NEW DELHI — As the worst communal riots in recent memory scorched through northeast Delhi in February, the Al Hind hospital emerged as an unlikely oasis for the injured. The modest two-storey hospital and clinic gained national attention when the Delhi High Court issued an extraordinary order in the dead of night directing the Delhi Police to provide safety passage for ambulances ferrying patients from Al Hind to city hospitals.
Now the Delhi police are saying that Muhammad Ehtesham Anwar, the 40-year-old doctor who spoke with Justice S Muralidhar that fateful night, organised protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) starting from 15 February and instigating violence on the night of 23 February. Anwar has also been named in the police’s final report into the death of 20-year-old waiter Dilbar Negi.
This weekend at Al Hind, the only reminder of the carnage four months ago were lengths of rope still strung across the large hall on the hospital’s first floor. At the peak of the mob’s fury, the rope was used to strung up saline drips for hundreds of injured men and women sprawled across the floor.
“This floor was filled with people screaming for help. We were looking at blood and bones everywhere. There were two dead bodies over there,” Anwar recalled. “We never even asked the names of the people who came in. I have a staff of very few people. We were working like machines.”
Anwar said he was “shocked” and “devastated” to learn that the police was saying that he had incited violence.
“If one does something for people, for the community, for the country, then will that person be targeted?” Anwar said. “Was it a crime to try and save the lives of those who were suffering? Is this campaign to malign me and scare anyone else who brings attention to government failure?”
The Indian Express, which first reported on the chargesheet that was filed in the Karkardooma district court on 4 June, cited the Delhi Police as claiming that Anwar could not be interrogated and he would be questioned later and investigated.
Anwar told HuffPost India that the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police had interrogated him several times over the summer. He also said that he had left Delhi to attend the final rites of a deceased relative in his home state of Bihar on 19 February and only returned on the morning of 24 February when the violence was underway.
The police’s decision to name Anwar in their chargesheet has only revived concerns that the Union Home Ministry, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah, is using the investigation into the Delhi riots to target the Muslim community and those critical of the Modi government and obscure the role of senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, and uniformed policemen, in inciting the violence.
In the course of their investigation, the Delhi Police have arrested several students and activists who protested against the controversial citizenship Act or CAA. The police have also included the names of prominent faces that campaigned against Narendra Modi including Yogendra Yadav, Harsh Mander, and even D.S. Bindra, an advocate who put up a langar, or community kitchen, at the Shaheen Bagh protest site.
The Delhi Police has maintained it is conducting an “impartial” investigation, and all arrests are based on “scientific and forensic evidence including video footages, technical and other footprints.”
Anwar believes the Delhi Police is dragging his name into its investigation because he embarrassed them by getting Justice Murlidhar to intervene and order a safe passage for ambulances to reach his clinic.
“I got a lot of media attention at the time. Many government failures came to light because what happened and it really showed the police in a bad light,” he said. “Now, I’m scared of media attention.”
Was it a crime to try and save the lives of those who were suffering?
On 15 May, in a four-page complaint addressed to the Delhi Police, Anwar accused the Delhi Police of doing little to help ferry the grievously injured from his clinic to better equipped hospitals like the Guru Tej Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, eight kilometres from his clinic, and then berating him for finding a way to help the mostly Muslim patients who came looking for medical attention.
The May 15 complaint also mentions an incident where the Delhi Police attempted to bury the body of a riot-victim without conducting a post-mortem.
Anwar also alleged that he was harassed and threatened by the policemen who interrogated him in the aftermath of the riots.
The police, he wrote in the complaint, asked him: “Who gave funds for the protest? Who made the biryani to eat? Who made the tea to drink?”
HuffPost India reached out to Delhi Police spokesperson Mandeep Singh Randhawa on Monday regarding the complaint and will update this report if he responds.
Mehmood Pracha, Anwar’s lawyer, said that his client’s complaint contained cognizable offences ― serious crimes that allow for arrest without a court warrant ― that mandated the registering of an FIR (First Information Report), but the police had neither registered the complaint nor the FIR.
“They are writing random things about innocent people who believe they should be punished,” he said of the chargesheet in which Anwar’s name appears.
Anwar, the oldest of four brothers, hails from Champaran, Bihar, and studied medicine at the Subharti Medical College in Meerut. Of the four brothers, two are doctors, one is studying to be a doctor, and the fourth is in the pharmaceutical business.
Anwar, who lives with his wife and two children in Delhi, started the clinic in Mustafabad in 2017.
His clinic, squashed between a jewellery store and a tailor shop, and located at the heart of a densely populated neighbourhood, received an overwhelming number of Muslim patients during the riots.
Ahmed said that he would never dream asking his patients about their faith.
“I’m a doctor,” he said. “I could never ask if you are Hindu or Muslim.”
I’m a doctor. I could never ask if you are Hindu or Muslim.
Even as the deluge of patients became a trickle in the weeks that followed the rioting, Anwar knew memories of the riot would haunt him for the rest of his life.
