Hounded Avadhnama editor Shirin Dalvi gets some reprieve as Bombay High Court grants protection from arrest till case hearing
By Team FI
The Bombay High Court on Wednesday granted interim relief to Shirin Dalvi, editor of Urdu daily Avadhnama, when the public prosecutor failed to appear. The divisional bench adjourned the hearing to February 17 and granted protection against any coercive action against her till then.
Five FIRs have been registered against her in police stations in Mumbai, Thane and Malegaon. The Wednesday hearing was to hear Dalvi’s plea to club these FIRs together and quash them. The court was also informed about several death threats received by Dalvi.
Dalvi’s troubles began on January 17 when the Urdu daily reprinted the image of Charlie Hebdo’s ‘Je Suis Charlie’ cover of the week after the terror attack in Paris. Following complaints by readers and organisations, Dalvi offered an unconditional apology in the newspaper the very next day but it was not acknowledged by the Urdu Patrakar Sangh who went on to file the FIR that resulted in her arrest. The newspaper closed down on January 19.
The Mumbra police, under the Thane district jurisdiction, had arrested Dalvi on January 28 on charges of “hurting religious sentiments” by reprinting the image of Charlie Hebdo’s ‘Je Suis Charlie’ cover the week after the terror attack in Paris, in the pages of the Urdu daily Avadhnama. She was charged with violation of Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (outraging religious feelings by insulting a religion with malicious intent) on a complaint filed by Zubair Azmi, the Director, Urdu Markaz, and Ahmed Ejahar, the president of the Urdu Patrakar Sangh. She was granted bail immediately.
Dalvi, along with the newspaper’s Publisher Yunus Siddiqui, Lucknow-based proprietor Taquadees Fatema, and Managing Director Deepak Mhatre, have obtained anticipatory bail in another case filed against them on the same charge by the same complainants in N M Joshi Marg police station. The bail was extended till February 4.
Many civil rights organizations and journalist bodies including The People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) and Network of Women in Media, India have expressed support for Dalvi and voiced their protest against the treatment accorded to her by the complainants, the police and the state authorities.
Statement issued by Network of Women in Media, India:
The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) expresses its support to Shirin Dalvi, editor of the Mumbai edition of the Urdu daily Awadhnama. Shirin Dalvi faces a number of cases in different police stations in Mumbai, Thane and Malegaon on charges of violating Sec 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (“deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli¬gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli¬gious beliefs”), for having published a cover of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed, along with a news report, on January 17. She has already apologised in print for this on January 18.
Dalvi was forced to go underground after sections of the Urdu Press gave exaggerated reports about possible law and order problems due to her act. There have been demonstrations and hunger strikes in her hometown Mumbra and dire pronouncements on social media and Whatsapp that her “crime”’ cannot be forgiven and deserved the harshest punishment of death.
Shirin Dalvi began writing on social and political issues and contributing to Urdu newspapers from her teens and rose to become the first woman editor of an Urdu daily newspaper. Yet, there have been derogatory references about her dress-style and “irreligiosity”; questions raised about her journalistic skills and the reasons for her swift rise to the top position in her profession. These comments and propaganda betray a misogynist mindset and contribute to an alarming and dangerous campaign in the present context of the charges against her.
The NWMI appeals to the government to provide security to Dalvi so that she can return home and live safely, and also asks it to act against those pronouncing the death sentence on her on Facebook and Whatsapp. We also urge the government to ensure that Dalvi and her staff are compensated for the sudden closure of the paper.
Following is the press statement by The People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)
People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) joins all freedom loving people in denouncing the attempts to harass Ms. Shirin Dalvi, the reputed editor of the Urdu daily, Avadhanama, Mumbai in the name of hurting religious sentiments of Muslims. She had published a news story on the Charlie Hebdo massacre and republished a cover of the French magazine. Though she has apologized and stated that she did not have any intention to hurt religious sentiments of anybody she, however, has been charged with several different cases offences and even arrested. The newspaper she works for has had to close down and all its employees have been deprived of their jobs. All this is happening in the name of someone’s sentiments.
Ms Dalvi has received threatening phone-calls and messages. In brief, she is being subjected to physical intimidation and has had to take refuge in hiding. She is frightened for the sake of her children. She is being mentally tortured because the BJP government in Maharashtra is deliberately siding with hooligans claiming to represent the Muslim community.
PADS expresses its indignation at the treatment being meted out to Ms Dalvi and her family by the complainants in these cases, as well as the Maharashtra police and state authorities who are expected to defend citizens, not collaborate with their tormentors. Their sentiments may be hurt – but they have no right to intimidate and terrorise people. Our sentiments are even more hurt by the brazen threats issued to vulnerable people by these self-appointed warriors of religion.
At a time when India’s political atmosphere is already stinking of foul communal odours, the Maharashtra government’s complicity with Muslim fundamentalists is clearly meant to provide a free hand to other varieties of communalism in future. It wants to appear to be evenhanded in the discharge of its constitutional duty. But its duty was to protect Ms Dalvi and firmly oppose the communalists. Instead it has shown its contempt for the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression; and failed to respect and defend the security and personal freedoms of the citizen.
PADS is relieved to learn that the body of the Mumbai journalists and other organizations have expressed their solidarity with the harassed editor. PADS demands that the state government withdraw all cases launched against Ms Shirin Dalvi and provide full protection to her and her family.