Nine days after violence erupted in northeast Delhi, Dr MA Anwar was still attending to patients at the fifteen-bedded Al Hind hospital in the Mustafabad neighbourhood. On the evening of 3 March, the exhausted-looking Anwar, dressed in a track suit, was continuously moving from one bed to another. A 23-year-old named Salman approached him. On 24 February, the second day of the violence, a mob had attacked Salman with acid. He was brought to the hospital the same day. Now, the burn injuries on his back had scabs. Salman was discharged a day earlier but had returned to ask Anwar whether he should go to the local police station as he had received a call from there.
In the past few days, Anwar has become a godfather of sorts for the victims of the communal violence. So shaken was their faith in the authorities that patients had begun to seek advice of all kinds from the doctor. “People are scared. They have seen the worst on those nights. I can’t say no to them,” Anwar told me. On the day I met him, a group of lawyers were also visiting Al Hind, to help victims register police cases. Anwar asked one of them to help Salman.
Ensconced amidst a dense Muslim residential area, Al Hind treated hundreds of victims of the violence. According to Anwar, Salman was among “500–600” patients who had been admitted to the 15-bedded hospital between 24 and 26 February, when Hindu mobs unleashed targeted violence on Muslim neighbourhoods. Al Hind was the only hospital within a radius of 7–10 kilometres. Anwar and his staff—his two brothers are among the nurses—found themselves having to treat hundreds of injured patients, some with grievous wounds. He recounted that patients, most of whom were bleeding profusely, poured in for two days, while mobs reigned on the streets. Anwar said that over three-fourths of the patients came in with injuries from firearms.
With no help forthcoming from the police, Anwar said he had feared that he too might be killed, or that his hospital would be set on fire. But locals came to the rescue and prevented the mobs from entering the small lanes around Al Hind. On the intervening night between 25 and 26 February, the Delhi High Court held an emergency hearing. A bench comprising the judges S Murlidhar and Anup Jairam Bhambhani spoke to Anwar to assess the situation at Al Hind. It then directed the Delhi Police to ensure “safe passage” of injured victims for them to receive “immediate emergency treatment.” It was only after the high court’s order that the hospital gained access to the outside world—it was able to send patients to other hospitals.
After he was done, Anwar and I sat down to speak on a mattress on the floor, in one of the small rooms of the hospital. The space had been serving as Anwar’s resting room since the violence began. He said that he had not even gotten the time to return home, located on the second floor of the hospital. Anwar described the events at Al Hind during the violence, the injuries he witnessed and how his staff—who were deeply impacted by the terror and despair around them—managed their work. An edited version of our conversation is below.