Ashok Mochi Interview

Ashok Mochi: Another Victim of the Riots –  Interviewed by Sayeed Rumi Mundabra, translated by Aardra Surendran 

Mochi and Qutubuddin Ansari, the two familiar faces of Gujarat riot 2002
recently shared stage in a function organized by left cultural organizations at
Kannur, Kerala

Remember Ashok
Mochi? While the image of Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for help spread all over
the world as the face of the victims during the Gujarat riots, we knew Ashok
Mochi’s image as representing the rioters. Ashok Mochi- with a spear in his
hand and a saffron headband. A demonic image that Indian secularism witnessed
with disgust and horror. It told the world who and what the riot was.

Today however,
Mochi is not the same face of terror. Time has changed him. Now he has no sword
in his hand, the fury of hatred does not flicker in his eyes. A friend and Urdu
writer Kaleem Siddiqui mentioned that Ashok Mochi lives in Ahmedabad’s Dilli
Darwaza. The aim of the trip was to get a sneak-peek at the face of  the ‘saffron terrorist’ who sent shivers down
the secular world’s spine. But the image of an ordinary shoemaker, head bent in
concentration at work, had replaced that of the old terrorist. When we started
talking I realised that Ashok Mochi is also a victim. Another victim of saffron
terror. His life announces how Dalits were tricked into turning anti-Muslim and
used as fuel for the riots by the Saffron brigade.

Dalit gallies
and Muslim gallies are often adjacent to each other here. Dalit and Muslim
mohallas move together. In other words, there exists an unspoken ban on the
cohabitation of Dalits with mainstream cast Hindus. Another reality in Modi’s
Hindutva heaven is that Dalit lives that exist on the on the margins of that of
savarna Hindus have to wait till eight in the night to get water from a public
well. Dalits and Muslims who have the same conditions of existence and
standards of life had always lived together, and continue to do so.

The first thing
that the saffron mind did while laying the ground for saffronisation in Gujarat
was to plant the seeds of communalism in Dalit mohallas. Dalits who were
unconcerned about their caste or religion or god were led to believe in a false
sense of identity and told that the Muslims living in the gallies next door are
the root of all their problems. A story of small-time Muslim traders eating
into their share of amenities and money was conveniently woven. Pamphlets that
were circulated in these areas before the riots are examples. They listed the
profit made by Muslim enterprises. This slowly created a change in Dalit minds,
as the Naroda Patiya riot testifies. The Muslims in Naroda were generally
inconspicous in terms of their identity. The Dalits in the area were
bootleggers in a Gujarat of prohibition. Saffron terror definitely scored in
being able to generate genocide and brutal rape between two communities that
had the same lifestyles and lived next to each other for years. This should be
read alongside the fact that the riot had no major impact in areas where savarna
Hindus and rich Muslims resided.

Ashok Mochi’s
story is one of such cerebral atrophy. ‘On 27 Feb 2002, a random Bajrang Dal
leader pointed to a  Karsevak’s charred
body and asked what we were waiting for’. To quote Mochi:

What happened
on that day? (Mochi started speaking with his head bent with diffidence)

I was sitting at
my workplace that evening when some people told me that Muslims burned 56
Hindus alive in Godhra. They had pictures of their charred bodies. By about
five in the evening there was a crowd in the streets. I joined the groups of
people that were shouting and destroying Muslim shops and houses. The bajrang
Dal leaders planned to destroy Muslim houses adjacent to our area, where we
lower caste Hindus lived. Even I caught hold of a weapon to avenge my Hindu
brothers’ lives. There were several mediapersons at the entrance of the Muslim
galli. Chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and abuses rose with the frequency of camera
flashes. The mood was exhilarating with cries and abuses like “Jai Ranchhor”,
“Mia Chor”, “Mia ki Ma ki”. My shouting caught the
attention of a photographer, who saw me with a saffron headband and a spear and
started clicking. I shouted louder. (I later learned that the photographer was
Sebastian D’Souza of the India Today).

Did you kill
anybody in the riots?

