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MUMBAI: At a time when voices of dissent against khatna or female genital mutilation (FGM) performed on little girls in the Dawoodi Bohra community are getting stronger, a group of six Bohra women, including two doctors, have formed a group called Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom (DBWRF) in support of female circumcision.
While the subject is still being debated in legal and medical circles in India, the involvement of two doctors as founders of the group endorsing khatna or khafz - a procedure where a pinch of skin from the clitoral hood of girls between the ages of six and twelve is sliced off on religious grounds, in silence and secrecy - can warrant action if brought to the attention of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Dr KK Aggarwal, national president of the IMA, told TOI on Thursday.
"DBWRF has been formed to give voice to mainstream Dawoodi Bohra women who have been taken for granted as a community. We are here to say that we have a right under the constitution to practise something that is harmless. We don't need a law that victimises a minority community," claimed Dr Fatema Jetpurwala, a homeopath and specialist in neuro-developmental disabilities at Saifee Hospital who is among the founders alongside Dr Alefiya Bapai, a gynaecologist and laparoscopic surgeon at Saifee Hospital; Nafisa Kagalwala, a teacher; Batul Ratlamwala, a home chef; Rashida Diwan, an educator; and Johra Attarwala, a counsellor.
The involvement of doctors in endorsing the act "goes against medical ethics" Aggarwal said. "IMA is a signatory to the World Medical Association's policy cleared at Taipei in October 2016. We condemn the practice of genital mutilation or cutting of women and girls, regardless of the level of mutilation. It is not scientific and we oppose the participation of physicians in these practices," he said.
Although DBWRF believes religion gives them the freedom to practise the custom and offers reasons for its continuation, "these reasons do not justify the considerable damages to a woman's physical and mental health in the long run", said Dr Duru Shah, scientific director of Gynaecworld in Mumbai. "There is no evidence-based material available that talks about the utility of female circumcision but enough to prove that it harms... No doctor should practise it," added Aggarwal.
Aggarwal said, "If I read a report or someone raises a complaint about a doctor propagating FGM, IMA will take it up. The doctor will have to show institutional permissions and offer scientific explanations since it is not an established procedure. We will also refer the matter to the ethical committee of the Medical Council of India for further probe."
While international organisations such as WHO and countries like the US, UK, Australia and some African nations are using laws to restrict, regulate, or ban the practice considered an extreme form of human rights violation, Jetpurwala insists 'female circumcision' and 'FGM' are different things. "Khafz is harmless and should not be mixed up with FGM. It is a travesty of justice to call khafz, FGM," reasoned Jetpurwala. According to DBWRF, the removal of a speck of superficial skin is a "simple gentle process in which there is negligible if any, pain". She claims that it is done to "satisfy the religious requirement of taharat (religious purity)" and argues that female circumcision is equivalent to male circumcision, which Shah and Aggarwal dismiss.
"Female circumcision has no medical benefit unlike in boys where complications may occur if the foreskin is not removed. In fact, many outside the community are getting circumcised to lower the risk of cancer," said Shah. In contrast, research reveals grave and permanent damage to health, including haemorrhage, infections, urinary retention, injury to adjacent organs, shock and severe pain, pointed out Aggarwal. "Long-term complications include severe scarring, chronic bladder and urinary tract infections, urologic and obstetric complications, apart from psychological and social problems," he added.
DBWRF's theories refute every line of reasoning that has surfaced in the anti-khatna movement in the last two years. "We do not accept that female circumcision is a mutilation. It is a harmless procedure and as such should not be termed FGM," reads DBWRF's explanation on their website.
Masooma Ranalvi, who was one of the first to bring the issue to light with her personal experience of undergoing khatna at seven, says: "It is shocking that educated people especially doctors after taking a Hippocratic Oath are supporting something that is in violation of that code. Not only are they tampering with what is God given but also committing a form of sexual assault."
Dear Dr Nekia,
How can I get my woman to understand that I need more sleep? I often work 10 to 12 hour days so when I come home I am tired. I just want to relax and get some rest but my woman wants to stay up and talk and have sex all the time. Don’t get me wrong, the sex is good but I feel like it is draining me. I am trying my best to keep up with her but I sometimes end up falling asleep on the job, or grumpy. Is there any thing that I can do?
She Drains Me
Dear She Drains Me,
It is very difficult to find energy for things outside of work when you are working such long hours. In this case, it is not so much her who is draining you but your lifestyle and work habits.
Many men expect that their woman will understand and be content with a lack of relationship and quality time, but this is not a fair or realistic request. Let’s face it, no one wants to be sitting around bored, watching you work and sleep life away. However, if life does require you to work as hard as you do, you definitely will need to refuel and recharge your body more efficiently. Start by taking in more tonic foods and drinks. See a nutritionist, or take some time to research proper diet on the internet.
