In Photos: Death and desperation in northeast Delhi’s hospitals

Sehnaz Khan, the mother of 22-year-old Shahrukh, holding a photo of him outside the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in Delhi. Shahrukh, a resident of Mustafabad, was shot in the eye during the violence. Vinit Gupta
27 February, 2020

As the national capital reels under communal violence, with Hindu mobs attacking Muslim neighbourhoods with tacit support from the Delhi Police, hospitals in northeast Delhi are struggling to respond to the crisis. On 24 and 25 February, several areas of northeast Delhi witnessed large-scale violence, starting with an exchange of stone pelting between Hindu and Muslim neighbourhoods. Soon, the violence escalated, as mobs committed arson, and began firing at, beating and lynching Muslims. With the Delhi Police remaining conspicuously inactive at best and participating in violence alongside the Hindu mobs at worst, it was left to civil society to help the injured. For medical professionals at nearby hospitals, that has been no easy task.

Four photojournalists—Mahavir Singh Bisht, Mohammad Meharban, Rohit Lohia and Vinit Gupta—documented the scenes of despair they witnessed at the hospitals. Meharban and Lohia, who are in their early twenties, were at the Al Hind hospital in northeast Delhi’s Mustafabad locality throughout the day on 25 February. Gupta and Bisht were at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in Dilshad Garden on 25 and 26 February.

Shahrukh, a 16-year-old, was brought to the GTB Hospital with bullet injuries in his back. He was then referred to Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital, also located in Dilshad Garden, for a CT scan. Vinit Gupta

“When we first reached there”—Al Hind—“in the morning, there were around five patients from the previous day,” Lohia told me. “One of them was a woman who was three-months pregnant, who said that she had been beaten by the police. She said that when she told them she was pregnant, they started kicking her stomach. The mother and child are both fine now.” According to Meharban, at around noon that day, people began coming in with injuries with increasing severity and frequency. “Initially, only those injured in stone pelting were coming, but all of a sudden, people with bullet wounds began coming in,” Meharban added. “Soon, only people with bullet injuries began coming in.”

Meharban and Lohia both spoke about Al Hind’s inability to deal with the number of incoming patients and the level of medical care required to treat them. “It is a very small space,” Lohia said. “There are no surgeons, they only have MBBS doctors. The hospital staff just comprises around five nurses.” Meharban described similar conditions: “This is a normal, local hospital. It is not a hospital that can handle big cases.” Both photojournalists stayed at Al Hind past midnight on 25 February. “Even now, the people here with gunshot wounds, they have not been able to remove the bullets from anyone,” Meharban said, late at night, while at the hospital. “They don’t have a surgeon. They are focusing on just ensuring blood circulation.”

Mohammad Furqan’s brother, Mohammad Imran (second from right), waiting for Furqan’s body to be released to the family, outside GTB Hospital’s mortuary. Furqan was among the first deaths in Delhi’s communal violence, after a Hindu mob lynched him in northeast Delhi’s Bhajanpura area. Irfan said his brother had gone to get some food for his children. Vinit Gupta

Yet, for some of the patients from the neighbourhood, Al Hind was the bigger hospital that they had been referred to, after first visiting the nearby AKS Medical Centre and the Meher Nursing Home. “AKS has just one doctor and we could only see two nurses when we went,” Lohia said. They noted that the hospitals were struggling despite the fact that local community members were helping the administration in whatever way that they could. For instance, Al Hind simply did not have the space to accommodate all the patients that came in. Lohia said that some had to receive their treatment in an open hall. “They were shifted there and discharged.” Meharban explained which patients remained at the hospital: “All those with normal injuries, broken hands or legs, they have left. Only the unconscious ones are here.”

Two main concerns that Lohia and Meharban identified were the lack of any medical supplies, and the difficulties faced by ambulances trying to reach Al Hind, either to bring patients from nearby areas to the hospital or to take the more seriously injured to bigger institutions. The Hindu mob and the Delhi Police had blocked the routes towards Al Hind, preventing people from going in, or threatening them against doing so.

Vivek, a 19 year-old, was brought to the GTB Hospital for treatment after he was attacked inside his shop with a sharp metal tool during the Delhi violence. Mahavir Singh Bisht

“There was no medicine in the hospital,” Meharban said. “Somehow we managed to bring some medicine from Saket, but we had no idea that even that would run out. That ran out, and there was nothing in the hospital.” Lohia recounted the difficulties in arranging supplies. “I called so many people to ask for medicines—friends, activists, other hospitals—I don’t remember how many,” he said. “Five people confirmed that they were coming. Out of them, only one managed to reach Al Hind with some supplies.”

Meharban, too, spoke of similar difficulties while trying to coordinate ambulances. “From around 2 pm, I have been calling ambulances continuously,” he said. “Around 12 pm onwards, people started coming into the hospital, and by 1 pm, it was full. I kept calling and asking, ‘Please bring an ambulance.’ I called for government ambulances from Saket. I called for ambulances from everywhere. But they would come and then be stopped by the Delhi Police.” Lohia said that both taking patients out and bringing the injured in had proved near impossible. As a result, he said, most patients at the hospital with serious injuries had been carried there by their friends or families.

