Published by: Feminist Review
Year published: 2023

Since 2011, female khatna, or the practice of female genital cutting within the Dawoodi Bohra community, has become a big topic of debate in India and globally. The ‘secret’ tradition has been challenged by community activists, tabled in parliament, heard by international courts of law and debated on news channels. In response, a growing number of Bohra women have come to the fore to publicly defend their right to khatna by subverting seemingly Western tropes of autonomy, equality and modernity. Situated in the thick of these polarised exchanges, this article examines the complicated, under-explored relationship between gender and Islam by foregrounding self-narratives of the Bohra women who actively participate within, as opposed to fight against, patriarchal norms to preserve the tradition. I juxtapose their narratives with those of anti-khatna activists to further contextualise and clarify their ‘modern-yet-traditional’ subjectivities. As such, this article combines a postcolonial feminist lens with Eric Hobsbawm’s notion of ‘invention of tradition’, to investigate the multiple ways in which a majority of Bohra women are using the rhetoric of ‘modernity’ in public—by reinventing history, renegotiating patriarchies, reimagining the other and incorporating biomedicine—to preserve and perpetuate this contested tradition.