The Ministry of Women and Child Development in an affidavit has told the Supreme Court that there is no official data or study that supports the existence of female genital cutting in India, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. Their affidavit came in response to a petition seeking a ban on the practice that some girls from the Dawoodi Bohra community are subjected to. The petition was filed by advocate Sunita Tiwari.

“It is respectfully submitted that at present there is no official data or study (by NCRB etc) which supports the existence of FGM in India,” the affidavit said. The WCD Ministry’s affidavit, however, comes after its minister Maneka Gandhi had said in May that female genital mutilation should be banned in India. Gandhi had said that if the Bohra community did not stop FGM, the Centre would introduce a law to stop it. Tiwari also pointed out the contradiction in the ministry’s stand when speaking to The Indian Express.

The ministry’s affidavit lists the sections of the Indian Penal Code that can be used to prosecute cases of female genital cutting, and has stated that the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs should also be impleaded as parties in the case.

In May this year, the Supreme Court had issued notices to the Centre and four states seeking a detailed response on banning female genital cutting. The bench at the time had called it an “extremely important and sensitive issue”.

About female genital cutting

Tiwari argued that the practice violates the fundamental rights of a woman. In her plea, she asked the court to direct the Centre and these four states to implement the 2012 United Nations resolution on banning it. She also pointed out that although India is a signatory of the UN resolution, it has not paid any attention to the matter. Tiwari also wants the states to issue appropriate orders to all director generals of police to take action in such cases until a law is enacted, reported ANI.

The Dawoodi Bohra community in India is known to practise female genital cutting, which typically involves a cut or nick to the clitoral hood. Investigations have showed it is practised even in literate communities in Kerala. The practice, called khatna or khafz within the Dawoodi Bohra community, is defined by the United Nations as Type-I female genital mutilation, which describes this as including either the cutting of the clitoral hood or the partial or total removal of the clitoris, and is usually done to girls aged between six and 12 years.

The practice is not yet illegal in India, but female genital cutting in any form has been outlawed in several countries around the world, including the United States.

The World Health Organisation has not found any health benefits to cutting girls’ genitalia and has said that it may instead cause several negative short and long-term consequences. WHO has said that FGM leads to infections, cysts, infertility and higher childbirth complications, according to the Hindustan Times.