In the 1980s, when no Muslim girl could continue education after the fourth standard at Kausa’s zila parishad school, Shirin Dalvi was the only girl in a class of 10 boys. Her struggle to be on par with men continued in the now shuttered publication Avadhnama where she was the only woman in the 12-member team.
Before the 46-year-old rose to the helm at Avadhnama, a year ago, she worked as a columnist and later as an associate editor in Sahafat, an Urdu daily, for four years. Here, she met with the paper’s resident editor Saeed Hameed, who is now one of those who complained against her after she published French Magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cover photo on January 17. She claims her quick ascent to the top fuelled jealousy among her male counterparts.
Dalvi, also a poet, has translated two books, Sundeep Waslekar’s Eka Dishecha Shodh and Satyapal Singh’s Talash Insaan Ki. She started writing at theage of 16, when her short stories and write-ups to Inquilab and Urdu Times would get published routinely.
Her 24-year-old career in journalism, however, took a flight in 1991 when she joined the Hindustan Urdu newspaper and went on to marry its features editor and Urdu poet Abdullah Kamal. “I had sent a write-up for the paper. He really liked it and called me to join. Within three weeks, we got married. He was a major inspirational source for me,” says Dalvi, adding that their marriage sparked protests in parts of Mumbai because both belonged to different communities — she a Konkani Muslim while he was a Bihari Muslim. He died in 2010, after which Dalvi quit Hindustan Urdu and joined Sahafat.
Her friend and long-time associate Hasina Khan, also the head of Forum Against Oppression of Women, says: “Dalvi is the first female editor in a male dominated field here. She extensively wrote on women empowerment, religious issues and Muslim women’s rights. Since childhood, she has struggled a lot in the community,” Khan said.
When she was 13, Kausa village’s sarpanch had requested her parents to allow her to pursue higher education. After the seventh standard, the closest school was in Thane for which Dalvi took a bus, then a train and finally a horse-cart to reach. “I was one of the few girls to have gone beyond Kausa to study,” she says beaming.
Dalvi also owns an advertising agency, which her former employees at Avadhnama and Sahafat’s resident editor Saeed Hameed claim to have reaped financial benefits through the paper. A book on Muslim issues by her is also in the works.