Faces of 2002 Riots Set Example of Communal Harmony

Photos of Qutubuddin Ansari and Ashok Parmar from the 2002 riots grabbed India’s collective imagination.

2 min read
Faces of 2002 Riots Set Example of Communal Harmony

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam

“You have started a new venture. Don’t be lethargic and work hard. Allah will provide for you,” said a beaming Qutubuddin Ansari, as he talked to his friend Ashok Parmar on phone from his residence in Rakhiyal area of Ahmedabad.

He shares the excitement of Parmar opening a shoe store – ‘Ekta Chappal Ghar’ – in Dilli Darwaza area, around 10 km from Rakhiyal.

Their names – Qutubuddin Ansari and Ashok Parmar – don’t always ring a bell, but their faces certainly do. They each became the faces of opposites sides of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Parmar’s photo, where he’s seen wearing a saffron headband while flashing a sword, became the face of the Hindu rioters. Ansari’s photo, seen pleading for his life in the face of rioters, became the face of the violence’s victims.

Now, 17 years later, the two are close, if unlikely, friends. Last week, they came together to inaugurate Parmar’s shoe store.

How the Viral Photos Changed Them

For Parmar, his photograph resulted in jail time and court proceedings.

“Before the riots, I was a BJP supporter. I used to help with campaigning during elections. But, during the riots, the BJP and the VHP inflicted terrible atrocities on the Muslim community in the city, especially in Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society – and that changed me,” Parmar told The Quint.

“From 2002 to 2012, my life was miserable. The court proceedings went on for a long time. The troubles didn’t seem to end.”
Ashok Parmar

For Ansari, the reactions were completely different.

“If I had died that day, I wonder if my picture would have had the same impact it has today. When people recognise me, they come and talk to me and ask about my health and well-being,” he told The Quint.

How They Met

Parmar and Ansari met first in 2012 during a programme organised by Kerala CPI (M) in 2012.

“When Ashok met me, he immediately apologised to me. He felt terrible about the riots. He was full of guilt and remorse and said that such things should never happen in a country like ours,” Ansari said.

“After our first meeting, we kept in touch and met each other often. He would drop in at the streets were I worked as a cobbler, sit with me have some tea and ask about my life. I would visit his home in Rakhiyal and meet his family during festivals,” Parmar said.

The two believe that their friendship is the real essence of a nation like India.

“There are many political parties and religious organisations that want to divide people in the name of religion, but we, Qutubuddin and I, have come together despite their poison,” Parmar said.

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