Ranjona Banerji: Anyone cares about Freedom of Speech?

06 Feb,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The case of Shireen Dalvi, editor of the Mumbai edition of the Urdu newspaper Awadhnama, perfectly and in some ways tragically encapsulates our wavering devotion to freedom of speech and the up-and-down solidarity between journalists.

 

Many in India – on social media at least – came out in support of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo even though few had even heard of it before the ghastly terror attack by Islamists leaving 14 dead. But standing with Shirin Dalvi is another matter. So what if the newspaper she edited is published from Mumbai and not Paris? So what if she’s been in hiding since January 17 because of cases filed against her by Muslim fundamentalists and others because she reprinted a Charlie Hebdo cartoon? So what if her children are too frightened to go to college? So what if the Mumbai branch of the newspaper has been shut down by the owners leaving Dalvi and other employees jobless?

 

Dalvi has been charged under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, “outraging religious sentiments with malicious intent”. Dalvi had in fact apologised for carrying the cartoon, making it clear that she did not want to blaspheme the prophet Mohammed. She also wrote an editorial saying that the way to protest against such cartoons is not by killing or threats.

 

The idea of freedom of speech has to be absolute. But in India, we are constantly alert to various sentiments being upset. The idea that Dalvi as an editor and a journalist has certain rights has been ignored by the Mumbai police in this instance over the rights of those who have felt offended.

 

Veteran journalist Jyoti Punwani, in this article for scroll.in, finds that there is another angle to the hounding of Dalvi: the fact that she is a rare female editor with a meteoric career rise in the male-dominated world of Urdu journalism: http://scroll.in/article/704074/Behind-hounding-of-female-editor-who-published-Hebdo-cover,-pettiness-of-Urdu-journalism-lies-exposed

 

It is heartening in some small measure that both the Mumbai Press Club and the Bombay Union of Journalists have issued statements in support of Dalvi and most Mumbai editions of newspapers have been carrying articles about the case. But a larger voice, like we saw for Charlie Hebdo? Uh-huh.

 

This is from the statement of the Mumbai Press Club:

“We see this as a systematic attempt to intimidate a journalist who was merely doing her job, and drive her out of the profession. Her being a woman editor, a rarity in the Urdu media, seems to have has added an edge to her persecution. We call upon the state government to create conditions for her and her children to be able to return home and live in security.

 

The Press Club is also writing to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who also heads the state Home Ministry, to stop the harassment of Shireen Dalvi through trumped up FIRs, and to ensure that she and her children are provided police protection.”

 

**

 

The national media’s hysteria over the Delhi state elections continues (or, as one news channel put it, “our continuous coverage continues”).

 

Those who watch TV regularly know that the entire world is circumscribed by Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. Who knows, perhaps it is.

 

**

 

The only way out for those in India who have other things to think about than Delhi seems to be the release of a new Amitabh Bachchan film. Which perhaps proves that Bollywood PR beats political PR hands down. This I write judging from the appearance of India’s best known film star on every news channel.

 

A “sham” approach to news?

 

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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Anyone cares about Freedom of Speech?”

  1. aniruddha says:

    It is equally interesting to note that none of the crowd that is defending the AIB Roast on freedom of expression grounds has had a word to say about Shireen Dalvi.

  2. deadlyrocker says:

    You are absolutely right but the Charlie Hebdon case was HUGE – a demonic act by fundamentalists. Perhaps Shireen Dalvi’s did not escalate to that level. Thanks for this. I will go out on a limb and get vocal, support her to the hilt!

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