Former Urdu editor still grapples with Charlie Hebdo episode

New Delhi, July 6 (IANS) : Six months after the attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the incident continues to haunt Shirin Dalvi in Mumbai. The former editor of Urdu newspaper “Avadhnama” Dalvi is an indirect victim of the damage wreaked by the attack.

The first woman editor of an Urdu daily, Dalvi, had to pay a huge price for republishing the cover of the French magazine that featured a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad. Rendered jobless and ostracised by the Urdu media, Dalvi, a single mother, now lives in penury struggling to support her family. With three FIRs against her, she stares at a bleak future.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo shook the world on January 7, when Islamic terrorists killed 12 of its staff. They accused the magazine of its disparaging and irreverent references to Islam and caricaturing the Prophet.

Life has never been the same for the 47-year-old after she reproduced the cartoon on January 17 in her daily. After facing ire from religious extremists, Dalvi’s newspaper had to shut shop. “Those days were harrowing. I had several cases against me in different police stations in Mumbai,” Dalvi said.

Subsequently, she lost her job and has been sslapped with several criminal charges.

Dalvi was booked under Section 295 A of Indian Penal Code which deals with outraging the religious feelings of people with deliberate and malicious intent.

“Police refused anticipatory bail saying that it would cause a law and order problem. I was under attack on social media, too. One message asked for the severest of punishments for me. I kept changing places till February, when I got a stay from the Mumbai High Court on my arrest warrant,” recounted Dalvi.

Despite her published apology, the attack on her continued, she added.

In a breather, the high court’s order also handed over the probe to the Crime Investigation Department (CID) in March. “Now the three FIRs and other cases will be clubbed together, and the high court also has stayed the arrest,” Dalvi told IANS.

She wonders how India, being a democratic country, throttles free speech in the name of religion. “Many newspapers used the same cartoon in Delhi and Mumbai. Why was I singled out? I wanted to use Charlie Hebdo’s cover as an illustration. As I do not understand French, I did not realise that I was making a mistake. Nobody bothered to hear me out,” she said.

However, she says that the unkindest cut came from her fraternity in Urdu media for whom she gave her sweat and blood for 24 years.

“There were calls for death punishment and they accused me of blasphemy,” she said. “Now, the boycott is complete. If I attend an event, the Urdu media choose not to report the event at all,” she added.

Ironically, she had worked with most of the Urdu dailies that had launched a tirade against her. Before joining as the editor of Avadhnama, a year ago, she worked as associate editor in Sahafat, an Urdu daily, for four years.

With a passion for journalism, Dalvi took to writing at the age of 16.

(Preetha Nair can be contacted at preetha.n@ians.in)

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