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Female Genital Mutilation in India: Unpacking the Bohra Community's Complex Realities


Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a deeply entrenched sociocultural practice with multifaceted implications for women's health and human rights. In-depth analysis of the complex subject of female genital mutilation (FGM) is provided in this study, with a focus on India and the Bohra community. It explores the intricate social motives that drive this deeply ingrained practise and clarifies the FGM/C's complicated effects on the physical and mental health of women. It also explores the complex role that religion plays in supporting this practise and critically challenges whether FGM can be categorically condemned when it is so rooted in cultural tradition. The study examines whether FGM is covered by Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution, which protect religious practises. It emphasises the obvious truth that FGM violates women's and girls' physical integrity, dignity, and autonomy, which makes it a clear violation of human rights. Additionally, it gives a summary of any laws that are already in place in India to prohibit FGM and evaluates how well they reflect the ideals of gender equality and human rights. This report provides useful reference points for India to develop its own policies in addressing this urgent issue by drawing on the experiences and tactics of other nations and international organisations in the global struggle against FGM.

Keywords: Female Genital Mutilation, Bohra Community, Indian Constitution, Human rights, religious practices.


Women have struggled with gender inequity throughout history, a persistent problem that is firmly ingrained in the structures of patriarchal societies. One of the most extreme manifestations of this systemic imbalance, which dates back to time immemorial, is female genital mutilation (FGM). This gruesome practise serves as a vivid reminder of the numerous difficulties women have suffered, highlighting the essential need for a paradigm shift in how the world views gender equality and the abolition of detrimental customs that uphold discrimination based on gender.

The non-medical removal of female genitalia is known as "female genital mutilation (FGM)," and it can lead to serious health problems like bleeding, infections, and labour problems. FGM is a manifestation of gender inequality and a violation of human rights. It mostly affects children and infringes on their rights to bodily integrity and health. Additionally, it violates laws against torture.The abandonment of FGC/FGM has been listed as a target under Goal 5 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Sustainable Development Goals, 2016).

FGM is thought to have affected 200 million women and girls alive today, although the prevalence of the practise is rising as a result of the expanding world population.More than half of these cases have been reported by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia alone, highlighting how pervasive the problem is. Over 4 million girls are alarmingly at danger of FGM each year, with the majority undergoing this deadly procedure before turning 15.

According to WHO[4], there are four main types of operations used in female genital mutilation. "FGM includes four categories: Type 1: Removal of the clitoral hood or glans, either entirely or partially; Type 2: Removal of the glans and labia minora; Narrowing the vaginal opening is a symptom of Type 3 (infibulation), while hazardous practises such pricking and incising are symptomatic of Type 4. These actions uphold a destructive tradition that has negative repercussions on both the body and the mind.

Complex Sociocultural Motivations Behind Female Genital Mutilation

FGM's motivations are complex and rooted in sociocultural factors that vary across regions and time. The need to fit in, the fear of being rejected, and the desire for social approval are what keep it alive as a societal standard in some places.Families who choose not to participate risk social exclusion and having their daughters disqualified from marriage.[6]FGM, seen as a cultural rite, prepares girls for marriage and upholds chastity norms. Some believe it enhances marriage prospects and aligns with ideals of femininity and modesty. While linked to religion by some, no religious texts explicitly endorse it. Local leaders may support or oppose FGM, citing cultural justifications.

Multifaceted Impact of FGM/C on Women's Health

There are differences in the severity of FGM/C-related immediate health problems, with Type 3 providing higher risks than Types 1 or 2. Severe pain, bleeding, infections, trauma, painful urination, and the possible transfer of infectious diseases, including underreported mortality, are among the urgent problems.

FGM's long-term effects can have a variety of negative effects on one's physical, mental, and reproductive health. These include urological issues like painful urination and infections, vaginal issues like discharge and itching, menstrual issues, scarring, and keloids, sexual issues like pain during intimacy and decreased satisfaction, increased risks during childbirth like challenging labour and excessive bleeding, and the potential need for later surgeries to undo the effects of FGM, like vaginal opening sealing. The psychological effects, such as sadness, anxiety, PTSD, and low self-esteem, add to the physical hardships endured by those who are impacted.

