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Bodily Integrity of a Woman Cannot be Infringed, SC Observes In PIL Seeking Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

Hearing a PIL seeking a ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practiced within the Dawoodi Bohra Community in India, the Supreme Court on Monday remarked that the bodily integrity of a woman could not be infringed without her consent.

According to the petitioner, the practise amounts to an offence under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012 and the Indian Penal Code.

“We have also prepared a report on the consequences it has on adult life and the trauma that stays. The act amounts to an offence under the IPC and the POCSO.”, submitted Senior Counsel Indira Jaising for the petitioner before the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A. M. Khanwilkar and Justice D. Y. Chandrachud.

Senior Counsel A. M. Singhvi, seeking impleadment on behalf of an organisation representing the  Dawoodi Bohra community, submitted, “there is a distinction between FGM and female circumcision. The latter is a minute process which is practised by 2 Islamic communities. It is being supported by 95% of the women. This raises issues involving Articles 25, 26 and 29 as well as Article 14.”

“The rights under Article 25 and 26 are subject to public order and morality. This practice has to be stopped.It has been declared as a crime in the USA, UK, France and 27 African countries..”, countered Attorney General K. K. Venugopal, when the bench sought his stand.

CJI Misra orally agreed that the practice falls within the offence defined under Section 3(b) of POCSO Act,“ FGM is a practice which we do not support, circumcision is different. I can show texts dating back to the 10th century. The tests of ‘essentiality’ and ‘integrality’ (of the practice of female circumcision to the religion) for the purpose of Articles 25 and 26 are satisfied ” insisted Dr. Singhvi.

“The ‘sati’ was also an ancient practice. But any such practice has to fulfil the conditions of public order and morality”, repeated the AG.

“The question is if one does not want it, can it be compulsorily imposed”, noted The Chief Justice.

“Why should the bodily integrity of a woman be subject to some external authority? One’s genitals is an extremely private affair”, asserted Justice Chandrachud.

“The entire male population belonging to the Islamic community undergoes circumcision. Rven in America, the majority of men are circumcised though there is no compulsion.”, Dr. Singhvi sought to submit.

In response, the AG cited the high prevalence of HIV and complications in pregnancy as the health hazards that are the common ramifications of the practice.

The bench is now scheduled to hear the matter on July 16 at 2 PM.

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