New Delhi: Ashok Bhavanbhai Parmar alias Ashok Mochi who become the infamous face of Gujarat’s anti-Muslim riots joined the 10-day Dalit Asmita Yatra with his friends, many of whom are Muslims, to work for Dalit-Muslim unity in future.
“Dalit-Muslim unity is the need of the hour. Both communities are oppressed and poorer. And therefore, they are being targeted on one pretext or the other – the latest one is the terror unleashed on them in the name of cow protection. I believe every citizen of India has a right to live peacefully and have a roof over the head. He or she should have all the freedom to chose profession and decide what eat and wear,” the 40-year-old Parmar told Indiatimes.
A cobbler by profession, Ashok is a labelled as “brand ambassador of Hindu Rashtra” but when asked he denied. Neither the VHP nor Bajrang Dal opposed the association with him and the photo. “Why would they? They had got a brand ambassador for their Hindu Rashtra image,” says Parmar.
“Don’t politicise the use of any colour. Like all Muslims who wear beard and skull caps are not terrorists, all those who wear saffron are not necessarily associated with RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and its affiliates like VHP and Bajrang Dal. The right wing groups do not have copyright on the colour. Our national flag has a saffron band,” he said. “But I am neither.”
He became one of the rioters on the street was just a “coincidence.”
“The girl I loved the most got married few days before the riots. I returned to work with a heavy heart that ill-fated day at around 10 am. There was a bandh that had affected thousands of daily wage workers like me. I lost my daily business and could not get any food. I was angry. Angry at my own situation and what was going on in the streets of the city in reaction to the Godhra incident that had occurred a day before.”
“Hindus were killing Muslims. I had beard which was making me look like a Muslim. I tied a saffron cloth round my forehead to save myself. Meanwhile, a photographer (Sebastian D’Souza from Mumbai Mirror) approached me asked me to pose like a rioter. I picked up an iron rod to show how angry I am. The next day I saw myself on the front page of almost all publications. Since then, I became a villain and face of Gujarat riots across the world. The photo landed me in jail for 14 days. Later, I was acquitted by a lower court because there was not a single bit of evidence to show my participation in the massacre,” he added.
“If you see the photograph minutely, you will find me alone in the picture. I was not part of any mob. I was not out for rioting. I never imagined the picture would cause so much trouble,” he explains.
At 40, Ashok is still single because his unsuccessful love life and with his weak financial condition he do not want a woman or children to suffer the poverty.
He was there in the protest march but left it four days after joining because he strong disagreed the collective pledge taken in the rally never to dispose off or skin dead cattle and do sanitation work.