Urdu newspaper editor in hiding after publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoon

The Charlie Hebdo slaughter in Paris has reverberated into the multireligious ethnic sprawl of Mumbai, where an Urdu newspaper has closed and its editor faces charges and death threats for having reprinted a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad from the satirical French weekly.

At the urging of Urdu Patrakar Sangh, an association of Urdu-language journalists in Mumbai, five police complaints against Ms. Dalvi were filed from precincts across the city on the day her newspaper published the cartoon.

“You are free to write anything in our country, but you are not free to hurt religious sentiments,” said Nusrat Ali, a reporter with an Urdu weekly who was among those filing the complaints.

“Why would she print something that has caused tension and violence across the world?” he asked. “Publishing such cartoons threatens the peace and calm of our country.”

In the tussle between press freedom and religion in India, religion has often prevailed. India falls among the lowest countries on the World Press Freedom Index, a ranking compiled by Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group.

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Shirin Dalvi, editor of the daily, was arrested by the police from Mumbra for reportedly reprinting a controversial caricature originally carried by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Dalvi was booked for outraging religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion with malicious intent under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code. Dalvi was presented before the court that granted her bail.

The caricature was carried on the front page of the January 17 issue of the Urdu Daily Avadhnama published from Mumbai.

Ms. Dalvi said that she had used the illustration to accompany an article about the increase in Charlie Hebdo’s circulation after the attack in Paris.

Authors, publishers, editors and filmmakers have often been censored over concerns that their work might provoke religious tensions. India was among the first nations to ban Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” for fear of offending Muslims. Last year, pressure by Dinanath Batra, a Hindu activist, persuaded Penguin Books India to withdraw and destroy copies of “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” by Wendy Doniger, an American scholar.

It was not my intention to showcase the cartoons themselves. It was relevant to the story,” Ms. Dalvi said.

After the cartoon publication created an uproar, Ms. Dalvi published a front-page apology asking forgiveness from the Muslim community.

She also wrote in an editorial that she believed Charlie Hebdo was in the wrong for publishing provocative cartoons but that Muslims should respond with knowledge and wisdom.

“Journalists should have the strength to bring forward the truth and speak freely, within the limits of the law,” Ms. Dalvi wrote. “I don’t believe that freedom of speech means that you have the right to hurt someone else’s sentiments.”

Ms. Dalvi said she has been harassed in the weeks since the newspaper stopped publishing. Fearing violence, she has moved out of her home in Mumbai’s Mumbra neighborhood, a Muslim-dominated area, and was staying with friends in different parts of the city. She said she had not been able to meet her two children, who have moved to a relative’s house and have been unable to attend school.

“I began to receive calls and texts, saying that I had made a terrible mistake and I would have to bear the punishment,” Ms. Dalvi said. “I am feeling insecure and unsafe.”

Ms. Dalvi said that part of the harassment may be based on her success in the male-dominated field of Urdu-language journalism. She had been the only female editor of an Urdu daily.


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