What is it like to have undergone female genital mutilation ? #Vaw #FGM #Womenrights


Out in the open

What is it like to have undergone female genital mutilation, asks NID student’s film

Jyoti Punwani mirrorfeedback@timesgroup.com

When a 24-year-old student of film and video communication at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad received a special mention at the 60th National Film Awards, it was for showing nerve.
Although devoid of sting operations and hidden cameras, Priya Goswami’s 27-minute documentary goes where no one has. In A Pinch of Skin, the young filmmaker gets a string of women to openly share the horror of female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice so secretive, often brothers aren’t aware their sisters have undergone it. The one-million strong community of Dawoodi Bohras, a sect of Ismaili Shias concentrated in trade-focused centres of Maharashtra and Gujarat, carry out the practice citing ‘faith’ as reason, although Islamic scholars say Islam doesn’t sanction it.
The World Health Organisation defines FGM as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organ for nonmedical reasons. The procedure, according to the WHO website, holds no health benefits for women, and consequences can range from severe bleeding and infection to complications in childbirth. About 140 million girls and women worldwide livewith the consequences of FGM.
Unlike male circumcision, khatna as FGM is called locally, is carried out in secrecy by senior women of the community using blades without medical supervision on seven-year-olds, who the film says are “old enough to remember”. The logic is this: as adults, the girls will practice the ceremony on their children, and since they are pre-adolescent at seven, they are unlikely to suffer severe physiological damage.
That Goswami managed to get the women to talk — albeit without revealing their identity — despite being an outsider, is remarkable. It’s also reflected in the approach she chooses; the community becomes irrelevant. It’s the practice and belief she chooses to focus on, as is evident from her statement at the start of the film: For this film, I have no religion nor am I born into any community. All I know is that I am just a woman and that is my only identity.’
Goswami’s interviewees tell her the aim of khatna is simple —to curb “the urge” in women. Satisfied with their husbands, the women are unlikely to seek pleasure outside the marriage.
A young interviewee admits to Goswami that unlike her friends, she isn’t terribly attracted to men. Another articulate woman, angry that a part of her body was removed without explanation or permission, remains silent when asked if circumcision is aimed at denying women orgasm. “Ask the priests,’’ she finally says.
Intercourse is painful, a third admits. “I guess it is so for all women.”
And so, Goswami succeeds in starting a conversation on the practice within the community. She says it amazed her that women themselves justify the practice and have made peace with it. The term used for the clitoris by the women — “haraami boti’’ — reveals a deep-seated revulsion towards their own anatomy and sexuality. This is hardly community-specific, Goswami observes. “Don’t our grandmothers say, women are the root of all trouble?” she asks. “Don’t we banish young widows to Brindavan?”
Although the filmmaker interviewed men, she chose to leave them out of the film. “I wished to depict the practice as one done on women by women, although instituted by patriarchy.’’
Goswami’s film includes strong voices of dissent, although they are outnumbered. A mother who decided to skip the tradition when it came to her own daughters admits she kept her act of defiance a secret. If the film encourages more women to speak out, Goswami says her efforts will be worth it.
The film will be screened at the Al Jazeera International Documentary Festival in April.

In a still from the film, the interviewee masks her identity while talking about her experience of female genital mutilation

 

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE- Girish Karnad- Why is #Naipaul being Honoured ? #Mumbai Literature Festival


At the Mumbai Literature Festival this year, Landmark and Literature Alive have jointly given the Lifetime’s Achievement Award to Sir Vidia Naipaul. The award ceremony held on the 31st of October at the National Centre of the Performing Arts coyly failed to mention that Naipaul was not an Indian and has never claimed to be one.  But at no point was the question raised, and the words Shashi Deshpande,the novelist, had used to describe the Neemrana Festival conducted by the ICCR in 2002 perfectly fitted the present event: ‘it was a celebration of a Nobel Laureate …whom  India, hopefully, even sycophantically, considered an Indian.’

Apart from his novels, only two of which take place in India and are abysmal,  Naipaul has written three books on India and  the books are brilliantly written—he is certainly among the great  English writers of our generation. They have been hailed as a continued exploration of India’s journey into modernity, but what strikes one from the very first book, A Wounded Civilization, is their rabid antipathy to the Indian Muslim.The ‘wound’ in the title is the one inflicted on India by Babur’s invasion. Since then Naipaul has never missed a chance to weigh in against the ‘invaders’, accusing them of having savaged India for five centuries, of having brought, among other dreadful things, poverty into it and  destroyed the glorious ancient Hindu culture .

A point that strikes one immediately about these books is that there is not a single word in any of them on Indian music. And I believe  that if you cannot respond to music, you cannot understand India. Music is the defining art form of the Indian identity. Naipaul’s silence on the subject  when he is exploring the whole of modern Indian culture suggests to me that he is tone deaf —which in turn explains his insensitivity to the intricate interweaving of  Hindu and Muslim creativities, through the Bhakti and Sufi movements, that gave us this extraordinary  heritage, alive in the heart of every Indian home.

What Naipaul’s virulence against Indian Islam conceals , however, is that he has borrowed his model of the history of Indian culture from the  British musicologists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, like William Jones. These scholars were acquainted with many other ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptian , the Greek and the Roman. But they were mystified by the fact that while the musical traditions of these civilizations were entirely lost, the Indian musical tradition was  alive and thriving. They decided that this once pure-and-glorious music must have been, at some point during the course of its long history, corrupted and mauled —-and they found the villain in the invading Muslim. So, according to them, once upon a time there was a pristine Indian musical culture, which the Muslims had disfigured. They therefore ignored the music that was being perfomed around them and went in search of the true Hindu music.

