Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ashok Mochi Interview

Ashok Mochi: Another Victim of the Riots -  Interviewed by Sayeed Rumi Mundabra, translated by Aardra Surendran 

(Ashok Mochi and Qutubuddin Ansari, the two familiar faces of Gujarat riot 2002 recently shared stage in a function organized by left cultural organizations at Kannur, Kerala)

Remember Ashok Mochi? While the image of Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for help spread all over the world as the face of the victims during the Gujarat riots, we knew Ashok Mochi's image as representing the rioters. Ashok Mochi- with a spear in his hand and a saffron headband. A demonic image that Indian secularism witnessed with disgust and horror. It told the world who and what the riot was.

Today however, Mochi is not the same face of terror. Time has changed him. Now he has no sword in his hand, the fury of hatred does not flicker in his eyes. A friend and Urdu writer Kaleem Siddiqui mentioned that Ashok Mochi lives in Ahmedabad's Dilli Darwaza. The aim of the trip was to get a sneak-peek at the face of  the 'saffron terrorist' who sent shivers down the secular world's spine. But the image of an ordinary shoemaker, head bent in concentration at work, had replaced that of the old terrorist. When we started talking I realised that Ashok Mochi is also a victim. Another victim of saffron terror. His life announces how Dalits were tricked into turning anti-Muslim and used as fuel for the riots by the Saffron brigade.

Dalit gallies and Muslim gallies are often adjacent to each other here. Dalit and Muslim mohallas move together. In other words, there exists an unspoken ban on the cohabitation of Dalits with mainstream cast Hindus. Another reality in Modi's Hindutva heaven is that Dalit lives that exist on the on the margins of that of savarna Hindus have to wait till eight in the night to get water from a public well. Dalits and Muslims who have the same conditions of existence and standards of life had always lived together, and continue to do so.

The first thing that the saffron mind did while laying the ground for saffronisation in Gujarat was to plant the seeds of communalism in Dalit mohallas. Dalits who were unconcerned about their caste or religion or god were led to believe in a false sense of identity and told that the Muslims living in the gallies next door are the root of all their problems. A story of small-time Muslim traders eating into their share of amenities and money was conveniently woven. Pamphlets that were circulated in these areas before the riots are examples. They listed the profit made by Muslim enterprises. This slowly created a change in Dalit minds, as the Naroda Patiya riot testifies. The Muslims in Naroda were generally inconspicous in terms of their identity. The Dalits in the area were bootleggers in a Gujarat of prohibition. Saffron terror definitely scored in being able to generate genocide and brutal rape between two communities that had the same lifestyles and lived next to each other for years. This should be read alongside the fact that the riot had no major impact in areas where savarna Hindus and rich Muslims resided.

Ashok Mochi's story is one of such cerebral atrophy. 'On 27 Feb 2002, a random Bajrang Dal leader pointed to a  Karsevak's charred body and asked what we were waiting for'. To quote Mochi:

What happened on that day? (Mochi started speaking with his head bent with diffidence)

I was sitting at my workplace that evening when some people told me that Muslims burned 56 Hindus alive in Godhra. They had pictures of their charred bodies. By about five in the evening there was a crowd in the streets. I joined the groups of people that were shouting and destroying Muslim shops and houses. The bajrang Dal leaders planned to destroy Muslim houses adjacent to our area, where we lower caste Hindus lived. Even I caught hold of a weapon to avenge my Hindu brothers' lives. There were several mediapersons at the entrance of the Muslim galli. Chants of 'Jai Shri Ram' and abuses rose with the frequency of camera flashes. The mood was exhilarating with cries and abuses like "Jai Ranchhor", "Mia Chor", "Mia ki Ma ki". My shouting caught the attention of a photographer, who saw me with a saffron headband and a spear and started clicking. I shouted louder. (I later learned that the photographer was Sebastian D'Souza of the India Today).

Did you kill anybody in the riots?

No. I beat up a lot of people. Destroyed houses and shops.

Were you a member of Bajrang Dal earlier?

No. I was never a member of any party. I was an ordinary man who was busy with his livelihood. I am flanked by two Muslim vendors on the footpath I sit- Gulam Bhai and Rameez Bhai. That was how it was before the riots, that is how it is now. (He introduced the two of them to me. They soon brought us tea.)

Your photograph was seen all over the world. Naturally the Muslims around you must have reacted in some manner?

They have never behaved with any animosity. No Muslim even came to testify against me in court. Gulam Bhai and Rameez bhai continue to be close friends.

If so, what made you want to do all that then?

How could I have done nothing? Jihadi muslims burned my Hindu brothers alive. In India the minority cannot sleep in peace after attacking the majority.

But do you know how many were killed in reaction to the killing of 56 Hindus by some Jihadi Muslims? Have you heard how many women were raped?

Nobody has told me about any of that. I don't know about anybody's death, I only know that a few shops and houses were destroyed. (The news of thousands being killed and tens of thousands fleeing for their lives had not reached this Dalit youth. The only news that reaches the area seems specially requisitioned).

You became a symbol of Hindutva. Did you get any help from the Government or Bajrang Dal?

I have not got any help from anybody so far. I handled the riot case on my own. There was a case against me among several others who could be identified as rioters. But not a single Muslim from this basti was ready to testify against me, so the case did not hold. (When I asked the trader Gulam Bhai about why nobody testified, he asked me why he would testify against a cobbler who is struggling to make ends meet. He is also a victim. A spintop that someone else twirled) And I have never gone asking for help in any case.

Have you ever seen Narendra Modi? What do you have to say about Modi's 'development'?

What development? Dilli Darwaza was always like this. Nothing much has changed here.( Mochi's world is Dilli Darwaza). I have never seen Modi. I don't like him.

Why is that so?

I am  a Dalit. I am not happy with the Modi government's approach to Dalits. Dalits are unable to reach anywhere after this Sarkar turned all the government jobs into contract jobs. We have also slowly realised how we were tricked. My mohalla had only Hanuman temples and Bajrang Dal hoardings in 2002. We now have Babasaheb Ambedkar's hoardings. We have realised that we too were victims like the Muslims.

Do you know Qutubuddin Ansari, another symbol of the riots like you? Have you seen him?

We have met. We were interviewed together when Rakesh Sharma shot a film. I had apologised to Qutub Bhai for what had happened to him. The film will be released before the next Lok Sabha Elections. (It is probably poetic justice that Ashok Mochi is now becomes a part of the 2014 anti-Modi campaign, and the chargesheet for Modi is being prepared from the very world of media, of which he has become a darling with his campaign bandwagon). When I asked him about the image of Kali on his wall he said that 'Kali is the goddess of all of us, dark people'.

That dalits have switched over from Hanuman's (Bajrang) savarna politics to Kali's avarna selfhood is a reflection of Modi's own switch from political Hindutva to corporate Moditva. Mochi holds that he stayed unmarried because he could not afford the expenses in Modi's development heaven. He accompanied us to the galli in which Sebastian D'Souza had clicked his photograph. He no longer sports a beard that he then had. When asked he said that it is part of the change. The galli is now known as Babasaheb Charrasta (Ambedkar Junction). When Mochi posed calmly for a picture at the same spot where twelve years back he had hollered, I found myself thinking- here is another Qutubuddin Ansari.

We stepped into a shop for a tea before we said goodbye. When I proceeded to pay, Mochi stopped me - "You are my guest!"

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. A guy everyone knows to be a rioteer is a eulogised. And a guy who has been proved innocent of any crimes in any court approached is a villain. That Mochi did not get any support from BJP or the Modi govt. is a proof of Modi's govt. did not try to subvert justice.


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