FGM/C increases the risk of episiotomy, perineal tearing, protracted labour, heavy bleeding, and unnecessarily C-sections because of scarring. Low birth weight, respiratory problems, stillbirth, or early mortality are risks for babies delivered to women who have had FGM/C. Healthcare practitioners must comprehend and address these issues.

The Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in India

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is predominantly practiced within India's Bohra community. This community, a Shia Muslim sect, is extensively dispersed throughout India, with Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh being notable strongholds.[10] The Dawoodi Bohras are highly educated and prosperous professionals who may trace their ancestry to Egypt's Fatimi Imams. They place a high priority on interfaith dialogue, women's empowerment, education, health, and environmental responsibility.

The Bohra community is the most well-known Muslim group in India that engages in FGC, also called as "khatna" or "khafd" in the group, a practise that is not endorsed by most Islamic scholars worldwide.This unique practise, which is carried out on girls as young as six or seven years old, is unique to the Muslim population in India. It entails either clitoral hood removal in full or in part and is thought to have its roots in the community's historical ties to Egypt and Yemen.

The Dawoodi Bohras follow the religious literature known as Daim al-Islam, which supports female genital mutilation even though the Quran, Islam's sacred book, does not. The continued practise of FGM/C in this society is significantly influenced by this religious support. The D'ai al-mutlaq or Syedna is the name of the Dawoodi Bohra sect's spiritual and religious leader. The community's direction, management of its religious and secular affairs, and enforcement of their adherence to religious ideas and practises are all under the direction of this leader.

According to a 2018 report by The Guardian, Type I and Type IV FGM procedures are carried out in India. Medical experts as well as traditional cutters known as "mullanis" (female Muslim religious leaders) engage in the practise of "khatna," or female genital mutilation.

Circumcised girls reportedly have reduced sexual pleasure, linked to the belief in 'protecting' female desire and stigmatizing the clitoral hood as ‘unwanted skin’ or a ‘source of sin’ or ‘haraam ki boti’ This practice endures in the Indian Bohra sect, predating Islam.

No Indian law forbids An NGO called FGM/C. Sahiyo reported on its prevalence in 2017 and highlighted how it affected the rights of women and children.

Besides, more than 200,000 people have signed a petition started by 17 Bohra women in 2015 calling for a ban of FGM/C in India.

Exploring the Intersection of Religion and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

In Bohra Community the practice of FGM is referred as Female Circumcision rather than Female Genital Mutilation. Khatna is a pre-Islamic custom. Some non-Muslim groups follow the practise, although not all Islamic groups engage in female genital mutilation.Islamic Relief Canada's Reyhana Patel discusses the practise of female genital mutilation (FGM) and how Islam may help end it on the International Day of Zero Tolerance in the year 2019, for it. FGM is not mentioned at all in the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, and the few words falsely attributed to Prophet Muhammad that allegedly approved FGM were deemed uncertain decades ago.

The views of various Sunni Islamic schools on female genital mutilation (FGM) differ. The Shafi'i school views it as mandatory and frequently performs FGM, especially the severe type of infibulation, while the Maliki school advises against it but does not forbid it.The Hanafi school views it as elective and rarely practises it. In contrast to the Sunni schools, Shia Islam has fewer clear-cut views on FGM. The Ismaili school, particularly among the Dawoodi Bohras, views FGM as mandatory, but the Jafari school appears to recommend it.

