This man was forced to deactivate his Twitter account after his thread on triple talaq

Freedom of speech cuts both ways.

 |  8-minute read |   25-10-2016
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The internet functions on the one basic principle of freedom of speech and expression. But on social media platforms, where the freedom to express is paramount, more often than not, we forget about it.

Every day we see hundreds of people being bullied online for saying things that offend the sensibilities of others. More often than not, these outbursts that offend others, are logical, backed by facts and sensible. The trolls, on the other hand, come up with half-baked retorts and more often than not, resort to using expletives, making ad hominem attacks and threats.

And when triple talaq became Indian social media's latest bait, the vitriol reached epic proportions.

triple-talaq_102516070314.jpg Photo: Reuters

India has a separate set of personal laws for every religion, even governing social institutions like marriage. Among them, the archaic Muslim personal law triple talaq has drawn the most ire in the past few days. It is a law that allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife by just uttering the word “talaq” thrice. The law is as unjust as it is regressive.

The Law Commission has floated a questionnaire asking for public opinion on the Uniform Civil Code, which would, in effect, ban personal laws - as well as archiac practices like triple talaq.

The Centre's petition to the Supreme Court, that triple talaq is not an essential practice in Islam has met stiff opposition from Muslim groups, who have dubbed the move as communal. The government’s intentions to enforce a Uniform Civil Code cannot be judged at the moment, but our esteemed prime minister made an important remark at his October 24 rally in Varanasi : “We should not look at religion when it comes to respecting or protecting women.”

Also read - Banning the abhorrent triple talaq needs no debate

Amid this endless din of debates on news channels and op-eds on news websites, a man called Alok Bhatt attempted to hear the voices that matter the most - and often go unheard: that of the common people. In an attempt to learn about the general Muslim public’s views on issues like triple talaq and the Uniform Civil Code, Bhatt visited a local madarsa in Dehradun.

He talked to a few children studying there, some men accompanying them and those managing the affairs of the madarsa. Bhatt recorded these conversations on video and posted them on Twitter as a part of a long, engaging thread.

Bhatt then met a Maulvi, whom he asked about the Quran’s views on Triple Talaq.

During his interactions, Bhatt came across a petition distributed in the madarsa for the community's women to sign. It stated that they were satisfied with edicts of the Shariah, and that they fully support the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and its endeavours to safeguard the Shariah (including triple talaq).

It is worth noting that a petition like this is probably being used by this madarsa (and possibly others) to sway public opinion in response to the Law Commision's questionnaire.

Bhatt also managed to have a conversation with a man there, who spoke about his sister's divorce. The man stated that it was an unfair practice, and that he had submitted to the fact that there was nothing he could do about it.

Bhatt’s Twitter thread made for an interesting read. The video were insightful and do make us understand that the regressive law has had repercussions.

While many Twitterati praised his efforts to bring the opinions of the common people to the fore, the discussion quickly turned sour as Bhatt faced a backlash from alleged Muslim groups. Phone calls from people claiming to speak on behalf of Muslim organisations accused him of trying to interfere in religious matters.

Few others reportedly blamed him for visiting a madarsa and talking to young children about triple talaq, even though it is evident from the videos that he did not.

In order to avoid further drama and controversy because of his now famous thread, Alok Bhatt deactivated his Twitter account. His sudden exit led to a bit of paranoia among his followers, some of whom went as far as to suggest that he may have been suspended from Twitter because of his thread.

Such conspiracy theories were routed when Kushal Mehra, another Twitter user, uploaded a conversation with Bhatt on audio hosting website SoundCloud. The audio has Bhatt explaining why he decided to deactivate his account.

Bhatt later reactivated his Twitter account.

Freedom of speech cuts both ways. It doesn’t just stand for opinions and ideas that you subscribe to. Just because one does not agree with an opinion, doesn’t make it any less - and by no means does it give one the right to harass the person holding the opinion.

Considering the subjects Alok Bhatt's Twitter thread sheds light on, one needs to look into whether such madarsas will mobilise support for preventing any reform in personal laws.

Also read - How brave Muslim women are leading a quiet revolution to reform Islamic law

Writer

Pathikrit Sanyal Pathikrit Sanyal @bucketheadcase

The author is a culture writer who likes talking about the internet, memes, privacy and all things pop culture.

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