Je suis Shirin Dalvi anyone?
The plight of Shirin Dalvi quickly proves that freedom of expression remains a luxury in India especially if you are not part of the English-language media.
English might not be much of a protection when it comes to intolerance, but at least it generates #IStandWith hashtags on social media that go viral dispelling the sense of isolation.
Both NDTV and Mint published some of the cartoons from Charlie Hebdo as a gesture of solidarity with the magazine. They were shared on social media, and the publications hailed for standing up to the terror. No one called for their heads and if they had there would have been waves of social media outrage. But when the same is done by the editor of an Urdu daily it’s a different world altogether. Shirin Dalvi, the Mumbai editor of Avadhnama, has had to go into hiding, wear a burqa and battle four FIRs.
Local citizens decided that sensibilities were offended and in India there is a stiff price to pay for offending sensibilities.
In Dalvi’s case that includes:
* Being booked and arrested for “outraging religious feelings” with “malicious intent” under Section 295A of the IPC.
* The loss of her job.
* Her paper shutting down meaning others lost their jobs as well.
* Going underground and living away from home.
* Some Urdu papers alleging she is a pawn of the RSS women’s wing.
* Staying away from Muslim majority neighbourhoods.
* Being unable to meet her children.
* Her children unable to attend college.
* Threatening messages on Whatsapp warning “maafi nahin milegi” (no forgiveness is possible).
* Having to wear a burqa for the first time in her life.
* Battling four FIRs. Some media reports say six.
Mind you Shirin Dalvi is not even interested in being a fiery free speech martyr. She’s apologized. On the front page. She’s said because the cartoons were in French she did not understand exactly what they said.
In a mea culpa published on NDTV she writes:
I, Shirin Dalvi, begin with an apology for having printed the title cover of Charlie Hebdo. It was a mistake and I had no intention to hurt the feelings of my community. Like any other Muslim, I deeply respect Prophet Mohammed - sallallahu alahi wa sallam - Peace be upon Him…
… We juxtaposed it with news of the Pope's statement where he criticized the Prophet cartoons and said freedom of expression was not absolute and religious beliefs should not be mocked in the name of this freedom. She meant the cartoons as a topical illustration to the Pope’s statement not as commentary on their own.
Forget je suis Charlie Hebdo, even her own media house has little interest in standing by her. According to Indian Express Waqar Rizvi in a statement on behalf of Taqdeer Fatima, owner of the Avadhnama title pretty much disavowed all connection with her. “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.
Since Avadhnama has other editions in other cities which remain open, the publishers have no interest in jeopardizing them. So it’s easier to leave Dalvi to fend for herself. The horrific massacre at Charlie Hebdo saw an outpouring of international sympathy as heads of state marched on the streets of Paris but its little side story in Mumbra looks like it will be a very lonely battle for Dalvi.
Even those who have spoken for her have been somewhat tepid in their response, probably fearful of meeting the same fate as Dalvi. They have said that she did wrong but since she had apologized it was time to move on, forget and forgive.
Even worse, Dalvi tells Newslaundry that she thinks she’s being punished for being a woman who stepped out of line.
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.
In fact until she lost her job Dalvi was the only woman editor of an Urdu daily in India. But that’s not why she deserves support.
She deserves support because in the end she was just doing her job. She was illustrating a news story with what she thought was a relevant picture. “If we publish a news item about The Times Of India, will we not use a picture of the paper?” she told Newslaundry.
Others thought not, but the price she is paying for that is horrific.
It makes a mockery not just of freedom of speech but of the very intent of our laws to protect communal harmony and maintain religious peace.
In the name of maintaining peace and harmony, the laws become bludgeoning instruments to bully and harass. It’s far easier to stand up for freedom of expression in faraway Paris than in India where the laws to protect the same are weak and pliable.
What’s tragic is Dalvi was not even trying to make a freedom of speech point, to turn herself into a test case for the limits of freedom of expression. Many were offended by the content of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons even as they were aghast at the fate of what happened to the cartoonists.
But what is being perpetrated on Dalvi is outrageous as well, and needs to be condemned as vociferously. The cartoons might have been offensive but that by no means excused what happened to the cartoonists. And it certainly does not excuse what is happening to Dalvi who has become corollary damage in a larger war.
Not wanting to offend religious sensibilities of millions is one thing. Condoning, through silence, the blatant harassment of a Shireen Dalvi is another.
There is a hashtag on Twitter that says #IStandWIthShirinDalvi but for all effective purposes Shirin Dalvi is standing alone.
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Updated Date: Feb 05, 2015 07:36:55 IST