Starting Right Now

By Amatullah Zakir

30 May, 2017

So, we are getting started with Ramazan. In trains, in buses, in auto-rickshaws, heading out to every village and town across India where there are any Bohras at all, are seminary students, religious leaders - someone to lead prayers. While they are there, they will visit homes and businesses, chat with the people, preach, pray, resolve disputes, arrange loans, give out grants...on occasion even bury the dead.

This is a community with a social safety net that reaches out to every far-flung member. These may be some of the least at-risk girls nationally. All Bohra children have access to free or subsidized food so no one goes to sleep hungry - if only the whole country could say that. All Bohra families have access to interest-free loans. I won't list all the ways Bohras take care of their community members because -

India, you know this community. You have shopped at Bohra shops. You have eaten Bohra food. These boys and girls have been your classmates, your friends, your neighbors, your vendors, your clients, your wedding guests. You know Bohra girls in school and college, and you know Bohra women as colleagues and clients. You went for their weddings and their business milestones, watched them have babies and attended their anniversary parties. You do not need cultural anthropologists telling you who the Bohras are and what they believe. Of course, you know Bohras.

And the reason I want you to remember that is because now we must ask ourselves what is true? These Bohra women we know, and have seen for years - is it true that they are all secretly deprived of pleasure, kept in their place by tyrannical men? Simple observation denies that fact - we know Bohra couples. The women are as happy or exhausted as the rest of us. They may practice their faith deeply, or just barely. No one comes around to check how many times a day they prayed namaaz, or deny them entry to the masjid based on that fact. It is unclear how they can be "forced" to do anything. You know this cause you've hung out in their homes.

So what's going on? Let's just say Bohra women are as bewildered as everyone else. Are we circumcised? Of course. Same as all the boys. This is gender parity, not gender discrimination. Boys are often circumcised when they are newborns. You can't circumcise the girls then because the tissue is not yet ready for separation. As soon as it is, girls are circumcised too. And no, that doesn't change our anatomy in any significant way and over all these years, no gynecologist or sexologist has ever noted that Bohra patients differ from any others.

Which brings us to the 'activists'. It's noteworthy that most of them forgot all about their own (life-altering??) circumcisions too, until they were taught about "FGM", and then they 'realized' how they had been traumatized. It's a lesson I think in what happens when you lose your faith, your ties to the culture you thought of as your own and how painful that can be and how it continues to haunt you until you resolve that for yourself.

But don't let that close your eyes to what you see all around you. The Bohra women that are thriving in your towns and cities, running their businesses, teaching, studying, working, cooking, playing, praying, busy, stressed, tired, happy, fulfilled. Protected, loved, unharmed, often religious, crowding into the masjid when Syedna comes to their towns, you've seen that too. Signing up on this site by the thousands to say we are not burdened by our religion, we are freed by it. Educated, thinking women, happy to live in a free country. Are you really telling us you want to take that away?