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Gujarat Dalit uprising "turns" 2002 communal riots face in Ahmedabad into a symbol of Dalit-Muslim unity

By Our Representative
Considered a “face” of the Gujarat riots and a “brand ambassador” of Hindu Rashtra, the recent Dalit uprising in Gujarat has made Ashok Mochi aka Parmar a symbol of Dalit-Muslim unity. Highlighting this, a top news site points to how he seen participating in Gujarat riots in 2002.
On the fateful day when the riots began, February 28, 2002, Mochi wore “a saffron band around his forehead, with an iron rod in one hand, arms outstretched, fists clenched, mouth open, letting out a war cry as fires raged behind him”, says the site, adding, however, this man has now “turned over a new leaf and joined the Dalit Asmita Yatra that began in Ahmedabad on August 5.”
“A cobbler by profession, Parmar sits on the footpath of a busy road between Shahpur Darwaza and Delhi Darwaza in old Ahmedabad with his makeshift establishment of a few boxes that contain boot-polish, buckles, pins, thread, big and small needles, worn-out shoe brushes and other equipment to mend footwear”, the site says.
Pointing out that the footpath has been serving as the homeless man's “permanent address” in the city for the past two decades, “Ashok, along with his friends, many of whom are Muslims, joined the 10-day yatra in Savarkundla before it ended on August 15 in Una where seven Dalits were flogged for skinning a dead cow.”
Mochi, 40, has been quoted as saying, “Dalit-Muslim unity is the need of the hour. Both communities are oppressed and poor. 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.”
Labelled as a Bajrang Dal member who became the face of saffron terror and genocide, Mochi insists, he is “neither”, adding, his becoming one of the rioters on the street was just a “coincidence”.
Ashok Mochi with Qutubuddin Ansari: Two faces of Gujarat riots
Recalling the 2002 riots, Mochi says, on the day the riots broke out, February 28, 2002, “there was a bandh that had affected thousands of daily wage workers”, and he lost his “daily business and could not get any food”.
“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”, Mochi explains.
“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 explains.
“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 says.
The site, however, quotes the photographer D’Souza as strongly contesting Mochi’s claim: “I saw Mochi climb up on a signboard and spread his hands. It seemed as if he was saying, ‘I am the king.’ He looked threatening. I saw and shot him in the middle of taking many other pictures. That’s it. I do not remember seeing whether he actually burnt something or beat someone up”.
Mochi has a debt of over Rs 10,000 fighting court cases. He does not get “any support” from his family or the community in his village, Mochi says, adding. he earn a modest sum of Rs 200 a day.

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