Islam condemns FGM because it upholds the sanctity of God's creation and because the Quran forbids modifying it since doing so is wicked and destructive. Prophet Muhammad emphasizes ‘no harm to oneself or others’.Arguments made by proponent jurists, who cite the Sunnah of Ibrahim (A.S.) and flimsy Hadith, are refuted by the realisation that male circumcision cannot serve as a precedent for female circumcision because of the differences in the two genders' skeletal systems.Furthermore, since the causes and results of male and female circumcision are essentially different, the Qiyas, or analogy, cannot be used.Islam values human dignity and opposes harmful customs like FGM.It is acceptable to state that FGM/C is more of a cultural than a religious practise. In fact, numerous religious authorities have announced it.

Can FGM still be denounced if it is a cultural tradition?

Certainly, it is possible and essential to condemn FGM even when it is deeply entrenched in cultural traditions. Although culture and tradition are important components of society, they should never be used as an excuse to harm anyone, regardless of gender. Understanding how cultures change and adapt over time is essential. FGM must be eliminated, and efforts to do so must be sensitive to the cultural and societal circumstances in which it still exists.When people understand the risks connected with hazardous behaviours and understand that abandoning them doesn't imply giving up important components of their culture, change becomes possible. The fundamental principle that no cultural practise should support harming people is still in place.

Does FGM fall under the purview of Indian Constitutional Articles 25 and 26?

According to proponents of FGM, the Dawoodi Bohra Community in India views it as a "essential religious practise," and as such, it is protected by Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution, rendering it non-criminal. The freedom of religion is protected under Article 25, however there are some limitations, such as those related to public morality, health, and order as mentioned in 25(1) of the Indian Constitution. FGM/C violates the bodily integrity and sovereignty of women and girls, endangering not only their physical health but also their psychological and emotional wellbeing. As a result, it conflicts with the requirements for public morals, health, and order outlined in Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.The argument for FGM is also frequently based on the profoundly sexist presumption that a woman's sexual desire should be restricted so that she won't deviate from her marital responsibilities.

This interpretation aligns with recent legal developments, such as the Supreme Court's ruling on triple talaq in Shayara Bano Vs Union of india, which upheld the principle that religious practices must adhere to constitutional values and cannot violate fundamental rights.

Violations of Human Rights

The issue of FGM was raised at the United Nations for the first time in 1952.The act is seen as a type of torture and violence against women and girls on a global scale. FGM is regarded as a violation of human rights by international organisations likeWorld Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA). In an effort to combat FGM, the WHO declared in 1996 that the practise was wrong and that it violated people's rights.


Regardless of their citizenship status, all people are guaranteed the fundamental rights to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. With a focus on upholding human dignity, these rights cover the fundamental precepts of life, bodily integrity, and security. This clause enshrines the right to health and requires the government to lay the groundwork for attaining the best possible quality of health. The right to a dignified life is also protected by Article 21, which views it as a fundamental human right rather than merely a legal concession. It also maintains the idea of human dignity in many contexts. It is also protected, making sure that it cannot be infringed upon even in the name of religion or tradition. The right to privacy is essential to the condition of seclusion and secrecy. This right also includes a woman's ability to safeguard her body from damage and retain bodily integrity, in addition to the preservation of her identity and individuality. FGM violates these fundamental guarantees since it endangers women's physical and mental health, violates their human dignity, and interferes with their right to privacy and personal autonomy.


Legislative Measures Addressing FGM/C in India

There is no specific law in India that forbids FGM. Human rights activist Sunita Tiwari filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Sunita Tiwari v. Union of India case to argue for the prohibition of FGM/C. In May 2017, a petition calling for the designation of FGM/C as an illegal and unconstitutional practise was submitted to the Supreme Court of India. According to this PIL, FGM/C violates women's rights to equality (Article 14), protection against gender-based discrimination (Article 15), and the right to life, physical integrity, and privacy (Article 21), all of which are guaranteed by the constitution. Since then, the matter has been referred to a bigger constitutional bench, but no interim decisions have been made, and it is still pending.

