At a seminar organised in Thaliparamba in Kerala’s Kannur district on Monday, two men sat together, smiling and talking. Twelve years ago, these men had entered India’s collective consciousness through their pictures published in the news media — images that went on to become iconic reminders of the Gujarat riots of 2002.
One of the men was seen as the victim, wearing a shirt streaked with blood, pleading for mercy with folded hands, his eyes brimming with tears. The other appeared as the ruthless perpetrator of the violence, wearing a black beard and saffron Bajrang Dal bandana, standing with a leg on a signboard and both hands aloft, in one of which he held an iron rod. Behind him burnt a large fire.
The first picture — of a tailor named Qutubuddin Ansari — was taken in Naroda Patiya, which saw some of the worst violence of the riots. The other picture, of Shahpur cobbler Ashok Bhavanbhai Parmar, or Ashok Mochi, was taken in Dudheshwar.
On Monday, participating in a seminar cal‘ed ‘A decade of genocide’, organised by the CPM, the two men showed they had come a long way since February 28, 2002, the day their pictures were taken in riot-torn Ahmedabad.
The men were brought together by journalist-activist Kaleem Siddiqui, who travelled with them to Kerala from Gujarat for the launch of a Malayalam edition of Ansari’s autobiography.
Speaking at the seminar, Mochi apologised to Ansari and the entire Muslim community for the killings of 2002. The 40-year-old Ansari is now happily married with three children; the 39-year old Mochi, by contrast, does not even have a voter’s ID, and has been deprived of the benefits of all government schemes.
Ansari has been trying to stay out of the public eye ever since his picture was used in an email allegedly sent by the Indian Mujahideen. Mochi said he has decided to devote his time to working for Hindu-Muslim amity, and to “improving my image of a communal zealot”.
“It is because of my unsound financial position that I have not been able to get married,” Mochi told The Indian Express over the phone from Kerala. In 2002 he lived in Kajimiya ni Chali in Shahpur with his elder brother. He now lives across the road in Haleem ni Khadki.
Cases were filed against him for rioting. “I was acquitted in the lower court because they could not get any evidence against me from local Muslims. The government appealed against the acquittal, and a judgment is now pending,” he said.
Ansari said at the seminar that for him, “Mochi is far better than Narendra Modi because while Mochi has apologised to him and the community openly at the seminar, Modi is still to apologise for the killing of innocent Muslims”.
“I have no intention of jumping into politics, but this seminar is giving a message to counter communal forces and expose their lies about welfare measures, so I am here, besides the release of my autobiography”, Ansari said.
Mochi blamed the media for “demonising” him and “tarnishing his image”. “You can go to the place where I live and check for yourself if I didn’t helped local Muslims reach safety during the riots,” he said.
Kaleem Siddiqui, the brain behind the seminar, said his objective was to expose the lie that Muslims had started supporting Modi, and that they would vote BJP in the coming polls. He said Urdu, English and Gujarati versions of Ansari’s autobiography would be brought out subsequently.
“The Malayalam edition of 1,000 copies, priced at Rs 85 each, was sold out in day,” Siddiqui, who run a fortnightly Urdu newspaper called Tarkash in Ahmedabad, said.