AHMEDABAD: Some faces and images never die. And this is what he hates about himself. Fourteen years after he was involuntarily crowned the face of Gujarat riots, Qutubuddin Ansari finds himself “used” by the Congress for the Assam and West Bengal assembly polls.
“Every time this happens, life becomes more difficult for me. Tomorrow everyone will know and people will question my motives. In fact, I did not even know about this,” Ansari says.
Qutubuddin Ansari was 29 when his photograph, a young man with tears in his eyes, begging for mercy, for life, became the defining image of 2002 riots.
“I am 43 and in the past 14 years, I have been “used and misused” by political parties, Bollywood and even terror outfits. I wish I had died in 2002 because I am not able to answer my children when they ask me “Papa, every time we saw your picture, why are you crying and begging?””
In constituencies across Assam and W Bengal, where assembly elections are on, posters with Qutubuddin’s photo find a strategic place. The captions read: Does Modi’s Gujarat mean development? Do you want Assam to be another Gujarat? The decision is yours. Only alternative to Congress in Assam is the Congress, one caption reads.
‘They make my life difficult’
Sitting in his small rat-infested one room in Birjunagar, a predominantly Muslim chawl, Ansari who works as a tailor says, he does not earn enough to provide for his wife and three children. His biggest grouse is political parties using him for their gains. “Why do they use me? Don’t they understand that this makes life difficult for me?” he says.
Without naming the BJP, he says, “Some people in political parties think I deliberately offer my face and services. This makes my life more complicated. I want to live in Gujarat and I want peace.”
The haunting image of Ansari captured by Arko Datta in 2002 showed the young man pleading for his life with folded hands and tears. Ansari lived near Naroda Patiya and his colony was attacked by sword-wielding fanatics who were out to kill and burn any Muslim they saw.
Ansari had seen a Rapid Action Force (RAF) contingent pass by through a crack in the door upstairs where he was hiding. His wife was pregnant then. He pleaded for his life and was saved by the central forces. Datta’s picture of Ansari became the most defining picture of Gujarat riots.
“The picture gave me life. I was saved because media was travelling with the RAF then and maybe the cops could not ignore and saved me. But it cost me everything else in my life. I lost my job and my mental peace. Fundamentalist Hindus spotted me and tried to target me. And now political parties try to use me and my picture without my consent,” Ansari told Mirror.
In Assam and West Bengal, there is a sizeable Muslim electorate, and the Congress hopes to capitalise with Ansari’s posters.
A miffed Ansari said, “Congress has not sought my consent for this. In fact, in the past Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Samajwadi Party besides some other local state parties used my picture in a similar manner. I have approached the court, but in vain.” Ansari was shocked when Indian Mujahideen used his pictures during Delhi blasts along with Quran verses that stressed that the Delhi blasts were to avenge Gujarat 2002.
‘They accuse me of taking money to let them use pic’
Without naming the BJP, Ansari says, he has been accused of accepting money in return for using his picture for poll propaganda by “some people associated with political parties”.
After he became the ‘face of the riots”, his employer sacked him. The West Bengal government offered him help and so he moved to Kolkata. At the insistence of his ailing mother, he returned to Gujarat in 2008. Ansari insists people recognise him all across the country and that there have been Hindus who have approached him with folded hands, offering apology. There are fascists in all religions, be it my religion Islam or Hinduism. “I have friends from across communities and I am proud of it,” he says. Ansari’s current employer is a Hindu, and he says he is a wonderful human being, who understands his situation.
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