More than a year and a half have passed since that fateful day: January 7th, 2015 when the world was rocked by a terror attack on Paris. This was done in retaliation to Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly newspaper for caricaturing Prophet Mohammad. Twelve people, mostly cartoonists, were slaughtered that day. The world came out in support of the magazine, the hashtag je suis Charlie trended for several days and united most of the free world against terrorism. The publication of the magazine continued and its next issue sold a record 7.95 million copies compared to the standard 60,000 prints.
But that is just one part of the story; things get a lot murkier when you are an Urdu woman editor living in India. Shirin Dalvi, the then Urdu editor of the Mumbai version of a popular daily Avadhnama, posted an old 2006 picture from Charlie Hebdo’s archive. That irked the Muslim community and multiple cases were filed against her. She was booked and arrested for outraging religious feelings with malicious intent under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. On getting bail, she had to go underground. The hate against her was shimmering and death threats kept pouring in. Shirin had to wear a burqa for the first time in her life: she needed to hide herself.
She is a single mother with two children, the elder son was in college at that point and the younger daughter was preparing for her class XII exams. During those first four to five months, she could not even keep contact with them. The Mumbai edition of Avadhnama closed and the media house distanced itself from her.
Among other things she apologized. She repeatedly mentioned that she thought she was publishing their latest cartoon, not the one from 2006. But eighteen months have passed and while the mainstream media has forgotten all about her: she still remains jobless. Before she lost her job, she was the only female Urdu editor of a journal in India.
“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”, says Dalvi who believes her ordeals may have been accentuated by her gender.
But that is not the issue really. The issue is the ostracization of a journalist for publishing a cartoon, for performing her duties as a journalist. Shirin has an experience of over 27 years as an accomplished journalist, yet not a single media house is willing to give her a job. To Times of India, in an interview, she said while looking at her fingers, “I had six gold rings. Had to sell them one by one.”
Je suis Charlie was not supposed to be just a hashtag. It was supposed to mean something. It was supposed to inspire masses to stand up against religious fundamentalism; it was supposed to be a movement to uphold free speech. No one deserves the kind of ordeal Shirin Dalvi underwent for doing her job. We as a nation have failed this woman, this single mother fighting all alone against very strong invisible forces, the forces of fascism, the forces throttling and choking free speech at every instance.
Today, still unemployed, Shirin is trying to open her own e-paper in Urdu titled ‘Urdu News Express’. Maybe this is her light at the end of an eighteen month long dark, dark tunnel. Maybe not. The least we could do is stand beside her. She does not need to do it alone. We could all be a part of her struggle. And that would be the true fulfillment of Je suis Charlie. Je suis Shirin Dalvi!