Zehra Patwa learned only a few years ago that during a family trip to India at age 7, she was circumcised, which is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Patwa, 46, doesn’t remember undergoing the procedure, which is also called female genital mutilation or cutting and which has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in the U.S. But she doesn’t want to.
“I have no desire to get that memory back. … Psychologically, it feels like a violation, even though I don’t remember it,” said Patwa, a technology project manager from New Haven, Connecticut, who now campaigns against the centuries-old practice.
The recent arrest of a Michigan doctor accused of performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls from Patwa’s own Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, highlights how female genital mutilation is alive and well in parts of the Western world where its adherents have migrated and formed communities.
Depending on the culture, female circumcisions are performed on girls of various ages and by various methods, and they are seen as a way of controlling a girl’s sexuality, maintaining her purity or even making her more fertile as she grows into adulthood. Critics, though, say it can cause complications during childbirth, make intercourse painful and eliminate any pleasure a woman can derive from sex.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure on two Minnesota girls that left them with scars and lacerations. Her attorney, Shannon Smith, insists that Nagarwala conducted a benign religious ritual that involved no mutilation.
Prosecutors on Friday charged two other Bohras, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, with conspiracy. Fakhruddin Attar owns the Detroit-area clinic where the alleged procedures were performed in February, and investigators say the couple knew Nagarwala was doing the procedures after business hours.
There are more than a million Bohras in the world, most of whom live in India. No one knows how many there are in the U.S., but it’s estimated there are about 25,000 and that they have about 20 mosques and gathering places.