MadameNoire Featured Video

Courtesy of Mariya Karimjee

Courtesy of Mariya Karimjee

What does the average child do at the age of 7? Well, back in the day, we played with Barbies, Spirographs and in most cases, were in the second grade trying to make friends and have fun. But for Mariya Karimjee, when she was 7 back in the year 1995, she had the ritual removal of part of her clitoris while living in Karachi, Pakistan. She recently shared her compelling story on the radio program, This American Life. As explained to her by her mother at the time after being caught reading Harlequin novels, “a bug was growing in an egg down there — her language not mine — and that it would hatch and eventually crawl to my brain, unless we removed it.”

So they removed “it.” It was done at a family friend’s home, who, while Karimjee was down on some tarp, cut her clitoris. Afterward, she was in pain. So much pain that it hurt for Karimjee to urinate, pushing her to refrain from using the bathroom. And according to her, “For two days I wore what I can only describe as a big-girl diaper, wet with blood.”

The only comfort for Karimjee at the time was that relatives who had gone through the same experience were given gold jewelry as a gift for getting rid of their “bug.” Karimjee asked for a gold chain with a pearl droplet at the end. She was happy to receive it. Still not aware of what she went through, Karimjee just carried on with her young life, occasionally breaking out in a cold sweat when she encountered the woman “who on the tarp on her living room floor, had spoken to me softly as she took a knife and cut me.”

Years later, Karimjee and her family moved to Houston. Her family stayed pretty close to their people, the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Muslim, which was a plentiful group in Houston. But at the same time, her parents tried to have Karimjee and her brother assimilate to American culture around them in subtle ways, like taking part in extracurricular activities and sports.

It was while in Houston that she was reminded of her removal.

“I overheard a woman at my mosque asking the woman next to her if her daughter had the operation already. Her question nudged something deep in my brain. Until that point, I honestly hadn’t thought about my operation. My bug. At that moment, the kind-faced woman came back to me.”

Things became even more complicated for Karimjee when she was given a book on the female body by an aunt and realized that, down there, something was missing.

“Locked in my bathroom with a hand mirror between my legs, I realized there was no diagram in the book to explain what I saw.”

Karimjee, 15 at the time, would go off and do a wealth of research to figure out what she had gone through. She finally found a name for it: female genital mutilation. She read about girls in African villages who had gone through it, and then, while looking up South Asian practices, found that FGM seemed to be something Dawoodi Bohras were known for.

“Once I linked FGM to my culture, I was consumed with anger,” she said. “I couldn’t believe both that it had happened to me, and that it had been completely ignored as a topic of discussion: by my friends, by my religion, and above all, by my family. Why hadn’t anyone said anything? Especially my mother. She had done this.”

After making this discovery, Karimjee confronted her mother, research in tow, about removing “the part of me that makes me feel good when I have sex.” Her mother explained the whole bug story to her and tried to ease her mind by letting her know that she wasn’t singled out for FGM.

“‘I didnt have a choice,’ said my mother. ‘It happened to me too. All 7-year-old Bohra girls have to go through this,’ she said.”

There would be no apologies to Karimjee from her mother. She could only have to move forward and by doing so, she came to the realization that “Getting to orgasm wasn’t going to be easy.” As she got older and explored her body, she realized that one wrong move, even during masturbation, could shoot horrific pain through her body.

In college, she tried to have sex for the first time with a boyfriend after explaining to him, while drunk, what she had gone through on that tarp at the age of 7. He was understanding, or as understanding as a man could be about such things. And despite all of that, they did have sex. Once. Unfortunately, it was a pretty terrible experience.

“Technically, we began having sex. Pain shot up my body,” Karimjee said. “I could feel it in my teeth and in the muscle of my jaw. My insides felt like they were being sandpapered. The pain was everywhere. We didn’t continue.”

It wasn’t until Karimjee, in a state of sadness and panic, called her mother. She was finally able to provide her daughter with some semblance of comfort. The young college-aged Karimjee worried that she would be unlovable because of her issues with enjoying sex. After telling her mother, “I tried to have sex with my boyfriend. It didn’t go well,” her mom finally got over her shock and tried to relate to her daughter. She said that when she was with Karimjee’s father when they were younger, “If he moved too fast, she’d feel sharp pain. I knew exactly what she was talking about. Pain that suffocated the good.”

This conversation would prompt Karimjee, later in her college career, to see a doctor who specialized in FGM, after disappointing appointments with ob-gyns who had little experience with victims of such mutilation. It was with this physician that she was able to find out what was holding her back (extensive scar tissue and nerve damage from the removal), but more importantly, come to the realization that having good sex wouldn’t be impossible. Just a bit harder.

“Sex for me would likely involve many careful conversations with my partner, a sex therapist, and the willingness to trust a human beyond what I could imagine.” Still, as Karimjee learned that day, “I wasn’t horribly mutilated or defective in a way that made me incapable of enjoying sex.”

With this renewed mindset, Karimjee would eventually move back to Karachi for work. As a writer and reporter in Pakistan, according to Cosmopolitan, she writes about public and sexual health in the country. Alongside her brother, she continues to speak out against FGM. She does so in the hopes that awareness for those outside the Dawoodi Bohra of what’s going on, and teaching the effects genital mutilation has on young women to people who are Dawoodi Bohra, will keep other young girls from having to go through the same thing.

Check out her full This American Life story here.

Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN