Ahmedabad, Dec. 9: Trembling hands joined in a namaste and eyes spilling over with terror and tears, he had pleaded with the police to rescue him from the clutches of the marauding mob. That was while Gujarat burnt nine months ago.
Three days to the elections, the same eyes are smouldering with anger. The wounds haven’t healed. Nor has the faith been restored.
And Qutubuddin Ansari —the 29-year-old face made most famous by the Gujarat riots —has decided that he will not trust saffron the third time around.
Before Godhra happened, Ansari had believed, along with several of his friends and relatives of Rahmatnagar colony, the BJP was a party with a difference and Muslims would be absolutely safe during its regime. So, they had voted in home minister Gordhan Zadaphia from Rakhial in 1998 and the party in the 2000 civic elections.
Today, the whole lot regrets having banked on the BJP. “We thought if the BJP was in power, there would be no riots. We were utterly mistaken. We did not know that they were so brutal. We had no inkling that some day we Muslims would be burnt alive and our houses would be torched,” the 29-year-old tailor says.
Ansari feels the BJP has “shown its true colours”, so it’s time to give someone else a chance. So, he will vote for the Congress’ Himmatsinh Patel, who is fighting Zadaphia in Rakhial. His only expectation is that if the Congress comes to power, it will punish the guilty.
What hurts Ansari the most is that since the riots, Hindus and Muslims have lost faith in each other. The atmosphere of communal amity is all but gone, he regrets. In fact, when he joined work in a majority community-owned garment factory after returning from a relief camp, his mother advised him to switch jobs. “There was no problem, but my mother did not want me to work for Hindus as she felt that I was not safe there,” he says.
Ansari then took up a job in a Muslim-owned garment shop in Khanpur area. But he had to quit that too as the factory was 8 km from his home and his mother insisted he find another in his own locality.
Finally, he found a job in Rahmatnagar in a small shop owned by one Liaquat Bhai and is working there now. But he is not happy because Hindu customers are scared of coming to the shop after nightfall. “It’s a sorry situation,” he says.
The tailor says he lost his “peace of mind” the day his photograph — arms folded and eyes full — was front-paged in national dailies in early March. “Because my picture was flashed in all newspapers, journalists from all over the world came to meet me which got my mother worried,” he says.
But the publicity didn’t bring him profit, he says. No one as much as gave him a single paise to start a new business. “I was not benefited at all,” he says.
The only saving grace was that a social organisation invited him to Pune and felicitated him. He was given a memento and a small amount in cash. “Then I felt that, despite all the ugliness and cruelty, this world is beautiful.”