In his analysis of Indian culture Naipaul simply borrows this line of argument and reemploys it— as his original perception. And not for the first time.

Naipaul accuses R.K. Narayan of being indifferent to the  destruction and death symbolized by the ruins of Vijayanagar , which to him was a bastion of Hindu culture destroyed by the maurauding Muslims. But again he gets this interpretation of the history of Vijayanagar readymade from a book by Robert Sewell called, A Forgotten Empire, published in 1900. Naipaul, as always in awe of his colonial sources, simply accepts this picture as the unadorned truth and recycles it wholesale as his own. That historians and archaeologists working on the site during the last century have proved the situation to be much more complex and have shown that religion had little role to play in the conflict is irrelevant to him.

Of the Taj, probably the most beloved of the monuments  in  Indian, Naipaul writes, ‘The Taj is so wasteful so decadent and in the end so cruel that it is painful to be there for very long. This is an extravagance that speaks of the blood of the people.’ He brushes off  historian Romila Thapar’s argument that the Mughal era saw a rich efflorescence of the mixture of Hindu and Muslim styles, by attributing her judgment to her Marxist bias  and says, ‘The correct truth is the way the invaders look at their actions, They were conquering. They were subjugating.’  To Naipaul , the Indian Muslim remains an invader for ever, forever condemned to be condemned, because some of them had invaders for their ancestors. It is a usage would yield some strange results if applied to the USA.

As for Naipaul’s journalistic exploration of modern India,  mainly in the form of a series of interviews conducted  with Indians right across the board, one must confess they are supremely well written and that he is a master in drawing sharp and precise visuals of the people he talks to and of the places he visits. What begins to bother one after a while  however is that he invariably seems to meet brilliant interviewees whose answers to his questions are expressed with a wit and elegance that  match his own mastery of the language . Even half-literate interviewees suffer from no diffidence in their expression.

How reliable are the conversations he records? In a well-known essay Naipaul describes his  visit to the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad , where he stayed with his friend, Ashoke Chatterjee, the Director of the Institute. In a recent email to me, Mr Chatterjee said, that Naipaul’s essay was ‘ a scenario that could have been but was not what he actually saw. Fragments of reality, selected and put together, into a collage of pure fantasy.’ Chatterjee’s friendship with Naipaul came to an abrupt end when Chatterjee told Naipaul that his book, A Wounded Civilization, should be classified as fiction.

In a recent book, Naipaul takes up for examination the autobiography of Munshi Rahman Khan, who emigrated to Suriname at the end of the nineteenth  century, and contrasts it with Gandhi’s .  Sanjay Subramaniam, the historian, has reviewed the essay in the London Review of Books and it doesn’t take him much effort to establish that Naipaul could only have read a third-hand, truncated translation of the text. ‘It is as if a reader in Gorakhpur was reading Naipaul in Maithili after the text had passed through a Japanese translation.’ That doesn’t prevent Naipaul from commenting even on the style and linguistic usage of Rahman Khan.

The question surely is by giving him the Lifetime Achievement Award, what statement is being made by the Award-givers.  As a journalist what he writes about India is his business. No one can question his right to be ignorant or to prevaricate

But the Nobel Prize has given him a sudden authority and his use of it needs to be looked at.

One of the first things Naipaul did on receiving the Nobel Prize was to visit the office of the BJP in Delhi. He who had earlier declared that he was not political, ‘that to have a political view is to be programmed’, now declared that he was happy to be politically ‘appropriated’. It was then that he made his most infamous remark: ‘Ayodhya’, he said,’ is a sort of passion. Any passion is creative. Passion leads to creativity.’

Salman Rushdie’s response was that Naipaul was behaving like ‘ a fellow-traveller of Fascism and [that he] disgraces the Noble Prize.’

In the wake of Ayodhya close to 1500 Muslims were slaughtered in the streets of Bombay alone. I was attending a Film Festival in New Delhi when the riots broke out and received anguished calls from my friends in Bombay to say Muslims were being pulled out of their homes or stopped in the streets to be killed. I rang my Muslim editor to say he and his family could use my flat, in a predominantly Parsee building, until the situation became safe. The great Marathi actress, Fayyaz, whom I finally located after a week in a corner in Pune where she had fled in distress from Mumbai, described how Shiv Sainiks had thrown fire bombs into Muslim slums and  how, when the inmates of the houses rushed out in terror, they were shot down by the Police as trouble-makers.

Seven years later, in cold blood, Naipaul was glamorizing  these events as ‘passion’, as ‘ a creative act’.

It is significant that this part of Naipaul’s sociologizing was not mentioned in the citation of the Award, or by Farouq Dhondy, who while interviewing him, mentioned the book, ‘Among the Believers’ and then quickly moved to a long-winded account of how he had helped Sir Vidia adopt a cat which thirteen years later was put to sleep lying on his lap—giving Naipaul another chance to burst into sentimental tears. Presumably Dhondy was trying to prove how ‘human’ Naipaul was.

But Landmark and Literature Alive who have announced this Award have a responsibility to explain to us where exactly they stand with regard to these Naipaul’s remarks. Naipaul is a foreigner and can make pronouncements as he wishes. But do they mean to valorize Naipaul’s stand that Indian Muslims are raiders and marauders? Are they supporting his continued insistence on Muslim buildings in India being monuments to rape and loot? Or  are they by their silence suggesting that these views do not matter?

  The Award givers have much to answer for.     ——       Girish Karnad,   1 Nov 2012       Mumbai

 

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