by Saeed Khan
Ekta or unity is the only way forward
In 2002, their faces had defined the emotional extremities of the Gujarat riots. Ashok Parmar had a rod in his hand and rage on his face. Qutubuddin Ansari, his bloodshot eyes welling up, had his hands folded in a prayer for mercy.
On Friday, Parmar’s footwear shop here called “Ekta Chappal Ghar” was inaugurated by Ansari, sealing a gradual friendship that started in 2014 when they were brought together on the dais of a communal harmony programme for the first time.
Seventeen years earlier, Parmar, now 45, had been captured on camera in Ahmedabad with a saffron band around his head and brandishing an iron rod. Burning tyres formed the backdrop to the raw aggression in his eyes, turning him into the face of the riots. Ansari’s cry, frozen in images, typified the vulnerability and fear of those at the receiving end.
Both faces were beaming at Parmar’s shop in the bustling Delhi Darwaja area on Friday. It had been a long journey for the two of them before culminating in the catharsis of that moment.
Parmar used to be a cobbler. He had lost his parents when he was in Class 10 and had to drop out of school to continue his father’s roadside business. He remains unmarried and lives in a nearby school that has been his night shelter for a few years.
Parmar’s life changed when Kaleem Siddiqui, a Leftist from Kerala, took him to his state in 2014 to campaign for CPM ahead of general elections.
P Jayarajan, a CPM leader, started assisting him financially and even offered him a job there, which he refused. “I decided not to go to Kerala as language was a big hurdle,” Parmar said.
Parmar was aware of the struggles faced by Ansari who, supported by Bengal CPM leader Mohammed Salim, had shifted to Kolkata with his family by then. But unable to adjust, Ansari chose to return to Ahmedabad after some years.
He now runs a successful tailoring business and has a wife and children. Parmar has struck a rapport with Ansari over the years and had been invited to release the latter’s biography in Malayalam, “Me Qutubuddin Ansari”, in Kerala.
“I am happy that a new chapter has started in Ashok bhai’s life,” Ansari said on Friday. The duo, who weren’t named in any case pertaining to the 2002 riots as a perpetrator or victim, are overwhelmed by the compassion shown to them. Both believe that horrors like 2002 are best forgotten.
“Ekta or unity is the only way forward,” Parmar said.
Article first published on Times of India.