The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ansari runs from face of Gujarat riots

Mumbai, Aug. 7: Qutubuddin Ansari, the man who is now famous as the face of the Gujarat riots, knows he is being rehabilitated in Calcutta, but he is unable to decide if this is what he wants.

Ansari’s terror-stricken face, as he pleaded with a rampaging mob in the riots after the Godhra train burning, appeared in newspapers across the world. It’s a face that has come to haunt Ansari himself.

“My face has become my enemy. This is what I want to go away from. This is why I lost a job in Malegaon because the owner later recognised me,’’ he said.

The Bengal minister for minorities, Mohammad Salim, has offered to give Ansari a house to live in and a shop from which he can run his tailoring business. Ansari already has a house of his own in the Gomtipur area of Ahmedabad; a shop from which he earns about Rs 200 daily as a tailor and an environment which he himself says is “peaceful and non-threatening”.

He cannot bear the thought of being uprooted from what has been his home state so far. And he can’t even properly recall the name of the person who is his benefactor in Calcutta.

“People in Gujarat are really nice and peace-loving and, except for what happened during the riots, I haven’t felt hounded. I feel safe. It is just that everybody recognises me and I have no peace. I don’t want to be the focus of media attention any more,’’ he offers as an explanation.

He doesn’t know why 150 reporters have been called to attend his news conference when he wants to “escape” all this attention.

“This is to announce that he is leaving for Calcutta and that he wants to be away from the media glare,’’ an organiser tried to explain.

Teesta Setalvad of the NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, which brought Best Bakery victim Zahira Sheikh to address a news conference in Mumbai a few weeks ago, said Salim read an article on Ansari that appeared in the magazine Communalism Combat and extended the rehabilitation offer.

“We have nothing to do with it,’’ she added. They, too, had no explanation why Ansari was being paraded.

In Calcutta, Salim said he had decided to rehabilitate Ansari socially and economically. “He now just requires a peaceful life. By profession he is a tailor and we will help him settle here peacefully,” he added.

“He is not in a position to live peacefully elsewhere in the country. We will just provide him a shelter and help him earn his daily bread. We have no other intention,” Salim said.

He is not ready to divulge when Ansari is reaching Calcutta and where he will live.

Ansari said there are other families that have lost everything in the riots — fortunately, he was not harmed himself — who need to be helped more.

Although he does not fully comprehend why he has been chosen to get a “new life in Bengal”, he realises that a lot of people have offered to help him in the past and, after having made their point by parading him as a symbol of communal violence, discarded him with little ceremony.

“Everybody has used me,” he said. Ansari “only hopes” his experience in Bengal will be different.

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