No. I beat up a
lot of people. Destroyed houses and shops.

Were you a
member of Bajrang Dal earlier?

No. I was never
a member of any party. I was an ordinary man who was busy with his livelihood.
I am flanked by two Muslim vendors on the footpath I sit- Gulam Bhai and Rameez
Bhai. That was how it was before the riots, that is how it is now. (He
introduced the two of them to me. They soon brought us tea.)

photograph was seen all over the world. Naturally the Muslims around you must
have reacted in some manner?

They have never
behaved with any animosity. No Muslim even came to testify against me in court.
Gulam Bhai and Rameez bhai continue to be close friends.

If so, what
made you want to do all that then?

How could I have
done nothing? Jihadi muslims burned my Hindu brothers alive. In India the
minority cannot sleep in peace after attacking the majority.

But do you
know how many were killed in reaction to the killing of 56 Hindus by some
Jihadi Muslims? Have you heard how many women were raped?

Nobody has told
me about any of that. I don’t know about anybody’s death, I only know that a
few shops and houses were destroyed. (The news of thousands being killed and
tens of thousands fleeing for their lives had not reached this Dalit youth. The
only news that reaches the area seems specially requisitioned).

You became a
symbol of Hindutva. Did you get any help from the Government or Bajrang Dal?

I have not got
any help from anybody so far. I handled the riot case on my own. There was a
case against me among several others who could be identified as rioters. But
not a single Muslim from this basti was ready to testify against me, so the
case did not hold. (When I asked the trader Gulam Bhai about why nobody
testified, he asked me why he would testify against a cobbler who is struggling
to make ends meet. He is also a victim. A spintop that someone else twirled)
And I have never gone asking for help in any case.

Have you ever
seen Narendra Modi? What do you have to say about Modi’s ‘development’?

development? Dilli Darwaza was always like this. Nothing much has changed
here.( Mochi’s world is Dilli Darwaza). I have never seen Modi. I don’t like

Why is that

I am  a Dalit. I am not happy with the Modi
government’s approach to Dalits. Dalits are unable to reach anywhere after this
Sarkar turned all the government jobs into contract jobs. We have also slowly
realised how we were tricked. My mohalla had only Hanuman temples and Bajrang
Dal hoardings in 2002. We now have Babasaheb Ambedkar’s hoardings. We have
realised that we too were victims like the Muslims.

Do you know
Qutubuddin Ansari, another symbol of the riots like you? Have you seen him?

We have met. We
were interviewed together when Rakesh Sharma shot a film. I had apologised to
Qutub Bhai for what had happened to him. The film will be released before the
next Lok Sabha Elections. (It is probably poetic justice that Ashok Mochi is
now becomes a part of the 2014 anti-Modi campaign, and the chargesheet for Modi
is being prepared from the very world of media, of which he has become a
darling with his campaign bandwagon). When I asked him about the image of Kali
on his wall he said that ‘Kali is the goddess of all of us, dark people’.

That dalits have
switched over from Hanuman’s (Bajrang) savarna politics to Kali’s avarna
selfhood is a reflection of Modi’s own switch from political Hindutva to
corporate Moditva. Mochi holds that he stayed unmarried because he could not
afford the expenses in Modi’s development heaven. He accompanied us to the
galli in which Sebastian D’Souza had clicked his photograph. He no longer
sports a beard that he then had. When asked he said that it is part of the
change. The galli is now known as Babasaheb Charrasta (Ambedkar Junction). When
Mochi posed calmly for a picture at the same spot where twelve years back he
had hollered, I found myself thinking- here is another Qutubuddin Ansari.

We stepped into
a shop for a tea before we said goodbye. When I proceeded to pay, Mochi stopped
me – “You are my guest!”

1 thought on “Ashok Mochi Interview”

  1. Interesting. A guy everyone knows to be a rioteer is a eulogised. And a guy who has been proved innocent of any crimes in any court approached is a villain. That Mochi did not get any support from BJP or the Modi govt. is a proof of Modi's govt. did not try to subvert justice.

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