In a major win for women's rights in India, the country's Supreme court has agreed with the federal government to push for ending the Female Genital Mutilation, FGM.
Attorney General K K Venugopal informed the Chief Justice Dipak Misra that the government wants to ban the practice where a girl child is forced to undergo genital mutilation or circumcision. The attorney general also pointed out that the practice violates fundamental human rights and has severe repercussions on women's health.
The observations come after a petition was filed by advocate Sunita Tiwari seeking a ban on FMG. A senior counsel advocating the ban also pointed out that the practice has adverse consequences and could be traumatic for girls.
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi who appeared for Dawoodi Bohra community justified the practice, saying, "It is an essential aspect of Islam and cannot be subjected to judicial scrutiny."
Singhvi made the case for FGM in the community as an accepted religious practice, referring to the practice of male circumcision (khatna) in Islam and that it has been allowed in all countries.
The court, however, responded, saying "Why and how should the bodily integrity of an individual be part of the religion and its essential practice," further pointing that the practice violated the "integrity" of a girl child's body.
"Why should anybody else have any control over the genitals of an individual," it said.
During a May 8 court hearing, the court decided to look into the issue, calling it "extremely important and sensitive."
Tiwari's plea against FGM referred to several conventions of the United Nations, to which India is a signatory, and it also included the ministries of Law and Justice, Social Justice, and Empowerment.
The practice violates, "UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which is India is a signatory", the plea said, adding the practice caused "permanent disfiguration to the body of a girl child."
"The practice of 'khatna' or 'FGM' or 'Khafd' also amounts to causing inequality between the sexes and constitutes discrimination against women. Since it is carried out on minors, it amounts to serious violation of the rights of children as even minors have a right of security of person, right to privacy, bodily integrity and the freedom from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment," the plea added.
A total of 27 African countries have already banned this practice among other European and North American countries.
The move also comes at a time when a network of survivors, 'WeSpeakOut,' have been pushing the government to ban the practice, which is still prevalent among Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community.
"We firmly believe that if India is to eliminate, eradicate and root out the outdated practice of FGM from the country, it has to be done in a systematic multi-pronged manner with the complete coordination and cooperation of government agencies, the community, police, and health professionals,” a ‘WeSpeak Out’ representative said, according to the Times of India.
Currently, there's no law in the South Asian country against FGM, 'Khatna.'
The next hearing for the plea is scheduled for July 16.