This man was forced to deactivate his Twitter account after his thread on triple talaq
Freedom of speech cuts both ways.
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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.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.”
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.
Visited a madarasa today; mixed experience it was. Here are some key takeaways-1.The hafiz was a very warm guy.2 Kids knew wat they doing pic.twitter.com/zFbj78qR4d— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
2. This particular madarasa in Dehradun had almost 800 students- kids come from all across India- some affluent ones as well- note watch! pic.twitter.com/l7IdcM1iCg— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
3. The madarasa teaches students Quran Sharif and also Hindi classes but main emphasis is on teaching Quran- spoke to kids who were there pic.twitter.com/UZpYzp4RY6— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
4. Shahid's father is an engineer- he along with his brother r both studying to be a Mufti- both brother were better dressed than others pic.twitter.com/wfy3cn3Qeo— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
5. Mushahid and Rashid are from Araria in Bihar, 3 of the 7 brothers are studying in this madarasa - cute kids they were! pic.twitter.com/6YSU2C3hz4— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
6. While talking to kids, I did ask accompanying hafiz this Q-"dont u think they shud study more than Quran?"His ans-haan, par kya karein!— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
Bhatt then met a Maulvi, whom he asked about the Quran’s views on Triple Talaq.
7.Met a maulvi; i confronted him with a Qn on triple Talaq and its legality vis-a-vis Holy Quran- listen what he had to say b4 leaving pic.twitter.com/77BhGUhduz— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
8. I kept probing the old man abt the specific verse about triple talaq and he left the discussion-then Hafiz told me abt yest Juma sermon— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
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).
9. He said yesterday, the maulvi mentioned that Triple talaq is in quran and they distributed these pamphlets reqd to be filled by all. pic.twitter.com/2he6Yy5ng9— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
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.
10. I further asked Etheyshaam about his views on Triple Talaq- i said dont u think that it is like a sword on women's head- i said talk +— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
11. to me as his bro- just on principles if this is right or wrong; it was then that he opened up and revealed something libs need to think— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
12. Listen to what Etheyshaam had to say about triple talaq-sadly there was no storage left on ph to record further- to reveal pain of a bro pic.twitter.com/iCKsb568Zv— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
13. Etheyshaam's sister came to his parents when she was 2 months pregnant; after his in laws didnt come to take her, they visited them— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
14. They were told that he had already given her talaq- when she came home; notice was sent to complete it; his sister had no clue— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
15. Maulvi further told them that talaq is final and nothing can be done until "iddat" is complete - time she will hv to live wd women only— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
16. After her son's birth, the stress made his sister lose her sanity- she had to take treatment from Selaqui mental hospital for a year— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
17. They are now fighting for her sister for almost 3 years- guy is not paying maintenance- her son is 2+ now; Imagine her plight!— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
18. I did ask Etheyshaam his views on triple talaq after this- and he went silent, but had tears in his eyes- hugged me and went inside!— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
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.
19. People do open up, problem is that there is no dialogue between commoners- everyone is passing verdicts from echo chambers & studios— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
20. I was initially hesitant to go inside a madarasa & talk abt contentious topics- iam happy that i went in- sadly media isnt doing its job— Alok Bhatt (@alok_bhatt) October 22, 2016
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.