then, we were both led to a small room, which had a bed and asked to lie down. We kept asking “Why?” Suddenly, a lady dressed in black came into the room. By now, my cousin and I were terrified, not aware of what was to follow.

Our dresses were pulled up and our panties pulled off, and we were asked to keep our legs apart.  There were our mothers and our aunts holding our legs apart and then I felt something cold being applied to my clitoris, and then to my horror, the lady in black, actually held a scissor-like instrument and cut me there – I screamed and screamed but no one seemed to care. Then this same thing was done to my cousin, who was right next to me on the same bed.

Both of us kept screaming and crying in pain. Everyone left the room and asked us to lie down with our legs apart, and told us that all would be well soon. They locked us in for almost the whole day. The burning and painful sensation between my groins is something I will never ever forget.

I felt betrayed by and angry with my mother and humiliated too.  I just could not understand how my mother could have been so cruel and put me through this horrific experience.  Much later I was told that all Bohra girls must go through it, and that it is ‘good’ for you.  I then understood that my mother had no choice, that for her, she was only doing what was expected of her.  She was being a “good mother” because this is a practice that had been carried out in our Bohra group for centuries and was considered essential for a woman’s good reputation and marriage chances.

Little did I know that this would affect my sexual life to such a great extent that reaching an orgasm would be a difficult thing for me!

My husband and I have made sure that our daughter does not go through the same thing. We warned his mother and mine that they dare not do anything behind our backs.  We know of friends from my generation, who did not want their girls to go through FGC, but often it was the grandma or the aunts who took them away and secretly got it done!

The sad part is that my sisters and I, and my cousins too, did not really discuss our experience till many years later. We have spent years feeling shame and humiliation for a senseless act that we were subjugated to as children, incapable of defending our human right to keep all organs of our body.

I regret also, dear Molly that I cannot reveal my name to you, as I am not certain of the best way to help put an end to this practice that still persists on a large scale in the Dawoodi Bohra community of India.  However, your explanation of how people themselves changed this social convention in Africa through discussing non judgmental information on the dangers and human rights violations of FGC, then allowing people to collectively abandon the practice, seems the best way forward.

In the meantime, I hope that you will publish this letter to let others know that women suffer greatly from this practice, not only in Africa, but in other countries such as India as well.  Women need to break the silence and support one another in this effort so that our daughters will have a brighter future in the years to come”.

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