Nevertheless, there are some broad provisions in the current criminal statutes that could safeguard the interests of women. Sections 319 to 326 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 to 8 of the POCSO Act charge the practise with crimes. Particularly, Sections 324 and 326 of the IPC stipulate that "voluntarily causing hurt" and "voluntarily causing grievous hurt" are punishable by imprisonment and fines, respectively.R.K. Raghavan, a former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), has emphasised that while FGM is not specifically listed as a crime under the IPC, the police are required to file a case under Section 326 of the IPC in response to a complaint.Section 4 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) of 2012 makes it illegal to sexually abuse a child under the age of 18 in a penetrative manner. According to Section 3, penetration may involve inserting any object into the child's vagina to whatever degree. This means that inserting a sharp item into a child's external genitalia when conducting FGM could be considered a type of penetrative sexual assault.

However, the practise still has to be criminalised and others must be persuaded to undergo FGM in order for the practise to be stopped. Furthermore, FGM/C involves serious harm to the victim's mentality, bodily integrity, and privacy in addition to "any bodily injury" that may be produced.

Global Approaches to Combating FGM

International Bodies

By addressing gender-based violence, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action from the World Conference on Human Rights marked a substantial broadening of the international human rights agenda in 1993. The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Accelerating Change" was launched in 2007 in response to this urgent issue with the goal of protecting children and women by hastening the cessation of FGM/C and providing treatment for its aftereffects. This innovative programme uses a human rights-based strategy that is sensitive to cultural differences and cleverly makes use of social dynamics to encourage the cessation of the practise. This programme, which was put into effect in 15 African nations between 2008 and 2013, focuses on a number of areas, including women's issues, finance, health, and education. Numerous international initiatives and resolutions, including those from the World Health Assembly in 2008 and the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, all stepped up efforts to end FGM globally in the years that followed.A number of international legal agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ("CRC"), which India has ratified, state that FGM/C is prohibited. The CRC requires the state to take all necessary and suitable steps to end traditional practises that are harmful to children's health under Article 24(3). FGM/C also breaches Article 3 of the CRC, which among other articles enshrined the notion of the "best interests of the child". The Sustainable Development Goals, which contain the global aim in Paragraph 5.3: "Eliminate all harmful practises such as child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation," were approved by all United Nations members in 2015, including India. The World Health Assembly passed resolution WHA61.16 on the abolition of FGM in 2008, highlighting the need for collaborative effort in all areas, including women's issues, finance, education, health, and justice.Additionally, in 2022, WHO released a training booklet on person-centered communication with the goal of enhancing FGM prevention counselling and enhancing healthcare workers' communication abilities. These multinational initiatives show the rising dedication to ending FGM and defending the rights and wellbeing of women and girls around the world.

Laws in other Jurisdictions: A Blueprint for India

In the United Kingdom, under Section 1 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act-2003, a comprehensive legal framework is in place to address the deeply concerning issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). The offence of FGM, is punishable under this law by both men and women.Importantly, this legislation allows for the punishment of UK nationals who engage in similar activities outside of the country by extending its jurisdiction there.

In the USA, anyone who circumcises, excises, or infibulates the entire labia-majora, labia-minora, or clitoris faces a maximum 5-year jail sentence under 18 U.S. Code § 116. It does, however, make an exception for any medical operations.

In Australia, female genital mutilation (FGM) is addressed under the Crimes Act-1900's Section 45, which was added because of the 1994 revision. The potential prison sentence for FGM-related offences was then enhanced by an amendment in 2014 from 7 years to 21 years.[48] Furthermore, through the Crimes (Female Genital Mutilation) Act of 1996, Australia has taken proactive steps to combat the risk of FGM. Infibulations, excision or mutilation of genital organs (clitoris, labia majora, labia minora), techniques to narrow or close the vaginal opening, sealing or suturing of labia minora or labia majora, and removal of the top portion of the clitoris are all included in Section 3 of this Act's definition of FGM.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal under Part IV of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2011) in Kenya. The Act further states that if FGM is performed and results in death, the culprit will face a life sentence in prison.  The Act also makes it illegal to bring someone else into Kenya or out of Kenya to conduct FGM on a woman.  The Act also makes it illegal for those to support or encourage FGM.

