Shirin Dalvi, India’s only woman editor of an Urdu daily, Avadhnama, has found herself amid a controversy that could turn into a lonely legal battle all for carrying a news report on the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
The fact that the report was carried along with a picture of the French magazine’s “Je Suis Charlie” cover after the terror attack in Paris has upset certain sections of the Muslim community. At least six First Information Reports have been filed against her and she was recently arrested by Thane police for outraging religious sentiments by insulting religion with “malicious intent” under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code, according to an Indian Express report.
In a telephone conversation with Newslaundry, she narrates how she is being wrongly targeted.
I have been a journalist for over 20 years and wrote my first story when I was just in school. When most parents in our neighbourhood would not allow their daughters to study beyond standard 4th, mine allowed me to continue my education even though I was the only girl in a class of 10 boys.
The town I was brought up in, Mumbra, in the suburbs of Thane district in Maharastra, had a school only till standard 7th. So my parents decided that I would travel more than 12 kilometres every day to Thane to continue with my education.
By the time I was in Standard 12, my pieces were getting published on the op-ed pages of various prominent Urdu dailies. After marriage, my husband, who is no more, was more than supportive of my writing career and even suggested the pen name I wrote under.
Writing and journalism has been and will always be my passion.
But today my struggles mean nothing, my career has come under a cloud and my professional integrity is being questioned.
On January 17, Urdu daily Avadhnama published a front-page news item on the magazine, Charlie Hebdo. I have been associated with the daily as editor since July last year.
The report in Avadhnama on Charlie Hebdo that came under fire was first and foremost a “news” report pegged on the increase in the magazine’s usual print run – previously Charlie Hebdo printed 60,000 copies, the first edition after the terror attack hit the news stand with 30 lakh copies.
Our story in the paper was a neutral report and we used the cover of the magazine after the attack only for representational purposes. If we publish a news item about The Times Of India, will we not use a picture of the paper?
I didn’t for a second think the picture would offend people from my community. But after we got negative feedback, I saw how some people were hurt by the fact that we used the cover image of Charlie Hebdo. So, I immediately published an apology on January 18 stating that our intention was not to hurt anyone and that we apologise if indeed the report or the image caused hurt or upset anyone. I asked for forgiveness from my heart. I too follow Islam and am a Muslim. Hum bhi Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) ke ashiq hain.
Despite my apology, First Information Reports have been filed against me in numerous separate thanas – including Mumbra, Rabodi, Mumbai and Thane. All sorts of rumours are being circulated about me as facts – some people are saying I am an RSS agent, others are saying I am a follower of Taslima Nasreen. Some are saying that I printed the image deliberately to insult Islam. All these statements are absolutely incorrect. Some have targeted me on WhatsApp and Facebook groups saying that I will never be forgiven in this case. Who are these people to forgive or not forgive me?
I have been forced to remain in hiding and have switched off my phone, and face(d) severe mental trauma. I have left my house leaving my two children alone as I try to get bail in the cases filed against me.
I have never worn a burqa but now feel the need to do so. Some people have commented that this whole episode is God’s way of punishing me so that I am forced to hide my face and that I should not get space for burial even after my death!
In my long career as a journalist, I have always written in favour of public causes and never any political party. I picked up issues of women’s rights and the need to spread education among the Muslim community. I have always said that knowledge should be countered with knowledge.
If you don’t like a book, then counter it with a better book.
Our stance on the Charlie Hebdo episode was always neutral and I believe that even hatred should be countered with love – that is what Islam teaches us.
The fact is that very few women rise to prominent leadership roles in Urdu journalism and not many people are happy with the fact that I have. One of the persons who is planting negative stories against me in the Urdu press had, in fact, stated that one must not work under the leadership of a woman.
Avadhnama has shut shop since the controversy and the management has told me that they will not be able to carry on after the controversy. It’s unlikely that I will get a job in any other Urdu daily after the allegations hurled at me. But the world of writing and journalism is the essence of my existence. Perhaps I will start my own newspaper someday, for now I have a long battle to fight.
– As told to Manisha Pande