Al-Hind hospital, a small clinic with one ward and only fifteen beds, is open to the victims of riots in the Old Mustafabad region of northeast Delhi. Initially run as a small clinic, the hospital has now opened up another floor to accomodate victims. Run by MA Anwar, a local doctor from Mustafabad, the hospital has admitted over 500 patients within the first two days of riots breaking out in the northeastern districts of the National Capital. In the absence of beds, the hospital has arranged for carpets and plastic sheets for patients.
Mustafabad is a Muslim dominated area surrounded by Hindu dominated areas on all sides such as Bhajanpura, Dayalpura and Gokulpuri. Since the riots broke out over three days ago, Anwar, who runs the hospital, says he has not slept. "I hadn't anticipated this kind of thing would happen here. I have been living here for the past ten years, and nothing communal has happened before. It's small hospital and we are ill-equipped to handle such a high casualty rate. I haven't slept in the past two days because I am constantly attending to patients," Anwar said.
According to Anwar, 75 percent of the patients came with severe bullet and pellet injuries. The rest had suffered head injuries due to stone pelting in the area.
Spread over a small area of just about 300 square yards, Al-Hind hospital has successfully offered first aid and immediate treatment to victims of the riots in an attempt to keep a check on casualties. According to reports, at least 34 people have died in the riots that continued unabated for over three days.
Makeshift beds at Al-Hind hospital in Old Mustafabad area. Image/Ismat Ara
"With our small setup, we are doing our best to control the situation. But it's not just the hospital " the people in this area are also helping in whatever way they can," the chief doctor, who is overseeing the situation said. The doctors said that given the lack of equipment and other medical facilities, people got creative when it came to helping people.
"When the hospital told us that they are not able to procure ORS for the patients (given the curfew), we used water and sugar and used it as an alternative syrup at home for the patients," a family member of an injured said. "They are doing their best, but we also have to help."
Citizens are also pitching in by sending regular supply of food and tea to the hospital. The hospital administration is trying all sorts of jugaad " for instance, the hospital exhausted its supply of gloves, but the administration recycled the used gloves by sanitising them in boiling water.
At least, ten physicians from the area have joined in to help the hospital treat the overwhelming number of patients coming in. The hospital staff have, so far, pitched in with over 4 lakh rupees worth of facilities for the patients."We are not taking money from the patients. I and others have invested everything we had to save them," a staff at the hospital said and added that the religious identity of the patient was irrelevant.
With severe injuries to his head, Abdul Mukeem, who is now stable, was admitted in Al-Hind. He said, "My small tailor shop in lane no. 8 had been burnt and I was attacked by a mob. I was not even protesting, I had gone to to buy grocery. After the attack, I passed out and was brought to the hospital by some young boys. I did not even have to worry about the cost of my treatment. They took care of it."
Ambulances are not able to reach the hospital due to curfew in various areas. There is also the fear of being attacked. Anwar calls it an "administrative failure". Describing his ordeal, Anwar shared an audio clip of his conversation with a policeman when he dialled 100 for help during the riots.
"Sir, there is a lot of commotion in the area, stone pelting is happening. We don't know when we might be attacked. Please help." The police officer can be heard saying, "Aag thodi lag rahi hai (There is no fire, right?)" to which Anwar responds by saying, "No, there is no fire but we are very afraid we might be attacked any minute." The policeman uses strong abusive language and says, "Jaisey kara hai tumney waisey bhukto. Abhi toh dekho beta kya hoga, azaadi milegi... (Face the consequences of your actions. Just wait and watch now... you'll be free...)."
Anwar recalled another incident when a patient, who was declared brought dead at Al-Hind, was being taken to Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital's mortuary. "With great difficulty we arranged for a cab. But on the way, a mob started running behind us with sticks, rods and swords. We somehow reached the mortuary but we were so afraid thinking that the body might be defiled by the mob on our way."
Another patient with a case of severe head injuries, with his skull almost crushed, was brought to Al-Hind. They referred him to GTB. According to Anwar, they put the patient on a stretcher and took him till the main road, which is at least a kilometer away from the hospital. "From there, we expected the police to help. But the police refused. "They said that one of theirs had died because of us. Let some of your people also die first," Anwar said quoting the policemen, who were referring to the death of constable Rattan Lal.
Severe cases of injuries at Al-Hind were referred to GTB hospital. But to transport the patients, Al-Hind had to face extreme difficulties. Anwar said there was a scarcity of ambulances, the police did not cooperate and amid raging riots, people were afraid and hence hesitant to leave the area.
The scarcity of ambulance was also due to the fear of ambulance drivers being attacked. Anwar said that the presence of police force did not reassure anyone. "With so much police around, arsoning, stone-pelting continued and everyone was scared. Doctors, nurses and drivers were scared to enter these areas as they feared for their own lives. But in such times, it's important to remember your duty. As the medical profession is all about saving lives, no matter what it takes."
And Al-Hind hospital has not backed down.
Initially ill-equipped to handle such a situation, the hospital has now received help from civil societies and a few doctors. A team of eight doctors " five from AIIMS, one from Jamia Hamdard and two from JNU's medical team have arrived at the Al-Hind to help. One doctor from AIIMS, who volunteered pro bono help, said, "When I read about the violence, I immediately reached out to seniors in the hospital and asked if we could help in any way. They responded positively and we immediately formed a team and got here." He further added that the police had not offered them any safety. He has, so far, witnessed and treated cases of extreme head injuries and trauma for those who are trying to escape the carnage.
Harjeet Bhati, a senior doctor at AIIMS, is one of the five from the team sent to Al-Hind. "When we heard that even ambulances are not able to reach, we thought how will basic medical facilities reach here? So we formed a team of eight doctors and came here to help." So far, he has seen cases of bullet injuries, head injuries and multiple fractures. "Patients are scared to leave their locality even if it is to go to bigger hospitals for better treatment. They are insecure, scared of the violence and unwilling to leave. In such a situation, treating them here is our best bet," he added.
The chief doctor at Al-Hind said, "Somebody offered to take me and my family out of here until the riots stopped, but the hospital is flooded with patients, I couldn't leave them. And my family cooperated so I could stay and help save lives no matter what it takes."