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Photo Turns India Muslim Life into Mess

Published: 27/02/2012 05:20:07 PM GMT
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GUJARAT - A photo of a Muslim man calling for help from a narro (more)

GUJARAT - A photo of a Muslim man calling for help from a narrow veranda and wearing a light checked shirt stained with dried blood has become the face of Muslim victims of the Hindu attacks in the Western Indian state of Gujarat that shocked the world a decade ago.

"We were trapped on the first floor for over a day, and we couldn't go down because fire was raging below,” a tailor named Qutubuddin Ansari who appeared in the photo told the BBC on Monday, February 27.

"And when I saw the military van pass by, I thought, 'This is our last chance'. I began shouting Sahib! Sahib! to the soldiers and folded my hands, and when I did that they looked back and returned."The photo, taken by Reuters' photographer Arko Datta, recalled bitter images of killing and burning Muslims in deadly riots in Gujarat in 2002.

In the picture, Ansari, then 28 years old, is standing on a narrow veranda while wearing a light checked shirt stained with dried blood.

Reflecting fear and helplessness, his eyes were glazed with fear while his hands were folded in an expression of obeisance, hiding a mouth agape.

"An Indian Muslim stranded in the first floor of his house, along with a few other Muslims and surrounded by a Hindu mob begs to the Rapid Action Force (Indian paramilitary) personnel to rescue him at Sone-ki-Chal in Ahmedabad, March 01, 2002," said the caption.

The riots, which saw at least 2,000 Muslims hacked or burned to death, erupted after 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire first blamed on Muslims but which a later inquiry concluded was accidental.

Several investigations at the state and federal levels accused police of failing to protect Muslims under orders from Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his aides, fanning one of the worst instances of sectarian violence in India.

Arko, the photographer, still remembers the horrible scene when mobs armed with swords and stones from Hindu neighborhoods across the highway crossed over, attacking and setting fire to Muslim shops and homes on the other side.

He then spotted Ansari for the first time who was calling for help from the security forces."It was darkness at noon. There was frenzy all around. The city had gone mad," Arko said.

"Looking through the fog of smoke, we spotted the group of people trapped on the balcony of a burning house. We told the soldiers that we were not moving until they rescued them.”

Life in Mess Making its way to the front pages of newspapers, Ansari's photo followed him everywhere, sending his life into a mess.

"Then my life went into a tailspin,” Ansari told the BBC.

“The picture followed me wherever I went. It haunted me, and drove me out of my job, and my state," he said.The Muslim man ran away to Malegaon in neighboring Maharashtra to live with his sisters and had been working there for a fortnight when a co-worker walked into the shop with a newspaper carrying his picture.

His boss didn't want any trouble and fired him immediately.

Next year, he left for Calcutta, but returned after a few months when he heard that his mother had a heart problem.

Over the following years, he lost half-a-dozen jobs as people recognized him and journalists hounded him relentlessly.

The Gujarat carnage, the worst religious violence India had seen in years, continues to cast it pale on Muslim-Hindu relations in the troubled state.

Despite his suffering, Ansari holds no bad feelings for Arko whose photo caused him so many troubles.

“Your picture showed the world what was happening here. What happened to me eventually was kismet, destiny," Ansari told Arko.

"And as things stand, my life is on the mend. I have a beautiful family, I have work, I have my own little home."

Marking a decade after the attack, hundreds of survivors plead for justice for the riot victims.

The victims at places such as Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam, Sardarpura and Ode also gathered at the Gulberg society where verses from the holy Qur'an were read.

Some hung prayers and wishes, written on little pieces of cloth on the branches of a tree named 'Tree of Hope'.  

"It is an unforgettable memory of my life," an emotional Zakia, who now lives with her son in Surat, told India Today.

Reproduced with permission from