At AIIMS, doctors and police treated detained Jamia protestors with hostility, ridicule

Rahool Banka, a 25 year old, was one of the protestors picked up by the Delhi Police from Jamia Millia Islamia, on 15 December. Ahan Penkar
17 December, 2019

“When I was in the library, I got down on my knees and told them, ‘Bhagwan ke liye chhod do’”—For the love of god, let me go—“but the police just kept thrashing me,” Rahool Banka, a 25-year-old student of Jamia Millia Islamia, told me. “Then they said, ‘Allah ka naam kyun nahi lete ho’”—Why are you not calling out for Allah—“and kept thrashing me.” I spoke to Banka as he lay in a stretcher in the emergency ward of the Trauma Centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. “I’m bleeding,” he said, pointing to his bandaged nose and spat out blood. The treatment of the detainees at the trauma centre offered a glimpse into the arbitrary nature of the police brutality unleashed in Jamia.

Banka was one of over two dozen people who had been picked up from the university and brought to the New Friends Colony police station by the Delhi Police. On the evening of 15 December, the third day of protests by the university students against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, the Delhi Police forcibly entered the premises of the university and used batons and teargas on the students, for the second consecutive day. Of all the detainees at the NFC station, 16 people had been brought to AIIMS for medical treatment. By now, it was just past midnight.

Every student I spoke to said they were holding a peaceful protest inside the campus against the CAA, which was passed on 12 December. The police, however, claimed that the protestors were pelting stones and used that as justification to enter the campus and use force against the students. A professor of the university, who did not want to identified, told me, “You can check the CCTV footage, someone has to, there needs to be an enquiry into this. But someone needs to find out quickly.” He was afraid that the police would try to destroy the footage.

At JMI, the police started rounding up people and made no distinction between those who were protesting and those who were in the campus for various reasons. The Delhi Police has given no official statement on the number of protestors detained, while students and activists have claimed that the force picked up over fifty people. What followed over the next few hours appeared to reflect a deliberate attempt by the police to create confusion and sow fear among the students, and their friends and families.

There is no consensus on what happened immediately after the detentions, as the police broke up the detainees into multiple groups and whisked them away to different locations. One section was taken to the NFC station, another to the Kalkaji police station, and according to the students I spoke to, some of the injured protestors were taken to four different hospitals—AIIMS, the Holy Family Hospital in Okhla, Alshifa Hospital in Okhla and the Safdarjung Hospital. A significant number of the detainees at the NFC and Kalkaji police stations had sustained injuries. A little after midnight, the injured detainees at the NFC station were moved to AIIMS following pressure from civil-society members, lawyers, activists and friends and families of the detainees who had gathered in large numbers outside the station.

But the police acted with subterfuge. The detainees were taken out of the station via a back door, even as their families and friends waited outside in the chilling cold for hours. Sheetal, a 26-year-old alumnus of Jamia and Banka’s friend had arrived at the NFC station around 7.30 pm looking for him. While Banka reached AIIMS around 12.50 am, Sheetal was still outside the NFC station around 12.30 am as the police kept telling her that Banka was fine and they were taking care of him inside the station.

Security at the AIIMS trauma centre was stricter than usual and the guards were refusing to allow journalists inside. The detainees were subjected to continuous scrutiny from the police and even at the hospital. The personnel present at AIIMS continued to behave aggressively towards the detainees, mocking them and labelling them traitors and anti-nationals.

I spoke to eight detainees at AIIMS. Four of them said that they had come to the campus for reasons other than the protests but the police picked them up anyway because they were taking anyone they could lay their hands on. Ashutosh Kumar, a 26-year-old graduate from the university, was in the campus to meet a friend. “I did not come to protest,” he said. “I had nothing to do with it.” Kumar then rolled up his trousers to show me deep cuts on his shins and calves. “But of course, they wouldn’t listen.” As Kumar was being examined, the doctor learnt that he was not from the university. The doctor taunted him, called him “deshdrohi”—anti-national—and unemployed, and laughed at the fact that he was a former student. The police joined in on the mockery. Many other detainees suffered similar ridicule.

