Speak up for Shireen Dalvi

Updated - November 16, 2021 01:45 pm IST

Published - February 06, 2015 08:18 pm IST

A shocking example of bearbaiting is going on under our noses. Shireen Dalvi, editor of the Mumbai edition of the Lucknow-based Urdu newspaper  Awadhnama , has been hounded out of job and home. She was arrested by the Thane police. She is out on bail and in hiding now. Her children are separated from her and afraid to attend college. The newspaper she edited has been shut down. There are multiple FIRs against her. Shireen, who has never worn a burqa, now wears one to avoid being recognised.

And what was Shireen’s crime? She reproduced a cover of French magazine  Charlie Hebdo  on the front page of  Awadhnama . It showed a bearded figure in tears lamenting that he is “loved by idiots”. Zubair Azmi, who filed the first FIR, says she must be made an example so that “nobody dares to publish an image of Prophet Muhammad again”.

The image comes as a visual with a news item reporting that this particular issue of  Charlie Hebdo  sold record copies. When the protests broke, Shireen asked Muslims not to take such caricatures as representing the Prophet because “there exists no image of him”. In a subsequent editorial, she told Muslims to react to such provocations “with knowledge and wisdom, not violence”.

Prudent words, but of course they’ve gone unheeded. Instead, the woman is being hounded in that nasty way that’s become the hallmark of our low-tolerant bullies across religions. Our police, instead of protecting such threatened people, are instead busy arresting everyone at the merest hint of probable cause.   

But, as much as the obvious story of intolerance, what’s equally important in Shireen Dalvi’s case is the sub-text.

In a telephone interview with website  Newslaundry, Shireen has this to say: “The fact is that very few women rise to prominent leadership roles in Urdu journalism and not many people are happy that I have. One of the persons planting negative stories against me in the Urdu press had, in fact, stated that one must not work under the leadership of a woman.”

That’s when I sat up to read more and discovered that the people who have spearheaded the Shireen hunt are not religious leaders but fellow Urdu journalists. Zubair Azmi heads literary society Urdu Markaz, Izhar Ahmed heads Urdu Patrakar Sangh, Nihal Sagir worked under Shireen as a sub-editor. For these men, a woman rising to the top and so soon is not tolerable. Reportedly, when she was appointed editor of Awadhnama  in Mumbai, Nihal Sagir asked the proprietor “You couldn’t find anyone else?”

Shireen began writing as a student, getting her first pieces published in Urdu dailies when she was in Class XII. She was the only girl in her class, in an area where families didn’t allow daughters to study beyond Class IV. As a journalist, she has fought for women’s rights and for better education for Muslims. “If you don’t like a book, counter it with a better book,” she says.

Shireen Dalvi is that rare voice that liberal Muslims must ensure is not silenced.

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