“I want to put the past behind me, think of it as just a terrifying nightmare. Now, I want to focus on moving on with my life,” says Shirin Dalvi, as she hopes to embark on a new venture.
On 29 July, Shirin Dalvi announced her plans to launch an Urdu news portal, for which a campaign has been started on crowd-funding website Milaap.org. The target is Rs 4,00,000 but nearly a month into the campaign, the funds raised are short of the halfway mark.
As the editor of the Lucknow-based Urdu daily Avadhnama, Shirin reproduced the cover of a Charlie Hebdo edition on page one on January 17, 2015. The image accompanied a news story that carried remarks made by the Pope in the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris on January 7 that year.
Shirin apologized unconditionally the following day in an editorial, but no one was willing to listen. She was hounded, at least seven FIRs lodged against her at various police stations in Maharashtra. She was forced to put up with friends while her children went to relatives’ houses. On January 28, she was arrested and released on bail the same day.
“I thought that everything would die down in six months or a year, that I would get another job and things would be fine. But it hasn’t happened,” Shirin says. She also appeared upset that “just two people” had “publicly” stood by her: Editor of Hindustan Sarfaraz Arzoo and senior editor at Roznama Rashtriya Sahara Hasan Kamal.
“I did have a lot of moral support, I still do. Many people called and told me they were with me, but only two of them stood up for me publicly.” The financial struggle though, has been entirely her own. “Not a single person has even helped me out with even Rs 1,000.” However, her lawyer Mihir Desai had offered his services for free, while another organization, Hum Azadiyon Ke Haq Mein had helped her greatly, she said.
Shirin says she does not grudge anyone’s actions since trouble began. “Who can I complaint about? They all did what they thought was right.”
Forty-nine-year-old Shirin took over as editor of Avadhnama’s Mumbai edition in July 2014. There are just five Urdu newspapers in Mumbai. Did she look for another job? “What’s the point of knocking on doors that are already closed? Things were quite clear with the social boycott that followed…” After a pause, she repeated: “I don’t want to go back to the past.”
Shirin now writes an occasional column for a few Urdu publications and does translations that come her way. “We have bills, but no income. The translations and occasional articles help, but it’s nowhere near enough. I want to start something so that I can re-start an income for myself and my kids.”
That’s why she decided to launch the Urdu News Express, an Urdu online portal, with the help of some friends. She says several writers and journalists, including some of her former colleagues have expressed readiness to write. “They all wish for a secular platform which will allow them to express their views, and which will not stifle voices.”
Her vision of the new portal is to report in a “non-committed” manner, without bias. “We will stick by the truth, that’s what journalists are supposed to do.”
Prod her further, and Shirin says: “We will also chronicle women’s struggles, their progress and successes. No matter how much we (women) struggle, no one gives enough space for it, at least in the Urdu publications they don’t.”
Perhaps she was reminded of her own professional struggle, because she said: “You know that there aren’t any women editors in Urdu journalism? It’s tough, you have to work until 12 am or 1 am. Women find it difficult. It’s hard to get to this post. I’ve been in the profession 27 years.”
Does she feel alone? “No. I am still reading, still writing. I don’t feel alone. Yes, there are financial problems, but I believe I can do something. I many not please everyone, but there will always be people who will appreciate my work.”