Shirin Dalvi is looking forward to getting back to work. “I’ve already been working the last couple of months, but soon, my work will be out there for everyone to see,” said Dalvi about the Urdu news portal, Urdu News Express, she will be launching on Saturday. The portal, Dalvi said, will focus on news and opinion pieces but will have “a more progressive outlook as opposed to other Urdu publications”.
It’s been a difficult two years for Dalvi. On January 17, 2015, Avadhnama — the Urdu newspaper where she was working as editor — published a Charlie Hebdo cartoon “offensive to the Muslim community”. It sparked a furore and multiple FIRs were filed against her. Dalvi was shunted out of the job and arrested by Thane police “for outraging religious feelings” with “malicious intent”. The management of the newspaper shut down the edition soon after.
The single mother of two was left with no source of income. No other Urdu publication was willing to hire her. The court proceedings added to the financial strain, which was partially eased by two NGOs. She survived on translation work, a few talks offered by All India Radio and selling personal items like jewellery.
The 10 days after the cartoon appeared in print were especially difficult, Dalvi said. The arrest warrant had been issued and she was yet to procure interim bail. “I had to leave home because staying back would have meant getting arrested,” she said. “We lived out of a car. We would drive around in the daytime, park the car wherever we felt safe to take a nap, eat at hotels,” Dalvi recounted.
But things are looking up now. A Bengaluru-based microlending platform, Milaap, is backing her venture. The court has also granted her reprieve.
On the web portal, Dalvi said, “We will focus on world news but also want to have a lot more local news,” adding that there will be a focus on education and health. While she has finalised the title for her venture, Dalvi will announce it at the launch in Mumbai in January.
Looking back at the “horrific incident”, Dalvi said publishing the controversial cartoon wasn’t her decision, as it was made out to be. “As an editor, it was my responsibility to look at everything before it was published. That’s where I failed. And that I do accept,” said the 49-year-old.
The new venture, Dalvi said, would allow her more flexibility as the small team of journalists working with her are all her “well-wishers and those who stood by me in that difficult time”.