The Supreme Court on Monday observed that the bodily integrity of a woman cannot be infringed upon without her consent, Live Law reported. The top court made the comments while considering a plea for a complete ban on the practice of female genital cutting. The court said it would hear the petition on July 16.
Senior lawyer Indira Jaising, appearing for Sunita Tiwari, the petitioner, said that the practice amounts to an offence under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, as well as under the Indian Penal Code.
Members of the Dawoodi Bohra community had earlier moved the court saying the practice should be allowed as religious freedom is guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.
Appearing for the Dawoodi Bohra community, lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi said there is a distinction between female genital cutting and female circumcision. “Female genital mutilation is a practice which we do not support, circumcision is different,” he told the bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud.
The chief justice questioned if the practice can be compulsory imposed on someone. “Why should the bodily integrity of a woman be subject to some external authority?” Justice Chandrachud said. “One’s gentials is an extremely private affair.”
On April 20, the Centre asked the Supreme Court for directions on how to address the challenge of female genital cutting, adding that it was already an offence under the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Tiwari who sought a ban on the practice that some girls from the Dawoodi Bohra community are subjected to.
During the hearing in April, the court added Kerala and Telangana as parties to the matter and served them notices seeking their replies. States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi were served notices in May 2017.
The Dawoodi Bohra community in India is known to practice female genital cutting, which typically involves a cut or nick to the clitoral hood. Investigations have showed it is practiced 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 cutting, 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 the practice leads to infections, cysts, infertility and higher childbirth complications, according to the Hindustan Times.