There are a variety of foods out there that build up stamina, and some are specific to males. Cut out any junk and supplement this by getting adequate rest.
You may not be able to get the hours of sleep that you need but you can improve the quality; essential oils such as lavender and chamomile can help here. Also, meditation music and nature sounds can work together to create a better sleeping environment.
Turn off the TV and keep cell phones away from the sleeping area. Train your mind and body to rest without the usual noise and distractions. Invest in comfortable bedding and pillows and turn your bedroom into a peaceful sanctuary.
When you walk into it, you should automatically feel a level of relief and calmness; keep it clean and clutter-free.
You may need to also refrain from sex for a while until you can rebuild your energy reserves. Work on these areas and maybe keep the intimacy through massage, or by showering together. When you are feeling better sex should be a whole lot more enjoyable for you.
Avoid using sexual enhancement supplements. While they give you a temporary boost, they drain the body in the long run, which can lead to serious consequences regarding your sexual and overall health.
Remember to re-evaluate how things are going with your partner; do not think it stressful should one or both of you have needs or wants that are not being met. Hear one another out and be compassionate.
Remember that you are a team and always do your best to be considerate while keeping a positive attitude towards one another. How you view your partner goes a long way in how problems get resolved.
Negative outlook often leads to negative attitudes and actions which causes couples to get stuck in a pattern of argument and contention.
Dear Dr Nekia,
What do you do when love pulls you in one direction but life pulls you in another? No one ever told me that when love finally came it might not sync up with the other things going on in my life. Now it seems like I either have to sacrifice love or success. How is someone supposed to make the choice between life and love?
Life or Love
Dear Life or Love,
Life is full of choices. It’s often said in business that great risk offers the potential for a huge reward, it would seem that this holds true for love as well. Love often appears in the most unlikely people, places and times during our lives and it often requires us to interrupt our plans to accommodate it.
Its unexpectedness is part of its beauty, but you have to be open to the change that it brings if you want to benefit from its happiness.
Life is made up of choices and what we select for ourselves is what shapes our path. Maybe choosing love will not mean that we choose the specific path that we envisioned or set out to create for ourselves when we are single, but love is never a death sentence.
You will have to decide what you are and are not willing to give up or change for love. However, be careful. You should never have to completely lose sight of yourself or alter who you are. In the end, love should add to your life and should enhance you as a person.
Be honest about whether or not you will be happy sacrificing personal visions for love; try not to look at it as an either or scenario. I don’t think that it is a matter of having to choose as much as it is a matter of having to let go of what we think is best for us and what we think that happiness and success looks like. In love, and in life, there are infinite possibilities and we often run into trouble when we limit ourselves to only the imaginable outcomes that we see before us. True success and true happiness requires us to release a level of control — and you may need to do this here.
Stop calculating outcomes and start learning to embrace experiences as they come. Allow yourself the freedom to consider and to live outside of the limited choices you have already envisioned for yourself. From there, you should be able to make better decisions about how to move forward in love and in life.
Remember that there may need to be great sacrifice involved, but do not let this deter or scare you. Such a shift may be what is needed to move you in the right direction for personal growth and happiness.
It's a Sunday afternoon in Tokyo and Sunshine Creation is in full swing. Thousands of manga fans, mostly men, crowd into an exhibition centre, poring over manga comic magazines laid out for sale on trestle tables snaking around the rooms.
Posters of elfin-faced, doe-eyed cartoon heroines, many of them scantily clad and impossibly proportioned, turn the cavernous space into a riot of colour.
"This area is mainly dealing with sexual creations," explains Hide, one of the event organisers.
We stop at one table where the covers on display feature two topless girls. To my eyes they look to be in their early or pre-teens, and the stories show them engaged in explicit sexual acts.
Several other stands are selling similar material. It would certainly be considered controversial, and possibly illegal, in the UK, Australia or Canada, but here it's no big deal.
"Everyone knows that child abuse is not a good thing," Hide says. "But having that kind of emotion is free, enjoying imagining some sexual situation with a child is not prohibited."
His candour takes me by surprise. He then introduces me to the word "Lolicon", short for "Lolita complex" - the name for manga featuring young girls engaged in sexually explicit scenarios. It can involve incest, rape and other taboos, though Hide's tastes lie more with high-school romance.
"I like young-girl sexual creations, Lolicon is just one hobby of my many hobbies," he says.
I ask what his wife, standing nearby, thinks of his "hobby".
"She probably thinks no problem," he replies. "Because she loves young boys sexually interacting with each other."
Material like this is a tiny part of Japan's huge manga industry, which generates around US $3.6bn in sales annually. But it attracts a lot of attention and controversy.
