Ever since the January 17 Mumbai edition of Urdu daily Avadhnama reproduced an image of Islam’s prophet from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, life for its editor Shirin Dalvi has not been the same.
In hiding since, Dalvi, 46, has been shifting her location frequently. Her Mumbra house locked, Dalvi and her two teenage children have been staying separately with friends; the three have not spent a moment together for the past three weeks.
Her phone switched off, Dalvi has been using a different number almost every day. Forced, as she says, to wear a burqa – Dalvi has little access to the outside world. Often, her friends share with her the chain of threatening messages circulating through Whatsapp. “One message asked for the severest of punishments for me, and rejected my open apology for printing the prophet’s photograph [her apology appeared on the front page of the Urdu daily on January 18],” she said, speaking to HT over the phone.
“My daughter [a Class 11 student] is ill today, but I can’t see her. Imagine a mother’s pain,” she said, her voice heavy.
Until now painted as a victim of an uncalled-for public outrage despite her apology, Dalvi on Thursday found herself amid allegations of a conspiracy, by her own team. Even as the now jobless editorial staffers cried foul over an alleged game plan to purposely shut down the Mumbai edition, which they said began only to mint money during the Lok Sabha elections, Dalvi pleaded innocence and told HT her colleagues who were responsible for her plight.
The staff alleged that the management was saved from paying the team a sum of money they were legally obliged to, in case the publication closed down. Dalvi, they said, runs an advertisement and travel agency that brings her money. Dalvi dismissed it, saying she owned no travel agency and her ad business was hardly profitable.
“I can tell the individual story of every one of these colleagues. In the past, one threatened to cut me open with a sword, while another said he could not stand a woman as his boss,” she said. “I am perhaps the only woman editor of an Urdu daily in the country. My success is not palatable to many.”
The controversy, according to Dalvi, has been triggered by an ex-employee who, despite having been terminated from this job of a sub-editor earlier in January, told an Urdu publication that Dalvi chose to print the cover page in spite of being warned of blasphemy. “His published statement, which he later backtracked on, triggered the public outrage. I had made the management oust him from the job on January 12 after he repeatedly made obscene gestures at me. He is only trying to get even with me,” she said.
“For my journalistic judgement to reprint the cover, I have already apologised. The court is yet to give a verdict. So why this public trial?”