In a stunning revelation in federal court today, an attorney for a Detroit area doctor charged with mutilating the genitals of young girls admitted that her client performed a procedure on the juveniles’ private parts, but maintained that it wasn’t cutting.
Instead, the lawyer said Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, removed the membrane from the girls’ genitals as part of a religious practice that is tied to an international Indian-Muslim group that the doctor belongs to.
Attorney Shannon Smith said that her client removed the membrane from the girls vaginal parts and gave it the girls’ parents, who would then bury it following a custom practiced by a small sect of Indian Muslims known as the Dawoodi Bohra.
All of this was disclosed at a detention hearing for Nagarwala, who was ordered locked up pending the outcome of her case.
The judge concluded she was a danger to the community and a flight risk after hearing arguments from both sides.
“She knew that this was illegal but did it anyway,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said in court, claiming there’s also a risk of Nagarwala and others pressuring others in their religious community not to talk to authorities about this “incredibly secretive” procedure.
“I think there’s a preponderance of the evidence that your client poses a danger to the community,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Monica Mazjoub said during the hearing, in which she pressed the defense to explain why Nagarwala performed these procedures at a clinic late at night, but never kept any records or billed for them.
Nagarwala, an emergency room doctor with Henry Ford Health System, was charged Thursday with genital mutilation in what prosecutors are calling the first of its kind criminal case in the country. The case involves two 7-year-old Minnesota girls who came to metro Detroit in February with their mothers, not knowing that the reason for the trip was to have their genitals cut, prosecutors allege.
According to court documents, the girls thought they were in Michigan for a “special” girls trip, but instead ended up in the Livonia clinic, where Nagarwala allegedly mutilated their genitals as part of a cultural and religious practice. The girls were told to keep what happened a secret, but the FBI found out, records show.
Female genital mutilation, which experts say is practiced in 30 countries worldwide and has been performed on 200 million women living today, is illegal in the US. The practice, which seeks to curb the sexuality of girls and women by making sex painful, qualifies as a criminal sexual act, as the intent of the procedure is considered to abuse, humiliate, harass or degrade.
According to court records, she, volunteered to be interviewed by a Homeland Security agent and Michigan child protective services personnel. During her interview, she said that she is aware that female genitalia mutilation is illegal in the U.S., but denied ever performing the procedure on any children. She also said that she had no knowledge of the procedure being performed on anyone in her cultural community.
At her initial appearance in court Thursday, two male relatives were in the courtroom, but they declined to comment. So did her lawyer, Bloomfield Hills attorney Shannon Smith.