Ayesha mourns the death of her 35-year-old husband, Mudasir. He suffered bullet injuries in the violence at Mustafabad, and was declared brought dead at the GTB Hospital. Mahavir Singh Bisht

At 12.30 am on the intervening night of 25 and 26 February, S Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge, convened a special sitting of a two-judge bench—comprising himself and the judge Anup Jairam Bhambhani—at his residence. In the order, Muralidhar noted that an advocate had called him to inform him about the difficulties ambulances were facing in reaching Al Hind. The bench heard Dr Anwar from the hospital over a call placed on speaker phone. Anwar informed the court that there were two dead individuals and around twenty-two injured patients at the hospital, and that he had been seeking police assistance without success since 4 pm. The court then directed the Delhi Police to ensure “safe passage by deploying all the resources at its command” so that “the injured victims receive immediate emergency treatment.” The same day, the union government issued a notification transferring Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Meharban believed that one of the two people who died at Al Hind could have been saved with timely intervention. He said that one of the two deceased persons suffered a gunshot wound and died upon arrival at the hospital, and the other had serious stab wounds. “The one who was stabbed, he could have easily been saved,” Meharban told me. “But neither was there any medicine in the hospital, nor anything else. They just kept trying to stop the bleeding. He was stabbed four times. It was so horrific, I cannot tell you.”

The two journalists recounted the desperate situations the injured and their families were in. “The one who came with bullet wounds and died, he got married just four days ago,” Meharban said. “His father-in-law is here, crying.” Lohia said that there were numerous victims with various kinds of injuries, including “acid attack, bullet wounds, stab wounds.” He said that most people who came to the hospital had serious injuries, but added that even those that did not often needed urgent care because they were visibly traumatised. “There was a 14-year-old kid, he was in serious trauma. It took 30–45 minutes to get him stable. He was shivering.”

Meharban recounted another morbid, poignant incident from his time at the hospital. “I saw one man with shrapnel still sticking out of his right side,” he said. “When I asked him to at least remove that before he goes, he said, ‘No, if I survive, then I’ll get it done later.’ That’s how scared he was. This is the situation.”

Forty-year-old Wasima was injured during stone pelting in northeast Delhi’s Chand Bagh area. She was admitted to the Al Hind hospital. Rohit Lohia

Many of the individuals injured in the violence had also gone to the GTB Hospital for treatment. While GTB did have sufficient beds and medicine supply for treatment, the families of the patients admitted there too faced a difficult time. According to Vinit Gupta, a photojournalist who was at the hospital on 25 and 26 February, there are two groups of around eight–ten policemen stationed outside the hospital’s entrance and outside its emergency ward, respectively. Gupta said the police only allowed one family member to go in with each victim, and did not permit any media personnel to enter. “Every five minutes, there was someone coming with a patient,” he told me.

He noted that the hospital administration had also not been very forthcoming with the patients’ kin about their respective health conditions. “There are families that have no clue about the condition of their patients,” he said. “Doctors are not disclosing exactly what has happened.”

On 25 February, a Hindu mob entered a masjid in Mustafabad and severely beat up the imam. He was later admitted at the Al Hind hospital. The mob burnt down the masjid. Mohammad Meharban

Gupta recounted that he saw one man, who he said was named Yakub Khan, arrive at the hospital at around 5 pm on 25 February, looking for his son. Khan said he had received a call from the police informing him that his son had been shot in the head, and was admitted at GTB. But at the hospital, Khan told Gupta, the administration would not give him any information. “They just kept telling him that he was shot in the head,” Gupta said Khan had told him. He added that Khan was at the hospital through the night. When they met the next afternoon, Khan informed Gupta that his son was shot in the eye, not the head, and that he was undergoing an operation. “It took a whole day for the parents to even find out what had happened.”

The wife and son of Rajbir Singh, outside the GTB Hospital’s emergency ward, waiting to hear about him. Singh, a 45-year-old factory worker, was sitting outside his house when he was shot in the face during police firing in Delhi’s Kabir Nagar neighbourhood. Vinit Gupta

At the time of publishing, the medical director of the GTB hospital had confirmed that a total of 30 people had died there. Another hospital, the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital, had confirmed that three persons died at the hospital there. Accounting for the two who died at Al Hind hospital, this confirms that at least 35 people have died as a result of the Delhi violence at these hospitals. Given that reports are emerging of deaths outside the hospitals and in the besieged neighbourhoods, these numbers appear set to increase.

A Hindu mob of around two hundred people beat Haider Ali, a 24-year-old, after asking him his name, near the Gokulpuri police station. The mob chanted “Jai Shree Ram” as they beat him. He was admitted to the Al Hind hospital. Rohit Lohia