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Leave me alone, says Ansari

By Kalpana Sharma

Qutubuddin Ansari talking to the press in Mumbai on Thursday. — AFP

MUMBAI AUG. 7. The photograph of a terrified and tearful man, pleading with police to save him from a mob, became the defining image of the Gujarat carnage of last year. But today, the man behind the face, the 29-year-old Qutubuddin Ansari, pleads with the media to "let me live as an ordinary man".

Mr. Ansari's experiences since the end of the violence in Gujarat last year were published in the April 2003 issue of Communalism Combat. This prompted responses of help from several individuals and from the West Bengal Government, which has offered him a home, work and schooling for his children. The editors of the journal conveyed this offer to Mr. Ansari. After consultations with his larger family, Mr. Ansari said he had decided to accept the offer "for the sake of the future" of his children — a seven-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old son.

Mr. Ansari's photograph, which was flashed across newspapers and television channels in India and around the world last March, has come back to haunt him even after the violence died down in Gujarat. He said that a couple of months after the violence, he moved to Malegaon in Maharashtra where his elder sister lives. Initially, he was welcomed by the community and found work as a tailor in a company. But within a fortnight, his photograph appeared in a Marathi paper. His worried employer requested Mr. Ansari to leave the job as he was afraid of unnecessary media attention.

Back in Ahmedabad, Mr. Ansari said that he had a difficult time conducting his daily life. People recognised him wherever he went. His daughter heard taunts from people who said they had seen her father crying and begging. Even if he went to the cinema, a slide with his face appeared as part of an advertisement and people turned around and pointed to him.

"I don't know whether people are looking at me with sympathy or with something else in their minds," he said. Recalling the days in early March, when his locality was set on fire, he said, "Such a thing should never happen in India again. Gujarat was a like a `guldasta' (bouquet) but within two days they turned it black into ashes. I want to forget this, that's why I am leaving Gujarat."

The uninvited attention, he said, has also affected his earnings. Earlier, he would go into the market and find work or sell his tailored clothes. Now he is afraid to go and sells only within his own `mohalla'. "Ahmedabad is normal today," he said. "But not for me. You tell me when it will be normal for me, and I will go back."

Although Mr. Ansari had accepted the West Bengal Government's offer to rehabilitate him, he said in the long run he would like to be in Gujarat.

"It is my `desh', I was born there, and God willing, I will be able to go back there to celebrate Id with my family and friends later this year," he said.

Asked whether there was a danger that he would become a pawn in a political game, he acknowledged that sometimes he suspected that this was happening.

"But I will not allow myself to be used," he said. "I want to stay away from politics. I am going to Kolkata on condition that I can live as an ordinary man."

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