The parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) on December 11, 2019, following which the country has witnessed widespread protests by people from various walks of life, particularly students, against the unconstitutionality of the Act and the bigotry that it propounds. The last few days have also seen unprecedented police excesses against protesters across different locations in the country.
Students of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in Delhi held a series of protests and demonstrations opposing the CAA. On the night of December 15, 2019, the Delhi Police forcefully entered the campus of JMI, and, according to various news reports and eyewitnesses, launched a brutal attack on the students present in the campus.
The police used tear gas shells and lathis to assault and beat up students indiscriminately. They also attacked students in the campus, the library and the canteen, inflicting severe injuries. According to news reports, more than hundred people with injuries including fractures, head injuries were taken to Al-Shifa and Holy Family hospitals. Almost 150 students were being detained by the police in various police stations.
Around 50 students were detained at the New Friends Colony (NFC) and Kalkaji police stations till about 2.30 AM. A significant number of the detainees had head injuries, deep cuts and wounds. They were not taken for several hours for Medico-legal case (MLC) examinations. Even some of most the critically injured, who were sent for treatment to the nearby hospital, were brought back to be detained at the Kalkaji police station, even while they were undergoing medical treatment.
Following pressure from lawyers, activists, friends and families of the detainees who had gathered in large numbers outside the police station at around midnight, around 15 injured students detained at the NFC police station released and were moved to AIIMS and 35 were released from Kalkaji police station. The Delhi minority commissioner who was present at both the police stations issued a directive to release the “injured” Jamia students and take them for treatment at a reputed hospital without any delay”.
In the case of a young student at Jamia, whose experience was shared by a family member, the student was beaten up at the library and sustained head injuries. Instead of being taken to the hospital or given emergency medical care, the student was kept in the police station for 3-4 hours, where he continued to bleed and plead for medical assistance. The police took him to a private hospital only when he was on the verge of fainting.
After receiving some first aid, the student was discharged in a couple of hours and taken back to the police station. He was not given a copy of the MLC. After being taken back to the police station, within a few minutes, the student complained of breathlessness. This pointed to his fragile health condition at that point and it is baffling how the hospital released him, despite the head injuries, without ensuring that he had properly recovered.
The student was taken back to the hospital, where, after half an hour, the police decided to hand him over to his family member. The hospital gave him a discharge ticket in which they recorded only his second visit to the hospital. MLC is a crucial document prepared by the doctor in all medicolegal cases which has the details of injuries and the MLC certificate is required if a case has to be filed for the injuries by the injured.
Ethical concerns and health rights violations
This disproportionate use of force by the police on students at Jamia and subsequent detention without proper access to medical care raises many ethical concerns. The actions by the police, such as beating up young students, shooting tear gas or pellets at them and removing them from the treatment centres without care for their health, are in clear violation of the right to life and health of the students. Moreover, India is a signatory to many human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee everyone the right to hold opinions without interference (Article 19) and provides all states to recognise a right of peaceful assembly (Article 21).
Indian Medical Association Condemns Police Action Inside Hospitals
The right to life is paramount and absolute, and medical professionals and the police have a constitutional obligation to ensure the preservation of life. The police have the duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the persons who they have detained. The Supreme Court in Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee vs State of Bihar and Ors (1991) 3 SCC 482 held that police, after taking a person into custody, are obligated to ensure appropriate protection of the person including medical care. As per the Code of Criminal Procedure, arrested and detained persons have to be produced for medical examination before a doctor soon after the arrest, and the medical report has to be co-signed by the accused person, a copy of which has to be provided to the accused person.
It was very difficult for the injured students to rush to the hospitals in the precarious situation that prevailed. If the police required a statement or were conducting an inquiry or as some of the students were detained by them and were in their custody, it was the duty of the police to take care of their health and safety.
A person admitted in the hospital can be interrogated in the hospital itself after discussing with the treating doctor about the condition of the patient, and the ability of the patient to provide a statement or comprehend what is being asked. They cannot take the patient out of the hospital and interfere with the treatment. If the police required a statement or were conducting an inquiry or as some of the students were detained by them and were in their custody, it was the duty of the police to take care of their health and safety.
Moreover, when police enter hospitals, it can have a detrimental effect on patient care and raises concern that protesters might avoid hospital systems when injured for fear of arrest. Further, injuries result in both physiological and psychological trauma, which may impact the ability of a person to consent to or fully understand the interrogation conducted by the police. The police took advantage of the vulnerable situation of the students who were already traumatised by police action and their injuries.
The International Human Rights Standards for Law enforcement enjoins the police on ethical and legal conduct. It states that human rights derive from the inherent dignity of persons. Law enforcement agencies shall at all times respect and obey the law and uphold human dignity and the human rights of all persons. The Supreme Court of India has provided an expansive definition of “torture” to mean “not merely physical but may even consist of mental and psychological torture calculated to create fright to make her submit to the demands of the police” in Arvinder Singh Bagga v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1995 SC 117.
Conformity with the law for public safety, public order, protection of public health and morals or the protection and rights and freedoms of others, must not be employed as a rationale to injure students or peaceful protestors desist from the provision of necessary medical care and assistance. Further delaying or interfering in medical care and medical assistance being provided to the students who were injured and beaten up are blatant violations of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Sarojini Nadimpally, Veena Johari, Yogesh Jain, Amar Jesani, Gargi Mishra and Deepa Venkatachalam are from public health, medical and legal backgrounds. A few of the authors were present at both the police stations on the night of December 15 and also spoke to the family members.