Plight of Ashok Mocchi

Snakar Ray

If any netizen who hates communal disturbances browses for photographs of Gujarat riot 2002, he or she will be fuming in anger in looking at the 'rioter' on the left side with a saffron piece of cloth, wrapped around his head and a stick in hand during the fascistic communal riot in Gujarat in 2002. In contrast cries Qutbuddin Ansari for his life, kneeling down before killers during the Gujarat carnage. The present Prime Minister of India was then the chief minister of the state of Gujarat. But the tragic reality is that rioter—Ashok Kumar Bhagwan Bhai Parmer—was not at all involved in the riot. He was persuaded by the AFP photojournalist Sebastian D'Souza to pose for him as a criminal with a saffron robe. The lensman became famous for the snapshot. Immediately thereafter, he joined the Mumbai Mirror. The same D'Souza risked his life to spot the terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Kasab on 26 November 2008 and clicked his shutter. But for this rare act, Kasab would never be executed . Islamic terrorists were naturally after D'Souza's blood thereafter.

D'Souza's concocted presentation as an armed Hindu terrorist destabilized Parmer's livelihood. Earlier, a roadside cobbler, Parmer used to live from hand to mouth by repairing and polishing shoes at Shahpur Road shop for the last 20 years. Now he lives in a chawl and can't afford to buy a mobile phone-set. Unfortunately, the lensman is neither ashamed of his tendentious sensationalism nor concerned about the penumbra of economic uncertainty that engulfed Parmer. In an exclusive interview to a New Delhi-based journalist Ashis Kumar Anshu for the Delhi-based bilingual (English-Hindi) monthly Forward, he stated categorically that he had "never been associated with the Bajrang Dal or the BJP". "Nor do I have relatives or friends who are in the Bajrang Dal or the BJP... During the riots, when I realized the rioters wouldn't spare my Muslim neighbours, I helped them—some five families—escape to their relatives' homes where they would be safer" he added. He met the poor cobbler at a book release function organized by the CPM in Tiruchirappalli in the state of Tamil Nadu in March this year.

This irresponsible photo-journalism had thrown Parmar, popularly known as Ashok Mocchi in Ahmedabad into a vortex of an agonizing uncertainty. He continues to be looked down upon by the secular activists while cast into greater destitution by the communalists. Anshu rightly snapped fingers at journalists for ignoring the hapless subaltern " The journalists should be asked whether Ashok had admitted to any crime during the riots. Has he accepted that he was involved in arson and murders? If not, then what is he apologizing for? Does he represent the communal Hindus of Gujarat? Does he occupy any important position in the Gujarat government?"

The plight of Ashok Mocchi beggars description. Alongside his hazardous means of livelihood after February 2002, an additional fuel to fire is a filial dispute with his brother over property. He declined to settle the matter through a legal battle and instead, left his filial house, began living in a chawl. "In 2002, the year of the riots, he used to sleep on the pavement, a few metres away from his small shop, and had his meals at a nearby hotel. He had fallen in love once in his life. It didn't work out and there-after the idea of marriage did not occur to him. One reason for not marrying was also his economic condition. 'If I would bring a girl to my home, she would come with her dreams. I don't have the capacity to fulfil her dreams. So, why get married and make somebody's life hell?' —the Forward story narrates.

Inquiries reveal that Parmer has a camaraderie with Muslims in the mixed neighbourhoods near Shahpur Road—"Even today, they are his customers", despite the slander, strewn by the media, portraying him as a professional killer under the ultra-right Hindu chauvinist Bajrang Dal, at home in triggering communal riots.. In fact, a couple of months after the riot, a group of unknown masked men who took Parmer as an armed Bajrangi storm trooper and made a murderous assault on him. Even then he did not file an FIR : "The assailants perhaps thought that I had slain many Muslims in the riots. I know that when they come to know of the truth, they will repent for what they did", Parmar recalled.

The trouble-torn shoe-polishwalla is friendly with Qutbuddin who was threatened by the goons of Bharatiya Janata Party, now the ruling party in India and Bajrangi rioters He became a familiar face after his photograph crying in trauma was carried by newspapers and magazines the world over. He was taken to West Bengal by the CPI(M) during the Left Front regime, with the assurance of economic rehabilitation as a tailor. But he was used for political propaganda and he had to go back to Gujarat.

Journalists in general do not endorse the dog-eat-dog attitude and so none showed the courage to criticize D'Souza even in camera. Otherwise, the photographer had to take on a criminal lawsuit. Irresponsible journalism is worse than yellow journalism. Both are essentially fraudulent.

Vol. 47, No.8, Aug 31 - Sep 6, 2014