Shaqib Khan, a 19-year-old student, was also jeered at. As the police was taking down his details, one of them asked him, “Aap padte ho?”—You study? Several police personnel, who stood surrounding the teenager, laughed as if it was a great joke. “Yeh padai hota hai kya?”—What is this thing called study?—the cop said, and moved on to the next student in the line. I overheard several doctors and police dismiss the students as “deshdrohi” repeatedly. Banka told me, “They were taunting me because I was Muslim, but add to the fact that I am a Kashmiri.” His voice trailed off and he broke down, writhing in pain. “I just wish I was something else.”

The police also tried to intimidate the detainees. One of the detainees, who did not want to be identified, asked a police official what would happen to them after the medical check-ups were over. The official told him that he would be “taken to Tihar jail.” The boy turned pale with fear.

The police’s decision to split the protestors into several groups had made it very difficult for family members to reach out to the detainees. As I stood inside the AIIMS trauma centre, other reporters from The Caravan, who were at the site of a protest in front of the NFC station, relayed desperate pleas from people seeking information about the injured detainees. One such case was of Aamir Sohail Siddiqui, a student of Jamia in his early twenties, who had a severe head injury. I spoke to Samad Farooqui, a 22-year-old former student of Jamia, who is Sohail’s friend. “At first, we went to Holy Family, and we heard that many students were there,” Farooqui said. “Then we heard that there were some people who were in Kalkaji so we went there.” Farooqui told me that “right after that, we went to NFC police station, and even there, we could not figure out anything.”

Another friend of Sohail, Syed Shariq Ameen Rizvi, a former student of Jamia, eventually traced him to the Safdarjung Hospital’s trauma centre. Rizvi said that the cops there told him, “Ispe deshdrohi ka aarop lagne wala hai, yeh sabse aage-aage tha”—He is going to be charged with sedition, he was right at the front. Rizvi told me that the cops were coercing Sohail to claim that the police did not beat him, and that it was in fact the Jamia students who had hit him.” The police officials had told Sohail that he would be taken to Tihar jail. The professor, who did not want to be identified, told me something similar. “It’s tough. Some have had to downplay their injuries, so that they don’t remain in police custody. If they show themselves as too injured, it might mean that they’re detained for too long.”

After the detentions, two professors from Jamia—the second professor also wished to remain anonymous—started visiting the NFC, Kalkaji and Sukhdev Vihar police stations, and at least three of the hospitals, to try and locate as many of the detained students as possible. Once they established that a majority of the students had been taken first to the two police stations—NFC and Kalkaji—each professor was assigned to one of the stations. They were there to ensure that the students were being taken care of.

“It was like a war zone,” the professor who was at NFC and then later at AIIMS said. “After a particular point, I was getting so many calls from so many different students everywhere.” He added, “Students were terrified, they were hiding everywhere. I got calls from some girls who were stuck in the chemistry lab.” He told me that he was trying to relay information about the situation within the hospital and police station to the detainees and their friends and families. He was walking from detainee to detainee, trying to put them in touch with their families since their phones had been seized by the authorities, compounding the agony of their relatives. The police did not help at any point, and refused to give me details of any student or even how many students were there at AIIMS.

By this time, the protest outside the Delhi Police’s former headquarters at ITO—the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s student union had called for an assembly at 9 pm to protest the “undeclared emergency in Jamia”—was gathering steam and media coverage. Around 2.30 am, as the numbers outside the ITO site swelled, senior police officers started arriving at the AIIMS trauma centre. When I asked one of the police personnel what was going on, he told me, “Dekho, kuch toh hone wala hai, aap ko dikh raha hai ki senior log aa gaye hai”—See, something is going to happen, you can see that senior officials have arrived.

Around 4.00 am, as the detainees were about to be moved in anticipation of their release, I asked one of them if he had contemplated leaving the country or had lost faith in the system. He looked at me and said, “Only rats jump off a sinking ship.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rahool Banka reached AIIMS around 12.30 am. Rahool Banka reached AIIMS around 12.50 am. The Caravan regrets the error.