New Delhi: Mohammad Imran, 22, was on the streets of Delhi’s Mustafabad with his father when suddenly the police started firing and instructing residents to go home.
It was February 25 and North East Delhi was in the grip of the kind of communal violence the national capital has not seen in the last few decades. Amid the chaos, a bullet hit Imran’s genital area, ripping apart his scrotum and penis. The bleeding would not stop. Imran’s family knew he needed immediate medical attention, but with the violence on the streets, they couldn’t take him to a government hospital.
Luckily for them, a clinic in Old Mustafabad was open – to provide first aid to victims of the riots. Run by Dr M.A. Anwar, Al-Hind is a small clinic. It is not equipped to be a hospital, in spite of its name. But considering Imran’s condition, Dr Anwar took him in and treated him. The next day, Imran was shifted to LNJP Hospital.
Nearly four months later, Imran, a daily wage worker, is still recovering. He believes Dr Anwar saved his life that day. “Had it not been for him and his selfless work during the riots, I and others like me who couldn’t reach big hospitals immediately wouldn’t have survived,” Imran says.
Lifesaver or murderer?
Imran was just one among the more than 600 patients Dr Anwar treated at his clinic during the riots. Many of them had been severely injured. The doctors at the clinic, including Anwar’s brother, Dr Meraj Ikram, worked 24/7, treating bullet, pellet, knife and stick injuries.
Notably, it was based on Anwar’s fervent plea on the night of February 25 when his clinic was swamped with injured riot victims that led Justices Muralidhar and A.J. Bhambhani of the Delhi high court to intervene and direct the Delhi Police to escort some 20 persons injured in the riots in Mustafabad to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital for treatment.
“Dr Anwar explained that there were two dead persons and around 22 injured persons at the Al Hind Hospital and that he had been trying to seek police help since around 4 pm today without success,” the court noted in its order.
Justice Muralidhar had also said during the hearing that even while his formal order was being dictated police had “managed to reach the Al Hind Hospital and confirmed … that the police was in the process of evacuating the injured to the nearest hospitals”.
So, when Anwar learnt that he had been named in a chargesheet dealing with the murder of a 20-year-old waiter, Dilbar Negi, he was shocked.
Placing Anwar at an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest site at Farooqia Masjid, the chargesheet, filed on June 4, read:
“On the outside, this protest site had pictures of B.R. Ambedkar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi and the Tricolour was waved. However, one particular community was incited against the central government. Those who participated in this protest, who were incited, on the night of 23.02.2020 took part in the violence following which the FIR … was registered at police station Dayalpur. The organisers of the protest which took place at Farooqia Masjid are 1. Arshad Pradhan 2. Dr Anwar, owner of Al-Hind hospital. The above mentioned persons could not be interrogated; they will be questioned later and we will accordingly investigate.”
Anwar says he had not gone to the protest site that day. “On February 19, I had gone to attend my aunt’s funeral in Bihar. I came back home on the morning of February 24 and was sleeping because of fatigue when the protest was happening,” he says.
Moreover, Anwar claims he doesn’t know Arshad Pradhan, the other “organiser” named in the chargesheet. “I’ve heard his name, but never met him.”
Giving back to society
Anwar says he is being ‘targeted’ for showing ‘basic humanity’ and that the allegations against him are false.
“I have never believed in any kind of violence. Whenever police officers needed help to disperse crowds during the anti-CAA protests [through December, January and February], I always went around in the neighbourhood and people listened to me,” he says. “Once I even got hurt trying to disperse a stone-pelting crowd in Brijpuri. I was stuck between protesters and the police for almost an hour.”
The 40-year-old doctor is from Bihar’s Champaran region. He moved to Delhi 20 years ago and worked at the GTB Hospital for a few years before starting his own clinic in Mustafabad, where he also lives.
“I started my practice with a mere table and chair in a small room,” he recalls. “Slowly, over time, I managed to open a small clinic. There is a dense population of poor people in this area who earn their money from daily wage jobs and cannot afford expensive treatment at big hospitals. I started my out patients’ department, charging only Rs 50 as fee.” Sometimes patients could not manage even that.
