As the triple talaq issue rages on, with the Supreme Court hearing petitions in a special summer bench, I have been speaking on the same in many television interviews.
The crux of my points usually is that Muslim women need to be empowered aspirationally through education to move beyond triple talaq and other issues that paint them as a homogeneous group of burqa-clad victims.
Making a similar point, I was at the India Today office, after which I dropped in to say hello to my friend Saurabh Dwivedi, editor-in-chief of The Lallantop, which is housed in the same office complex.
A free-wheeling conversation around the state of affairs and my forthcoming book, Mothering a Muslim, turned into an impromptu Facebook live video. Little did we know what lay ahead.
Saurabh started the live video talking about the myths around being a Muslim in India. How regressive, aggressive and rigid we are. We are a baby-producing factory, abandon wives all the time, and eat beef day in and day out. In our conversation, we tried to address such silly assumptions.
We then looked at the community and the problems within. How Islam is not regressive but the patriarchal assumptions around it are.
One needs to understand that the Muslim marriage is a civil contract and by the very nature of contracts, it stipulates the terms of entering the contract and exiting the same. So any arbitrary one-sided decision cannot be deemed to be Islamic. It's against the very nature of the concept of marriage in Islam.
The issue of triple talaq reaching the Supreme Court just shows us the extent of patriarchal supremacy within the community. Even the SC bench observed that the matter was taken up suo moto by the court. What were the thekedaars of Muslims’ welfare doing about it till now?
No arguments on finding ways out just within the community can hold. If the "boys' club" of AIMPLB or other religiously self-designed arbitrators really wanted to bring a change, it wouldn't have picked steam only when there was a media call out on it.
Every television and print media has taken this up with force. There has been debate on every possible angle, be it faith-based or political engineering. But redundant bodies like AIMPLB which claim to represent Muslims have still held on unrelenting.
They say yes, triple talaq is bad and not Quranic. But still say it's legally valid. Mounting pressure caused them to come up with a triple talaq guideline - which asked society to boycott men who give divorce through pronouncing talaq thrice in a single sitting within a matter of seconds.
They fail to see the larger picture. Who will boycott whom? It's a classic case of men making their own arbitrary laws and then their own arbitrary punishments. We have to recognise the rot within. Which refuses to not just give space to women but also usurp their rights, voice and if possible, their individuality by forcing them into the shadows and keeping them scared with the sword of sudden talaq or divorce on their heads.
By the time we ended the live video we had over a lakh views and a thousand shares. And a plethora of unending trolling. Unprintable and probably words I wouldn't wish to reproduce in my own writing were a constant throughout the live telecast.
And surprisingly, the worst of vitriol came from my own community of Muslims. It's not just the societal fabric that ruptured but the rot is within too. How hard is it to hear out a woman who doesn't fit into your pigeon-holed perspective?
Earlier in the day, I was on BBC’s Facebook live video and similar patterns were found there. Reducing an independent woman who braves up to put her point forward, and who is well read and educated to some degree, to words that are by no means politer versions of prostitutes. Is that the best you have? At your best, you can only type out hate? And more hate?
After the experience of both videos I was disturbed all night, but in the morning I woke up to Shah Rukh Khan’s TED talk. The star with folded hands minced no words as he spoke of the need of love to save humanity. And at this moment I couldn’t agree more.
Shah Rukh starts with a "Namaskar" and ends with a "Shukriya" and between those two words, packs in his "ageing superstar" vision for our world. There was all the wit, emotion and wisdom that one is used to from him. But the parallel he drew between his life and that of humanity’s progression is one that was rooted in reality.
It wasn’t just some actor speaking with rose-tinted glasses that echelons of stardom often blur the word with. It was a Muslim actor born in a "refugee colony" to a father who was a freedom fighter and a mother who was "just a fighter like mothers are".
I can somewhat imagine what being a Muslim actor can mean to Shah Rukh since the internet was taken over by trolls. A casual carousel through his Twitter mentions will tell you that. Or read any review of his films and scroll over to the comments section. Hate and hate and more hate. Obsessive compulsive hate.
Shah Rukh himself in the TED talk talks of the very uncalled-for stories made up about his young children. One is familiar with the jingoism that always surrounds him when he dares to voice his thoughts on what it means to be a Muslim today in India.
A couple of years ago, he found himself mired in a major controversy following his comment on "extreme intolerance" in India at an event. The issue resulted in several protests against the actor and his then released film Dilwale.
Although SRK justified his comment back then, saying that his statement was misconstrued, it went on to affect his film’s release. All film journalists today will tell you how he now starts all his interviews with a cautionary note that he will not speak on politics or Muslim-identity politics.
He once said: “Freedom of speech means the right to keep silent also. I am very silent about this."
The king too is afraid. In the TED talk too, he refrains from dwelling on hate and brings in love instead.
“I’ve learned from the people of my country that the dignity of a life, a human being, a culture, a religion, a country actually resides in its ability for grace and compassion. I’ve learned that whatever moves you, whatever urges you to create, to build, whatever keeps you from failing, whatever helps you survive, is perhaps the oldest and the simplest emotion known to mankind, and that is love,” says Shah Rukh in his TED talk.
He adds: “My country has taught me the capacity for a human being to love is akin to godliness... So you may use your power to build walls and keep people outside, or you may use it to break barriers and welcome them in. You may use your faith to make people afraid and terrify them into submission, or you can use it to give courage to people so they rise to the greatest heights of enlightenment. You can use your energy to build nuclear bombs and spread the darkness of destruction, or you can use it to spread the joy of light to millions.”
Thank you King Khan for continuing to be the badshaah of love. We need more of you, who can deliver this message personally to every one of the trolls out there. Who feel that it's their birthright to berate and abuse women. Who believe that the best way to protect their hold over society and their religion is to pull down women in the worst of ways.
We women, who are braving this on a daily basis, need to keep reminding ourselves why we must never cease to speak up. It's not for ourselves but for the many more young girls out there whose voice will be robbed if we cease to speak.
Empowerment is not ours. It has been handed down to us by many brave women before us and we must hand it down for many more brave women to come after us. And of course, men like Shah Rukh Khan reinstil our faith. I leave you with some more words from his TED talk that addresses our world and its humanity:
“I truly believe the future 'you' has to be a you that loves. Otherwise, it will cease to flourish. It will perish in its own self-absorption.”