Shirin Dalvi, the editor of the Bombay edition of Urdu newspaper Avadhnama has been forced to go underground . Two vendors, who in all probability didn't know the content of the newspaper they were selling, have been arrested. The Shirin Dalvi saga is getting worse every day.
She is being hounded, harassed and threatened - and nobody is in her corner. She carried a story on French magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose cartoonists and other staff were shot dead by some Islamists for publishing cartoons of the Prophet. Her crime: she carried the magazine cover with a cartoon of the Prophet with the story. She has said she doesn't understand French and didn't know what the cartoon said.
Some hot-heads decided that Shirin Dalvi is a great of enemy of Islam and its Prophet. And all hell broke loose. Ms Dalvi, after witnessing the backlash from fanatics, and with her publishers developing cold feet, next did what she thought was right. She printed an apology in the same paper the next day. But the offended were not impressed. They are still sending her threatening messages on WhatsApp and Facebook: "Maafi Nahi Milegi" (no forgiveness).
The last fortnight has changed Shirin Dalvi's life. She has numerous police cases against her. She is living in hiding, forced to wear a burqa (veil) for the first time in her life to hide her identity. A single mother of two, she can't see her children, and they are skipping college for safety reasons. She doesn't have her job anymore - her employer decided to shut down the newspaper.
Shirin Dalvi's battle has to be fought on two fronts: against some "defenders of the Prophet" on one hand, and the brute and mindless application of the law of the land on the other. The police, after registering four cases against her for 'hurting religious sentiments" went on to oppose her anticipatory bail on the grounds that "it will create law and order problem".
Yes, there is a law and order problem when a person has to fear for her life and go into hiding because some extremists are targeting her. The police, instead of acting against the loonies threatening her, are now emboldening them by arresting the vendors of the allegedly defamatory newspaper. What is the message being sent to those who feel it's their right to harass a free citizen of this country just because she "offended" them in terms of their understanding?
While some may argue that filing a police complaint is a right thing to do, my problem is that she is not being given the assurance of protection till the cases are resolved. She has every right to go about her normal life free and fearless while these frivolous cases go on.
To the offended Muslims, I say Grow Up. Your Prophet deserves better than some mad sloganeering and tormenting a woman in his name. It brings Him no honour when a mother cannot see her children because some "thekedars of the Prophet's honour" are waiting out there "to teach her a lesson".
To the government I say, Speak Up for Shirin Dalvi. Don't be a silent conspirator with fundamentalists. Our system has long tolerated the worst amongst us. No more. Show them that this country is run by the law and not by some sentiments waiting to be offended.
Muslim netas especially need to raise their voice against the injustice being meted out to Ms Dalvi in the name of Muslim sentiments. The Muslim leadership has for long pandered to the most illiberal sections of the community. Time to say in one voice "Enough of this offence-taking business." It's time to change.