The Kerala government has promised action against medical centres involved in female genital cutting in the state. The decision was taken after Mathrubhumi, a prominent Malayalam daily, on Sunday, published details of a Kozhikode clinic that performed this surgical procedure. The newspaper also revealed that the procedure is also being performed in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

State health minister KK Shylaja said she has sought reports from the director of medical services and the Kozhikode district medical officer about the practice. “I was shocked to hear about it,” she said in Kannur on Tuesday. “The Health Department will take stringent action against the perpetrators of this archaic practice.”

Two reporters from Mathrubhumi newspaper posed as customers and consulted one of the doctors at his clinic in Kozhikode.

“During our interaction, the doctor told us that he had done many genital cutting [surgeries] when he worked at a government hospital,” KP Shoukathali, one of the reporters, told “He extolled the benefits of genital cutting during the interaction. He said that surgery will help us get sexual pleasure and happiness in our family life. He charges Rs 4,000 for the surgery.”

An investigation in February by Sahiyo, an organisation dedicated to empowering Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end female genital cutting and create positive social change, had found that female genital cutting was being practiced in Kozhikode. The report, published on the Sahiyo website on August 14, said two doctors in a clinic in Kozhikode had admitted that they performed circumcision surgeries on both boys and girls.

Both the Mathrubuhumi and Sahiyo reports have dented the common belief that women in Kerala, India’s most literate state, were not subjected to the trauma of genital cutting.

The intelligence wing of the Kerala Police has begun an investigation into the allegations. It is learnt that the police have taken a statement from the wife of the Kozhikode doctor accused of conducting female genital cutting procedures in the Mathrubuhumi report.

State Police Chief Loknath Behra too has promised strict action against clinics that perform female genital cutting. “We will seek the opinion from the Indian Council of Medical Research and Indian Medical Association before taking action,” he said.

Protests break out

Following the Mathrubuhumi report, protests erupted against the Kozhikode clinic. Activists of the Muslim Youth League, the youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League, took out a march to the clinic on Sunday, and forced it to down its shutters.

“We think it is the duty of youngsters to protest against such social evils,” said PK Firos, state general secretary of the Muslim Youth League. “It is a social evil. We have verified that the doctor has been conducting female genital cutting for quite some time.”

The Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), also staged a protest march on Monday. “We will demolish the clinic if the doctor dares to reopen it,” warned P Nikhil, the body’s Kozhikode district secretary. “We will not allow people behind this clinic to walk freely.”

What is female genital cutting?

According to the World Health Organisation, female genital cutting includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It has been classified into four major types.

The World Health Organisation says the procedure has no health benefits for girls and women. It says: “Instead, it can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”

‘Against medical ethics’

In a press release issued on Monday, the Kerala branch of the Indian Medical Association said that the surgery is unscientific and against medical ethics. The statement said: “Studies have indicated that genital cutting might cause severe health issues to women and may even result in deaths. It is quite unfortunate that such things are happening in Kerala society which claims to be highly modern and literate.”

Several Muslim leaders also spoke out against the practice.

Prominent Islamic scholar and Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen vice-president, Hussain Madavoor, said Islam does not encourage female circumcision. “There is no mention about it in the Holy Quran,” he said. “I haven’t come across any mention about it in the Hadith, the Prophet’s way of life, too.”

He added: “It may be a tribal ritual in some regions, and it is not wise to associate it with a particular religion. No Muslim organisation in Kerala is supporting female genital cutting.”

Jama’at-e-Islami leader, Shaikh Mohammed Karakkunnu, said female genital cutting is un-Islamic. “Superstitions and wrong religious practices will tarnish the image of Islam,” he said.

A little known Muslim cleric, Maniyoor Abdul Khader Al Khasimi, said circumcision is compulsory for Muslim men and optional for women. “Cutting the clitoris is not mandatory for women,” he said. “But I won’t oppose the practice.”