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The Supreme Court on Monday decided to refer to a constitution bench a PIL that sought a complete ban on the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The court said that the matter would be heard by a five-judge constitution bench. FGM is a practice that is prevalent among the Dawoodi Bora community and the PIL has questioned it saying that it violates the bodily “integrity” of a girl child.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was told by Attorney General (AG) K K Venugopal, that the practice causes irreparable harm to girl children and needed to be banned. The AG told the bench which also had Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, that apart from advanced countries like the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, more than 27 African countries have banned this practice. Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for a Muslim group, said the matter be referred to a constitution bench as it pertained to the issue of essential practice of the religion which needed to be examined.

“Why and how should the bodily integrity of an individual can be part of the religion and its essential practice,” the bench asked, adding the practice violated the “integrity” of a girl child’s body.

“Why should anybody else will have any control over the genitals of an individual,” it noted.

During the brief hearing, Venugopal reiterated the Centre’s stand and said that the practice violated various fundamental rights of the girl child and moreover, such kind of genital mutilation has serious repercussions on their health.

Singhvi, on the other hand, referred to the practice of male circumcision (khatna) in Islam and said that it has been allowed in all countries and this is the accepted religious practice and sought adjournment of the hearing.

Earlier, the court had ordered Kerala and Telangana to be made parties to a PIL that has challenged the practice of fgm of minor girls of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community.

It ordered that states like Kerala and Telangana, where Bohra Muslim community reside, should also be made parties to the litigation and issued notice to them as well. The states which are already party to the case are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and New Delhi.

The court had on May 8 agreed to examine the issues raised by Delhi-based lawyer Sunita Tiwari by saying that the practice of female genital mutilation was “extremely important and sensitive”.

It had issued notices and sought replies from four Union ministries, including the Woman and Child Development, besides Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi where Dawoodi Bohras, who are Shia Muslims, predominantly reside.

—India Legal Bureau

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