Wounded, Paralysed, but Still Jailed: Delhi Riots Victim Recounts 17-Month-Long Ordeal

Mohd. Shahid had been healing from a gunshot received in the communal conflagration in North East Delhi last February when he was arrested. Now he has an undiagnosable medical condition and the bullet is still in his shoulder.

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Every time 39-year-old Mohd. Shahid recalls the events of the 17 months between April 2020 and August 2021, he starts trembling. Within seconds his involuntary palpitations turn into a full-blown episode of shivering, profuse sweating and a fever that spikes to 103-104°F. After that, he falls unconscious and his body turns cold, which frightens his children and sends his wife Shaziya’s anxiety spiralling upwards.

“This always happens when he’s asked to recount the trauma he has been through,” said Shaziya. “Also, whenever we take him for medical attention, he starts saying things like, ‘Have you come to take me back to jail? If you take me back, I won’t come out alive’.”

Shahid, a resident of Jafrabad and an accused in a case of murder and rioting related to the violence in North East Delhi last February, has been out of Mandoli Jail for just about a month now. On August 11, he was granted interim bail for 90 days on medical grounds, nine days after he suffered a paralytic stroke on August 2 that rendered his right arm useless.

The bail application that has seen Shahid at home for the last month was his second bail application on medical grounds since he was arrested and jailed in April 2020. The first was filed in the Delhi high court, but was neither entertained nor heard and so was withdrawn. Other applications requesting treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, or Safdarjung Hospital had been rejected based on the claims of the jail authorities that Shahid’s condition had not needed surgical intervention and that they had been providing him with the medication he needed.

But when Shahid was jailed on the night of April 7, 2020, he had been in the process of healing from an injury caused by a bullet in his shoulder. He had been shot on February 25, 2020 near the Jafrabad metro station when he had stepped forward to assist a woman and a child who had cried for help as anti-Muslim violence overtook the area. The bullet that had fractured his scapula as it entered his shoulder that February afternoon had never been removed by the doctors who had treated him first in the emergency ward of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital and after some days at Al-Shifa Hospital in Okhla, on the grounds that removing it would cause Shahid to lose even more blood.

This bullet has remained in his shoulder for 18 months now. Perhaps it is the cause of both his stroke and the episodes of shivering, high temperatures and loss of consciousness that Shahid has been experiencing several times a day for up to two hours each time since April 2021, which had the jail authorities sending him to the emergency room of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital several times. Perhaps the bullet has little or nothing to do with his medical condition.

Also read: ‘I Believed in the BJP and I Was Jailed’: How a Muslim Party Member Was ‘Framed’ for Murder

But Shahid and Shaziya don’t know much beyond the symptoms he experiences. The treatment that had started when Shahid was released by Al Shifa hospital in March 2020 had been interrupted when Shahid was in jail and there have been few fresh medical investigations since then.

Medical neglect?

“The jail authorities only gave my husband paracetamol and profen (painkiller) tablets, along with some calcium supplements and antibiotics to manage the symptoms,” alleged Shaziya. “If the pain was severe, they administered two injections at once. This was not the medication prescribed by the doctor at Al Shifa hospital which he had been taking while healing in the month of March 2020, before he was arrested.”

Shaziya had been taking care of Shahid after he was released from Al Shifa hospital in March 2020, following the doctors’ instructions. Her husband had still been bed-ridden, she recalled, when on the night of April 7, 2020, a team of about 20 policemen, all in plain clothes, knocked on the door of their home and told Shahid to accompany them to Jafrabad police station.

Shaziya and Shahid’s brother followed them and remained at the police station till 11 pm when they were told to leave. “The police said they would let Shahid go in the morning,” Shaziya told The Wire.

File photo of Delhi communal violence, February 2020. Photo: Reuters.

But they did not release him. Instead, Shahid was arrested and placed in judicial custody for 14 days in a case of murder under FIR No. 50/2020. He was also charged under 20 different sections of the Indian Penal Code, including murder (section 302), attempt to murder (section 307), rioting (section 147), voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter a public servant from his duty (section 333) as well as section 25/27 of the Arms Act.

Also read: Delhi Riots: Court Pulls up Delhi Police for ‘Callous’ Probe; Discharges Shah Alam, 2 Others

“The police said that they found weapons in the house. But they never searched the house,” said Shaziya. “They never even came into the house.”

