Female genital mutilation: Why should the bodily integrity of a woman be subject to an external authority, asks Justice DY Chandrachud

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] PIL filed by advocate Sunita Tiwary seeking a ban on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was heard by a three-judge bench comprising CJI Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud. The petitioner has also sought the Court to issue guidelines till the time the legislature enacts a law outlawing the practice.

Practiced within the Dawoodi Bohra community, represented by Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, they contended the matter to be referred to a constitutional bench of greater numerical strength as the matter pertains to Articles 25, 29 and 40 of the Constitution. In line with the community’s stance, its religious head or Syedna, impleaded to be a party to the suit, claiming their practice or “khafd” is a religious practice distinct from Female Genital Mutilation, which is a crime.

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, representing an intervenor, Masooma, submitted the practice to be a crime under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as well as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012.

FGM commonly known as “Khatna” or “Female Circumcision” or “Khafd”, is being performed upon girls  (between five years and before she attains puberty) belonging to a particular section/ community amongst Shia Muslims known as Dawoodi Bohras.

During the course of the proceedings, CJI Misra orally agreed the practice of Female Genital Mutilation to be an offence under Section 3(b) of the POCSO Act, as well as questioning whether the practice could be “compulsorily enforced” against the wishes of an individual. Justice Chandrachud too questioned as to why “the bodily integrity of a woman be subject to some external authority?”, with one’s genitals being an “extremely private affair”.

Attorney General KK Venugopal too propounded views in line with the petitioner’s, stating that “This practice has to be stopped. sIt has been declared as a crime in the USA, UK, France and 27 African countries..”

The matter is adjourned and will be heard on July 16, 2018, at 2:00 PM.

The Leaflet