FGM has been made a crime in Egypt by the Penal Code 1937 Articles 242-bis, where it is also common among Christians. Individuals who commit this offence will now face a sentence of five to seven years in jail under the new legislation.The article further punishes anyone who leads the victims of such acts to the culprits with a sentence of jail lasting between one and three years. The amendment also increases the penalty for the offence to up to 15 years in jail if FGM results in the victim's death or a "permanent deformity."

India can look to these countries as inspirational models and strive to establish a robust legal framework against FGM and implementing effective measures to combat this practice within its own jurisdiction.


Conclusion and Path Ahead

FGM, or female genital mutilation, is an indisputably cruel practise that has no support from any religion but rather originates from cultural customs. FGM is a serious violation of human rights that is frequently performed on women and girls without their knowledge or consent. This practise, which has its roots in entrenched patriarchal regimes, makes the misleading argument that it controls female libido in the name of obedience and purity. It draws attention to the long-lasting gender discrepancies and emphasises how crucial it is to eliminate these customs to defend the fundamental rights and dignity of women around the world.

Eradicating the deeply ingrained taboos surrounding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) necessitates a comprehensive strategy, with gender sensitization at its core. These discriminating ideas have long shaped our society norms and supported the FGM practise. It is crucial to educate women about their rights and obligations through a variety of venues, such as schools, families, and educational programmes, to break these bonds. Collaborating with NGOs is vital in combatting FGM, as they can raise awareness about its severe consequences in affected communities.It is essential to broaden this awareness to include professionals like those in law enforcement, medicine, education, nursing, and counselling. Public education and climate creation can be accomplished through street plays and the inclusion of FGM in school curricula. Cooperation between Ward committees, Panchayats, and civil society organisations is essential to effectively increase awareness among the Bohra community and carry out safety audits.

The impact of legislation against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is evident as countries with such laws have successfully reduced its prevalence. Although the POSCO Act and the IPC have legal provisions to address sexual assault against women, FGM persists in India, especially within the Dawoodi Bohra community. The urgent necessity for laws in India to treat FGM is shown by this circumstance. Such regulation should clearly define the practise as a target while also outlining guidelines for preventative and remedial measures.

In the collective effort to combat Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), NGOs play a multifaceted role that encompasses various crucial aspects. A key strategy is community engagement, in which NGOs can establish intimate ties with the populations afflicted by FGM. They can serve as mediators in open discussions, promoting mutual understanding and supporting community-based efforts to end this harmful practise. To change attitudes and behaviours and effectively handle cultural sensitivities, local leaders and religious figures must be involved.

Additionally, NGOs can offer vital Support for Survivors, acting as a lifeline for people who have suffered the painful effects of FGM. This support includes a variety of services, such as access to safe spaces, counselling, medical and psychiatric care, and foster care for survivors. There should be a national emergency toll free number so that girls and women can quickly receive emergency and rehabilitation services. In parallel, NGOs can help by educating and training contact centre staff to sensitively manage FGM-related concerns, providing direction and unwavering support to people in need.

Recognizing the strength in collaboration, that transcend boundaries. Local stakeholders, governments, NGOs, and international organisations can work together to plan a coordinated and thorough response to the FGM issue. These alliances enable joint actions that increase the impact of anti-FGM campaigns, illuminating the fact that group efforts frequently produce better outcomes than solo ones. India may also play a crucial part in this effort by coordinating its national policies and actions with the overall program's objectives, which are spearheaded by UNFPA and UNICEF.To ensure that FGM becomes a thing of the past and protect the rights and well-being of women and girls around the world, such partnership would entail exchanging best practises, pushing for its elimination both domestically and globally, and working together.