Days became weeks and weeks became months but there was no reprieve for Shahid. Neither the police nor the courts gave any consideration to the fact that he had a bullet in his shoulder.

“If my arm had not been paralysed, I would have killed myself to escape from the pain,” said Shahid.

No diagnosis

In the two years before Shahid was shot, he had worked in Amritsar with a spray paint business. Before that, he had owned his own spray paint business in Delhi, which had not done well. Now that he is out of jail, Shahid and Shaziya are learning that there is very little they can afford for his treatment.

The couple definitely cannot afford a hospital that will holistically look into all his ailments, including the paralysed arm, the bullet that has been in his shoulder since February 2020, the injuries on his scapula caused by the entry of the bullet and the episodes that lead him to lose consciousness. As of now, he has to go to several hospitals or clinics for each of his ailments. Every one of these hospitals demands its own set of tests, scans and other investigations, which the couple cannot afford either. Only two days ago, Shahid was rushed to emergency room of the AIIMS, Delhi, after he complained of writhing pain in his wounded shoulder.

Thus, there is no clear picture of his medical condition at this time. Whether Shahid needs a neurologist or psychologist for the episodes he suffers every day is still a big question mark. He does not know either if the bullet should be extracted from his shoulder blade or if the bullet will be judged to be doing no particular harm. No proper treatment can be started because there is still no diagnosis of his condition. The only thing Shahid can do is have his injured scapula treated by orthopedic doctors.

“We also consulted a neurologist who said that Shahid’s condition was normal, but were advised by another doctor to visit other neurologists,” said Shaziya.

Even the doctors at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, where the jail authorities had admitted Shahid on August 3 due to his stroke, could not diagnose his medical condition, according to arguments made in court when Shahid’s bail application on medical grounds was heard.

The medical report from the hospital, according to a news report in LiveLaw, stated that Shahid had been discharged from the hospital on August 4 with two probabilities: “that he is either malingering or has myelopathy” (an injury to the spinal cord). The medical report had also advised him to visit the neurology department of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences in Delhi.

Money problems

While Shahid suffered in jail, Shaziya and the children went through equally tough times. Without Shahid’s income, they had to vacate their home and the children were forced to drop out of school. And there were medical issues. Shaziya had to hospitalised for a cyst. Ishan, their nine-year-old son, fell ill for a month and underwent an operation. Shaziya suffered a fall and hurt her back. She also lost her father. Their 12-year-old daughter, Ilma, who stays at a hostel, contracted typhoid.

If it hadn’t been for financial assistance from a Delhi-based NGO called Miles2Smile Foundation, Shaziya could not have coped with the medical bills and the household expenses.

Then there were Shahid’s legal expenses. In the 17 months that Shahid spent in jail, his lawyer, Bilal Anwar Khan, had filed a bail application in the Delhi high court seeking interim bail on medical grounds, but had had to withdraw it. He had also filed miscellaneous applications in the court of the metropolitan magistrate, asking for treatment at AIIMS, Delhi, or Safdarjung Hospital, but those were rejected. Khan had also applied for regular bail in the district court because “the investigation in the case was complete unlike in other cases and there was no solid evidence against him”.

Eventually, on August 11, Shahid was granted interim bail for 90 days and now, said Khan, they have approached the Delhi high court, seeking regular bail. “Shahid is innocent,” said Khan. “He does not deserve to be in jail.”

Also read: Delhi Violence: Court Slams Police for ‘Importing Statements’ from Different FIR While Framing Charges

More than 50 people were killed in the February 2020 violence in North East Delhi, the majority of them Muslims. Yet the violence was blamed on Muslims who had been protesting the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

About 20 activists who had spearheaded the protest movement were slapped with terror charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for conspiring to foment violence in the national capital and the police also arrested more than 1,700 people in connection with different incidents of violence during the communal conflagration.

Shaziya accused the police and the courts of bias against Muslims.

“They are intentionally targeting Muslims because of their faith and identity. My husband is not guilty of any crime,” Shaziya said. Shahid agreed. “More Hindus were granted bail than Muslims while I was in jail,” he said.

On August 31, The Wire approached the superintendent of Mandoli Jail for his comment. He answered the phone, listened to the question and said he would get back with a response in 10 minutes. Despite repeated calls since then, he has yet to respond.

Rushda Fathima Khan and Meer Faisal are independent journalists based in Delhi. They tweet @Rushda_Khan_ and @meerfaisal01.