MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indian officials have told the Supreme Court there is no data to show female genital mutilation (FGM) exists in the country, angering activists fighting to end the centuries-old custom in a minority Muslim community.
FGM is secretly carried out by the close-knit Dawoodi Bohra community, a Shi’ite Muslim sect thought to number up to 2 million worldwide, that considers the practice a religious obligation although it is not mentioned in the Koran.
Groups of Bohra women have called for the Indian government to ban the ritual, called khatna, where part of the clitoral hood is cut.
Responding to an inquiry from the top court on a petition to end FGM, the Ministry of Women and Child Development told the Supreme Court this week: “At present there is no official data or study which supports the existence of FGM in India.”
The top court earlier this year asked for responses from the ministry, as well as governments in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the community is largely based.
Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, earlier said she would write to state governments and the Bohra spiritual leader - the Syedna - to issue an edict to end FGM, failing which a law would be brought to ban the practice.
“We are really flummoxed that after all that, the ministry should now say this,” said Masooma Ranalvi of Speak Out on FGM, who has spearheaded a campaign to end FGM.
“There’s no official data because it’s a secret practice, but hundreds have spoken about it publicly and signed petitions recently. What’s stopping the government from doing a survey,” said Ranalvi, who was cut as a seven-year-old.
Ranalvi said a survey she had conducted of more than 100 Bohra women across India had found most of them were cut.
FGM, which can cause serious physical and psychological problems, is more commonly linked to African countries which have led international efforts to end the practice.
India is not included on U.N. lists of countries affected by FGM, although campaigners estimate that up to three-quarters of Bohra girls are cut.
“We are appalled ... survivors have been speaking out for years, and have met ministry officials, too,” the non-profit group Sahiyo, which is campaigning against the custom, said in a statement.
“We now ask the government to ... do an official study.”
Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.