Genital mutilation scandal widens to include mothers

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two mothers were indicted Wednesday and accused of participating in a widening conspiracy that ended with their daughters’ genitalia allegedly mutilated by a doctor.

The indictment expanded the nation’s first female genital mutilation case by alleging six minor girls – including four from Michigan – underwent a medical procedure practiced by members of a small Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra.

Farida Arif leaves federal court in Detroit after being arraigned in a female genital mutilation case.

The alleged victims include two previously disclosed 7-year-old girls from Minnesota and four girls from Michigan ages 8-12. Prosecutors have said the conspiracy could involve as many as 100 victims.

The indictment alleges six people participated in the conspiracy that started in 2005 and included Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville. Nagarwala is accused of mutilating girls’ genitalia at the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia.

The clinic is owned by Dr. Fakhruddin Attar of Farmington Hills and run by wife Dr. Farida Attar. Nagarwala and the Attars previously were charged in the case alongside Farmington Hills resident Tahera Shafiq.

On Wednesday, two more people were accused of participating in the conspiracy. They are: Farida Arif and Fatema Dahodwala, both of Oakland County.

They were charged with female genital mutilation conspiracy and female genital mutilation. Dahodwala also was accused of lying to investigators.

Fatema Dahodwala leaves federal court after being arraigned in a female genital mutilation case.

Lawyers involved in the case have said girls did not undergo female genital mutilation. They underwent a benign religious procedure, the lawyers have said.

“I am frankly appalled that the government would put these women through this,” said Dahodwala’s lawyer Margaret Sind Raben, who also has advised Arif’s family.

“Any mother who provided her child to Dr. Nagarwala or anyone else, for the purposes of this religious procedure, did so in absolute firm faith that this was required by their religion and that no permanent harm would come to their child,” Sind Raben said.

Some members of the Dawoodi Bohra community who have spoken against the procedure said genital mutilation is performed to suppress female sexuality, reduce sexual pleasure and curb promiscuity, according to court records.

The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women, according to the World Health Organization.

Arif and Dahodwala were arraigned in federal court Wednesday, ordered to wear GPS tethers and released on $10,000 unsecured bonds. The women, whose ages and hometowns were not available, are not U.S. citizens and were ordered to surrender their Indian passports.

They also were ordered not to have any contact with co-defendants, witnesses or alleged victims, except for their daughters.

The indictment describes a key date in the alleged conspiracy in May 2015.

On May 30, prosecutors say Farida Attar arrived at her husband’s clinic so Nagarwala could perform female genital mutilation on an approximately 7-year-old girl. The girl arrived with Arif, prosecutors allege.

More than a year later, Nagarwala allegedly mutilated another girl from Michigan, who was approximately seven years old, according to the indictment. The details are vague – prosecutors say the procedure happened between June and September 2016 and that Dahodwala caused the girl to undergo the procedure.

“The allegation is (Arif and Dahodwala) submitted their daughters to Nagarwala for the purposes of female genital mutilation,” Sind Raben said. “I don’t know if the government can prove anything happened to these children.

“I think the reason they indicted them was to try and make them witnesses against Dr. Nagarwala and the Attars and whoever else,” Sind Raben added.

The alleged conspiracy continued this year, prosecutors said.

The indictment alleges six people participated in an alleged conspiracy that started in 2005 and included Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville, who is accused of mutilating girls’ genitalia at the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia.

On Feb. 3, federal prosecutors allege two 7-year-old Minnesota girls were brought to Metro Detroit underwent the procedure at the Livonia clinic.

One girl told the FBI that Nagarwala “pinched” her on the “place (where) she goes pee,’ ” and a subsequent medical examinations showed the girl’s genitals did not appear normal and a section had been altered or removed, according to a court filing. A doctor also observed scar tissue and small healing lacerations.

The second girl identified Nagarwala as the doctor she visited in Detroit and a subsequent medical exam showed the girl’s genitalia had a small incision and a small tear, according to a court filing.

Nagarwala and the Attars previously were accused of committing female genital mutilation, trying to cover up the crime and conspiring to cut girls as part of a procedure practiced by their religious and cultural community, the Dawoodi Bohra.

Locally, most members of the sect belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills.

Defense lawyers say the procedure performed on the girls was not female genital mutilation and that the government is overreaching.

Nagarwala’s lawyer has said the doctor merely removed mucous membrane from the girls’ genitalia, placed the material on gauze pads and gave it to their families for burial.

The Minnesota girls were brought to the clinic by mothers who wanted them to undergo a religious rite of passage, defense lawyers said.

The procedures were benign and legal, defense lawyers have said.

Prosecutors disagree.

“Their pants and underwear were removed ... and Dr. Nagarwala approached with a sharp tool to cut their genitals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said during a previous court hearing.

Defense lawyers also have attacked the government’s evidence, including grainy, dark FBI surveillance footage shot outside the Livonia clinic.

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Twitter: @robertsnellnews