In June 2014, Japan's parliament voted to ban the possession of real images of child sexual abuse. Production and distribution of these images had been illegal since 1999, but Japan was the last country in the OECD to outlaw possession.
At the time there were calls to also outlaw "virtual" sexual images - in manga, anime and games - of characters who appear to be under 18. But after much debate, Japan's parliament decided against this. The decision drew condemnation from child protection campaigners and NGOs, particularly outside Japan.
One clue to understanding it is in the fact that Hide was happily discussing his "hobby" with me only minutes after we first met. Although manga involving very young children does appear to have some social stigma attached to it, sexual material involving adolescents is a fairly mainstream interest.
Japan's legislators were apparently reluctant to put large numbers of manga fans - potentially millions - on the wrong side of the law.
Fans like Hide argue they are just enjoying harmless fantasy. No child models or actors are involved, he says, so "there is no child abuse for creating sexual topic mangas".
But is the boundary between fantasy and reality always clear?
Tokyo's Akihabara district is the spiritual home of the manga world, a place where neon signs and loud pop music overwhelm the eyes and ears. Multi-storey bookshops line the streets, selling manga on every topic under the sun.
In their adult sections, restricted to people over 18, it's not hard to find manga with titles like Junior Rape or Japanese Pre-teen Suite.
"People get sexually excited by something, then become used to it," says Tomo, who works behind the counter in one of the adult stores. "So they are always looking for something new, and get sexually excited by young, immature women."
This is what worries critics - the concern that even if no-one is harmed in the creation of sexually explicit manga, it might normalise, facilitate, or lead to an increased risk of sexual abuse.
No-one knows whether this is the case - research has been inconclusive. But many in Japan, particularly women, have a wider concern too. They see these images as part of a society that turns a blind eye to extreme pornography - often degrading to women - and the sexualisation of young people.
You don't have to look far in Japan to find a fascination with youth. Pop groups of young girls perform for crowds of adult men. And from billboards and advertisements to manga, schoolgirl imagery is everywhere.
LiLy, a popular writer of books for young women - Sex in the City, Tokyo-style, she says - told me about her school days when men would approach her and her friends and offer money for their socks or panties.
"I think that is disgusting, it's very kinky," she says. The fascination with adolescent sexuality is "all about the power that men want to achieve, men who are tired of strong independent women," she argues.
The family model of LiLy's parents' era still holds strong sway in Japan - a father who earns the money and a mother who stays at home as a housewife. But the weakness of Japan's economy has made this difficult for men to realise.
"There are people business-wise who are not successful, maybe they are running into fantasy with Lolicon manga.
"I hate it, I seriously hate it. I want Japan to kick out the kinky, just leave children out of that kinkiness, even your fantasy."
But others are sceptical about how far the government should step in to prescribe and enforce a particular vision of what's "good" or "proper", especially regarding people's fantasies.
"There's every reason to be critical, that's fine," says manga translator and free-speech advocate Dan Kanemitsu. "But when you give people the authority to police others based on what they might do or what they think, that's thought-policing."
So would he stand up for the right of creators to draw manga featuring young children and taboos like rape and incest?
"I'm not comfortable with it, but it is not my right to tell people how they think or what they want to share," he says. "As long as it doesn't infringe upon people's human rights, what's wrong with having a fantasy life?"
Among the manga shops of Akihabara, child protection campaigner Kazuna Kanajiri takes me to see something she thinks is a much bigger problem than cartoons and comics. We climb a flight of stairs off the main street and emerge into a room packed full of DVDs.
Kazuna picks one off the shelf - it features real images of a girl she says is five years old, wearing a skimpy swimsuit and posing in sexually suggestive positions that mimic adult pornography. All the other DVDs in the shop also feature real children.
"I feel sorry for the children," Kanajiri tells me.
These so-called "Junior Idol" DVDs became popular after the production of child pornography was outlawed in 1999. They dodged the law as long as the children's genitals were covered, but Kanajiri argues they're now illegal after the law was strengthened last June.
"People who exploit should be punished properly," she says. "It's completely illegal under the law, but the police haven't cracked down."
While some of the content in manga and anime featuring minors in sexual situations might be shocking and attention-grabbing, Kanajiri and other campaigners I spoke to told me that for now, they are focused on more important battles to protect real children.
But she tells me she hasn't given up hope of a ban on contentious manga and anime.
"I want to make it disappear," she says. "By 2020, when the Summer Olympics will take place in Japan, we have to turn Japan into a country which people don't call a perverted culture."
It's a description which supporters of manga strongly reject. But as the Olympics approach, outside eyes will turn to Japan, exerting a powerful pressure for manga and anime to be part of what people see as "cool Japan" rather than "weird Japan".
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