Over a period of time, Anwar earned the respect of the residents of Mustafabad across communities. He was always there for them. “A patient is a patient,” he says in a no-nonsense manner.
When the nationwide lockdown was imposed in March, all the medical practitioners in the area stopped working. Anwar, however, continued to see his patients.
‘My work speaks for me’
The Al-Hind clinic has one hall, two rooms and 10 beds. There are three doctors and two other staff members. During the riots in Northeast Delhi, the clinic became a 24-hour hospital and emergency ward.
“The victims kept coming. We were busy 24 hours a day during that time,” says Anwar. “When you see the state of the victims, you automatically push your boundaries to help them.” Because of the violence the staff was also reluctant to come to work.
As doctors they were expected to be “professional”. But there were times when the brutality of the violence took its toll. Anwar recalls how his brother Meraj once burst into tears when he saw the blood-covered dead body of a riot victim.
“I had to hold him tight, this grown-up man who was crying, and tell him that doctors cannot cry, especially not at such a time,” Anwar recalls. “I told him, if you cry, people will lose heart and confidence.”
The communal violence in northeast Delhi left its horrific mark on the injured, uprooted many families, destroyed their homes and businesses. The one thing that remained constant was the care Anwar gave the riot victims after the riots as well.
“People were so scared of the violence that they refused to leave their homes in Mustafabad,” he explains. “Some NGOs and local people helped with resources. Thanks to them, we were able to successfully give first aid to about 10,000 people.”
The residents of the neighbourhood provided the clinic with cotton, bandages, stitching material for stitching wounds, plaster, medicines and other first aid resources. Dr Harjeet Bhatti, national convener of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, a team of doctors from AIIMS, JNU and MAX Hospital and a team from the Waqf Board also contributed to Anwar’s efforts.
Every incident leaves its mark on an individual. During the riots Anwar and his colleagues worked round the clock to treat patients. At times it was traumatic for them, too, to treat people injured in the riots, but it was necessary.
“But something dries up inside you,” says Anwar.
‘I am not scared. I have done nothing wrong’
The chargesheet has come as a bolt from the blue for Anwar and his family. His wife Sarwari finds it difficult to hide her anxiety. They have two children – a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. “We will somehow get through this ordeal,” he says.
Then he reveals that he often received hate calls from unknown callers during those days. “They would abuse me and say I would have to bear the consequences of trying to help save people’s lives,” he says. He mostly kept his cell phone switched off after that.
Several of his patients also asked him to be careful, saying that he could be targeted by the police for his work during those days of violence in February.
Anwar says he ignored the warnings. “I have always had good relations with the police in my area. We have often worked together to handle difficulties in the neighbourhood. Sometimes they come to me and the other elders of the area with problems and we all sit together and try to figure out a way to deal with them.”
Besides, he often conducts public meetings between the people and the police for mediation and welfare of the area.
“In any case, I was not committing a crime by giving aid to riot victims. Only those who have committed crimes should be fearful.”
For the people, by the people
Anwar always knew that the residents of Mustafabad respected him for the work he did, but in the last four months the bonds between him and the community have reached another level altogether, he says.
“Whenever anyone hears that I am not well they come to my house and offer to take care of me and my family,” says Anwar with a smile. “The people I helped during the riots come to me now and extend their support. They tell me they are with me in this fight. And if the need arises, they say they are willing to go to court for me. People are angry that I am being targeted…”
He has been summoned to the Delhi Police crime branch several times for questioning.
“I was asked about the dead bodies that had come to my hospital. I was asked to reveal the names of the organisers of the protests. I was asked, who funds the protests? Who gives provocative speeches?” Anwar says. “But how can I answer these questions when I was never part of the protests? How can I make unwarranted claims? This is why they are angry with me. I was threatened with the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). My phone was confiscated. I still haven’t got it back.”
He adds: “Let them [the police] do their best to implicate me. They will fail. I have faith and my work speaks on my behalf. I have done nothing but help the victims of one of the worst riots the city has seen.”