by Geeta Seshu
The disposal of the case against Avadhnama editor Shirin Dalvi, accused of hurting religious sentiments after the publication of a cover of the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, underlies, yet again, how the process itself becomes the punishment.
The case marks the end of a tortuous four years for her, as she battled the loss of her work and severe ill-health as she struggled to bring up her children and rebuild her career.
Dalvi got to know of the disposal of the case only when this writer tracked her down and called her. She expressed gladness at the closure, asking repeatedly if it was really over!
A Division Bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre of the Bombay High Court, hearing a petition from Dalvi seeking to quash the case against her, disposed off the case last week, after the Maharashtra state Criminal Investigation Department (CID), in Pune, filed a ‘C’ summary report (where police investigation reveals that the case is neither true nor false and that the criminal case was filed either because of a mistake of facts or the offence was civil in nature).
(See order : ordjud (26) shirin dalvi)
Adv Mihir Desai, who represented Dalvi said, “the case should not have been filed in the first place. However, we are glad the police decided to file a closure report.” Adv Desai had also fought the sedition case against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.
Dalvi, who was the first woman editor of an urdu newspaper, was fiesty and well known in Urdu literary circles for her poetry and her writings. She has swiftly made a name for herself in Avadhnama, a newspaper which published from Lucknow. But all of this came to an end when she published the cartoon in the newspaper along with a news item of the statement of the Pope on January 17, 2015.
The attack on the staff of the french satirical magazine had occurred barely ten days earlier, on Jan 7, in which 12 people were killed and more than ten injured. Then, the entire world was up against the attack, sparking protests for the defence of free speech and a ‘Je suis Charlie’ campaign. In this context, Dalvi’s publication of the cartoon cover, as well as the statement of the Pope criticising the cartoon, became like a red rag for Muslim groups in Mumbai.
The next day, protests broke out and Dalvi apologized but cases were lodged against her in different police stations in Mumbai, Thane and Malegaon. She was arrested by Thane district police on charges of violating Sec 295 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.
Others launched a campaign against blasphemy, demanding her arrest and protesting outside her home, threatening her family.
Dalvi had to go underground, living in houses of friends and supporters, cut off from her family, till she secured anticipatory bail in other cases lodged against her. As she had told this writer then,“Ilm ka jawab ilm se dena chahiye, maarne se nahi (knowledge must be answered by knowledge, not by killing). I apologized immediately for hurting people’s sentiments and even wrote a detailed editorial explaining my postion.”
Her stand was always different from that of the other Urdu newspapers, as she condemned the killings of the staff of Charlie Hebdo but also maintained that a mere cartoon could not be taken for a representation of the Prophet.Besides, where there was no acceptance of a representation of the Prophet Mohammad, how could this even be accepted as a representation, she argued.
Indeed, it was a difficult stand to take and went against the more vocal opinion but as she repeatedly said then, “Islam was a much greater religion and the Prophet could not be reduced to the caricature that the Charlie Hebdo magazine tried to do. “
Dalvi remains angry and upset at the manner in which she was isolated and defamed.As in so many such cases, the toll on the ‘accused’ is enormous. Besides battling the immense emotional stress, very often, they find it almost impossible to get back to their lives and their careers. Months later, Shirin Dalvi tried to start an e-news portal but her health was precarious and she became seriously ill, going in and out of hospital for a long period of time. She became more reclusive, cutting off from old friends and colleagues. Every time she tried to write, those opposed to her would immediately try and stop publication of her writings.
As she told this writer, “Now, I stay away from writing anything even remotely connected to religion or politics. My poetry is now devoid of politics.” But she continues to write, on general issues, womens’ issues, health and literary matters. “I don’t sit quietly, I do translations, I write for myself. I will keep writing,” she said.