In a conversation with HuffPost India, Anwar spoke little of his own heroics or the suffering endured by the victims of the violence, but he spoke at length about what he called the “system failure” as Delhi was burning.
Anwar was faced with the daunting task of transporting the gravely injured from his small clinic to the larger GTB Hospital, but most of the 102 and 112 calls he made for an ambulance and the police control room went unanswered. At almost every turn, Anwar said he was faced with openly hostile policemen who refused to help, as well as other doctors and ambulance drivers who also said there was little they could do amidst the violence.
“I was not thinking about being a hero, but I found myself in an unimaginable situation of killing and bloodshed. I did whatever I could do to treat people,” Dr. Anwar said. “But the whole time I kept thinking how is nothing working? Why is nothing working? I kept thinking why is the whole system working against the people and not for them?”
I kept thinking why is the whole system working against the people and not for them?
At one point in the afternoon on 24 February, Anwar said he had to leave his clinic and attend the injured in a narrow alley of a neighbourhood called Chand Bagh. Later that night, Anwar alleged that he intervened when he heard that policemen were taking away a dead man to be buried without conducting a post-mortem. He not only arranged for an ambulance to take the body to GTB hospital, Anwar said, but ended up traveling to the hospital.
Anwar said that when the police at the stationed at Brijpuri T point did not let the ambulance pass, they were forced to go past the Brijpuri drain where corpses were subsequently recovered, the burning tyre market in Gokalpuri, and they were chased by rioters bearing swords and sticks.
“I just kept praying, ‘Allah, please save me tonight,’” he said.
I just kept saying, ‘Allah, please save me tonight.
Anwar said that he asked doctors at the GTB hospital to send him back in an ambulance, but no ambulance was ready to go to Mustafabad. After the police refused to drop him back, he ended up spending that night at the GTB hospital, even as the patients in his clinic were increasing.
Anwar has raised this allegation about policemen trying to bury a man without a post-mortem, and recounted his harrowing journey in the ambulance, in the complaint he sent to the Delhi Police on 15 May.
“If a person who operates a small clinic can do some good, imagine how many people would get help if the system actually works for the people,” said Anwar.
“How could there be a riot in the city where the President, Prime Minister, the Defense Minister sit? And how could it go on for days,” he said.
How could there be a riot in the city where the President, Prime Minister, the Defense Minister sit?
The only people who helped him, Anwar said, were the lawyers who managed to reach Justice Murlidhar, who, on the night of 25 March, ordered the Delhi Police to ensure that ambulances reach his clinic in Mustafabad.
In his complaint to the Delhi Police, Anwar recalled the conversation he had with the judge.
“I spoke to Judge Murlidhar at twelve in the night. He asked me how many dead bodies are in the clinic? I replied two. Then, he asked how many grievously injured. I replied several and more patients were coming since the bloodshed was continuing. He asked whether these people could be treated at my clinic. I replied that I have a small clinic and can give First Aid but those in a sensitive condition needed to go to a hospital.”
Around 15 ambulances arrived between two and three in the morning of 26 February, Anwar said.
Justice Murlidhar not only organised safe passage for the ambulances carrying riot victims on 25 February, but also slammed the Delhi Police over its failure to register FIRs against BJP leaders giving hate speeches in the run up to the communal riots.
The judge, who was notified of his transfer to the Punjab and Haryana High Court hours after rapping the police, received a massive standing ovation while leaving the Delhi High Court.
In his complaint addressed to the DCP (Special Cell), Lodhi Colony, Dr Joy N Tirkey, DCP/Crime, and Rajesh Deo, DCP/Special Cell, Anwar described the alleged omissions and commissions by the police that he experienced during the riots and the interrogation that followed.
The first batch of injured people who came to the clinic from riot-hit Chand Bagh at around two in the afternoon on 24 February, he alleged in the complaint, said they were beaten by “goondas” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the police.
The policemen who accompanied the ambulances that Justice Murlidhar had ordered reached Al Hind hospital in the early morning hours of 26 February, Anwar alleged, were angry with him and told him that “he did not do a good thing and what was the need of informing the judge.”
The policemen who accompanied the ambulances on 27 and 28, Anwar alleged, told him this was “plan from above” and his interference had brought unwanted attention to the plan.
Anwar also alleged that he received threatening WhatsApp calls from local and international numbers because he had interfered with the plan to “reduce the number” of Muslims.
Anwar alleged that officers of the Delhi Police crime branch were harassing him since the riots, calling him to the “special cell” located in Lodhi Road, and making him stay there for the entire day.
Anwar alleged they pressured him to give him names of protesters, berated him for seeking help from Justice Murlidhar, and threatened to slap him with the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) that would land him in jail for 20 years and ruin his family and clinic.
The complaint is copied to the Prime Minister of India, Home Minister of India, the National Human Rights Commission, and the Commissioner of Police, among others.
“They said, give us someone’s name, but how could I? I did not know anyone. I did not go to the local protests,” said Anwar.
“I did not even think of religion or ask for money from the patients during the riots,” he said. “In fact, the work the government should have done to help people at that time, we did that work.”