On March 16, at a storytelling event in Mumbai, four actors narrated the personal stories of four women survivors of a practice called khatna. A form of ritualistic female genital circumcision that practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra community, khatna involves the cutting of a young girl’s clitoral hood (and in many cases, the clitoris).
Girls as young as six or seven years old are made to undergo this procedure, often carried out by the female members of their family. This centuries-old act has been recognised as a violation of human rights, and has left several women scarred till today.
The storytelling event was organised by Sahiyo, a collective that aims to empower Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end female genital cutting. The four stories shared on stage at the event were narrated by actors Sobhita Dhulipala, Rasika Duggal, Plabita Borthakur and Dolly Thakore.
Scroll.in filmed these stories as the actors recounted personal anecdotes of the horrific and traumatic experiences of the four survivors. Even after undergoing the cut, survivors continue to question the basis behind the ritual. “Why did my mother allow that strange unknown woman to do that to me?”, says actor Sobhita Dhulipala in the video (above). So many confused, unanswered questions continue to linger. But the biggest question being, “what was cut?”, Dhulipala asks hauntingly.
These videos throw light on survivors recalling vivid memories of this gruesome act. “We went to a place that was unfamiliar to me”, says Rasika Duggal, narrating a story of a survivor who was cut at a young age, in this video (below). “The aunty chatted with us for a while, and then went inside another room to bring something back. When she came out, she had a blade and two or three other items in her hand”. These stories expose the harrowing impact khatna had on the lives of these women. “Next thing I remember is the sight of the silver blade and a sharp, agonising pain in my most intimate area. I screamed in terror.”
Priya Goswami, the filmmaker behind the 2013 national award winning film A Pinch of Skin and a co-founder of Sahiyo, told Scroll.in, “It (khatna) is a taboo topic in Indian families, often male members don’t know too much about it”. In these narrations too, there is reference to how a girl’s father is unaware of the ritual being conducted on his daughter.
Talking about the ritual, Goswami says it is a cultural practice by the Bohra communities in which the clitoris is cut, but the cut itself may vary in severity. The large section of the Bohra community believes that the ritual is meant to “curb sexual pleasures and moderate sexual desires”, says Goswami. Today, with increased global attention to the subject, pro-khatna supporters have argued that cutting actually exposes female genitals therefore enhancing sexual pleasure. However, these stories reiterate the devastating effect khatna has.
Khatna is defined by the World Health Organisation as Type I FGM. Sahiyo states that it is recognised as a human rights violation by WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF, and continues to be practised in Bohra communities around the world.