[1] World Health organization, Female Genital Mutilation (January 31, 2023) <> accessed 30 August, 2023

[2] United Nations Children’s Fund, Female genital Mutilation Frequently Asked Question (February 2022) <>accessed 30 August, 2023

[3] United Nations Children’s Fund, Female genital Mutilation (January 2023) <>accessed 30August, 2023

[4] Supra note 2.

[5] Supra note 2.

[6] United Nations Children’s Fund, Female genital Mutilation (February 3, 2023)

[7]Innocenti Digest UNICEF, Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (May, 2008) <>

[8] Supra note 2.

[9]Reisel, D., & Creighton, S. M. , “Long term health consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)” (2015) Maturitas, 80, 48–51.

[10]Shikha Lakra, Female Genital Mutilation and India (ipleaders, October 23, 2018)

[11] The Dawoodi Bohras, About The Dawoodi Bohras<>accessed 31August, 2023.             

[12] Mariya Taher, Understanding Female Genital Cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra Community: An Exploratory Survey, (Sahiyo, February 2017)> accessed 31 August, 2023.

[13] Supra note 8.

[14]Angel L Martínez Cantera ,I was crying with unbearable pain': study reveals extent of FGM in India (The Guardian, March 6, 2018)<> accessed 31 August, 2023.

[16]Islamic Relief Wordlwide, Islam must never be used to justify FGM(February 6, 2019) <> accessed September 1, 2023.

[17] id

[18] Courting the Law, Islam and Female Genital Mutilation (April 28, 2016) <> accessed September 1, 2023.

[19] id

[20] id

[21] id

[22] id

[23] Supra note 3.

[24] Constitution of India; Art 25, 26.

[25] Saunak Rajguru, Female genital mutilation must be abolished because it’s criminally liable abuse of the girl child, and hardly an ‘essential religious practice’ (The Leaflet, August 2018) <> accessed September 1, 2023.

[26]Shayara Bano v. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 1(India)

[27]Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy on female genital Mutilation (November,2000) ch 3

[28]Sunita Tiwari v. Union of India, WP (C) No 286/2017

[29] Constitution of India; Article 14.

[30] Constitution of India; Article 15.

[31] Constitution of India; Article 21.

[32] The Indian penal Code 1960.

[33] POSCO Act, 2012.

[34] Supra note 11.

[35]Rasheeda Bhagat, Ban this barbarous practice! (Hindu Business Line, July 29, 2014)

[36]Prerna Murarka, It’s Time to Ban Female Genital Mutilation in India: Here’s Why (Academike, December 10, 2020) < > accessed September 1, 2023.

[37] Supra note 3.

[38] UNICEF, UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation Accelerating the elimination of an extreme form of violence against girls (July 2023) <>

[39] id

[40]Convention on the Rights of the Child (General Assembly resolution 44/25) [November 20, 1989], art 24(3).

[41]Convention on the Rights of the Child (General Assembly resolution 44/25) [November 20, 1989], art 3.

[42] Supra note 2.

[43]WHO, Supporting health-care providers to make positive change: WHO launches new training tools on female genital mutilation prevention and care (February 3, 2022) <>

[44] Female Genital mutilation Act 2003 (UK Public General Acts) [October 30, 2003],Ch 31.

[45] Id, s 1(1).

[46] 18 U.S. Code (United States Code) [2011],Ch 7, s 116.

[47]Crimes Act 1900 (New South Wales Consolidated Acts) [1994], s 45.

[48] Crimes Amendment (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2014 No 15 [NSW] (May 20, 2014), s 45.

[49]Crimes (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 1996, 46/1996 (Victorian Legislation) [November 26, 1996], s 3.

[50]Prohibition of Genital Mutilation act, 32/2011 (Laws of Kenya) [2012], pt IV.

[51] Id

[52]Amendment Penal Code (Criminalization of Act of Female Genital Mutilation) (August 31, 2016), art 242 bis.

[53] Id


Shivani Kumari

Research Intern

The Stambh Organisation,India

Female Genital Mutilation in India Unpacking the Bohra Community's Complex Realities (1)
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