Case over Paris cartoon forces Mumbai editor to go behind a veil

Today, apart from threats to her life, Dalvi has six FIRs registered against her — in Mumbai, Thane and Malegaon.

Written by Srinath Raghvendra Rao , Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Updated: February 3, 2015 10:53 am
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“How should I drink this now?” A few minutes later, she finally managed to slip in the straw through her face-veil to take a long sip inside a restaurant in south Mumbai.

Shirin Dalvi, 46, had never worn a burqa till about two weeks ago when she was the Mumbai bureau chief of the Urdu daily Avadhnama. But all that changed on January 17, when Avadhnama published an image of Charlie Hebdo’s ‘Je Suis Charlie’ cover the week after the terror attack in Paris.

While the world hailed the French magazine for going ahead with that special edition, Dalvi’s world crashed around her. On January 19, she lost her job. Nine days later, she was booked and arrested by Thane police “for outraging religious feelings” with “malicious intent” under Section 295 A of the IPC.

Today, apart from threats to her life, Dalvi has six FIRs registered against her — in Mumbai, Thane and Malegaon. And, as she struggled to finish that glass of lime juice, she revealed that she hadn’t been with her two teenaged children for two weeks now, except for a few hours as she surrendered in Mumbra and got bail from a Thane court.

“It was a clear news story. If you write about the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo, you also need to publish a relevant picture with it. That image has been printed in the Indian media in several places, but I am being singled out,” Dalvi told The Indian Express.

Avadhnama’s six other editions, all in Uttar Pradesh, didn’t publish that image — they remain open — but the furore after the Mumbai edition of January 17 hit the stands was immediate. Complaints were registered at numerous police stations in the city, including J J Marg, Nagpada and N M Joshi Marg. Many of those are now being probed together at the N M Joshi Marg station.

On January 18, Avadhnama published an apology written by Dalvi on the front page. But that didn’t help. A day later, Avadhnama’s Mumbai edition was shut down and all its 15 employees sacked.

In a statement on behalf of Taqdees Fatima, owner of the Avadhnama title, Waqar Rizvi said Fatima had no links with the Mumbai edition which was run by a separate entity. “The Mumbai edition has no direct link with our edition except the title. The editor, publisher and printers are totally different and… (are) responsible for the contents,” Rizvi said.

Dalvi’s trauma, meanwhile, had just begun.

After receiving bail on a deposit of Rs 10,000 in the FIR filed in Mumbra, Dalvi’s interim bail plea in another will be heard by Bombay High Court on Wednesday. The rest await.

“Why am I being harassed even after publishing a front-page apology?” she asked. “Facing the community again has become a great concern for me as there is still a lot of unrest. I have avoided showing my face in Muslim-populated pockets. I have not gone back to my house (in Mumbra) since the protest started,” she added.

Dalvi is now “passing time” at the homes of friends in Mumbai, and hasn’t even been able to speak to her children on the eve of their exams. “Our house has been locked since the trouble began. Both my daughter and son are living with relatives. They haven’t been able to get their books, and they haven’t attended college in the last two weeks,” she said.

Then, there are the threats. “My children have my old phone and they told me that someone has been sending messages through WhatsApp, saying “Maafi nahin milegi (You won’t get forgiveness),” she said.

Dalvi has also been facing allegations from her former colleagues at Avadhnama that she had courted controversy for “publicity”. “She said we should be broad-minded and try something new,” said a former colleague, who did not wish to be named.

Dalvi denied the allegation, saying it was “not true”. “I did not anticipate such a backlash and even after tendering an apology on January 18 in the paper, cases continue to get registered against me,” she said.

Dalvi also questioned the credibility of those behind the multiple FIRs lodged against her, saying they had “no real legitimacy in the Muslim community”. “When organisations such as Raza Academy and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind were satisfied with my apology, I do not understand why these letterhead organisations are hounding me. Their only agenda is to harass a woman editor,” she said.