50 years on, Canada lawyer yet to get over her circumcision trauma

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Old 07-Feb-2016
Miss Alone
50 years on, Canada lawyer yet to get over her circumcision trauma

A 62-year-old lawyer settled in Canada chokes with emotion every time she recalls the day, over half a century ago, when she was pinned down by two women in a dark room in Bhindi Bazaar's Bohri mohalla, while a midwife circumcised her. The procedure, known as khatna, is prevalent among Dawoodi Bohras. "I was a feisty kid and put up quite a struggle at the time," says Dilshad Tavawalla. She recollects little of what happens next, fainting with pain during the procedure. She could barely walk when it was over. She returned home in a ghoda-gaadi that stopped at a toy store near Crawford Market where relatives bought her a green tin tea set to mollify her.
But the trauma refused to go away. For two days, she could not urinate as doing so would further hurt the wound she'd been inflicted. She was terrified her heart would stop beating. The shock and pain kept her away from school for weeks. Eventually, it was a book of 100 fairytales gifted by one of her sisters that helped divert her mind from the trauma and enabled her to return to school. She ended up failing Class III, despite having been a bright child.
Fifty years later, the psychological scars are yet to heal. Moving countries as well as a successful legal career have done little to dim the pain. "I'm 62 years old and I am yet to overcome the trauma. It's the sort of thing that damages you for life. It damages your sexuality and takes away the integrity of your body. You have to come to terms with what you lost," says an impassioned Tavawalla.
The procedure, aimed at snipping the clitoris, a portion of the external genitalia involved in sexual pleasure, would well classify as female genital mutilation, according to the World Health Organization.
For Tavawalla, the worst part of the experience was that she had no idea what had been done to her at the time and had nobody to talk to about it. Many years later, when she was in her teens, an older sister gave her the Encyclopedia of Sexual Knowledge, which spoke of female circumcision among African tribals. "That's when the full realization of what I was forced to undergo at seven, dawned on me," says Tavawalla, who was filled with an impotent rage, distraught that she had been forever deprived of fully experiencing her sexuality.
When she finally spoke of it with her mother whom she adored, she learned of just how unwilling her mother had been to put any of her daughters through the procedure and virtually dreaded the time each girl came of age for khatna. Family and community pressure were what forced a loving mother to put her children through the barbaric procedure.
As an adult, Tavawalla went on the war path against khatna, ensuring her own daughter was spared of it. "I was a young lawyer working long hours in Mumbai, when a member of the extended family who lived in the same building as us, said she could easily lure my daughter out of the house for a day and get her khatna performed without my ever knowing of it. I was furious and threatened this well-meaning relative with police action if she ever laid a finger on my daughter. I told her she'd be handcuffed and behind bars if she dared do such a thing. I even alerted our domestic help, ensuring that she guard my daughter in my absence, so that nothing was done to her when I was at work," she says.

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