Nileena MS

On 20 December, the Delhi police unleashed a brutal crackdown on a protest march against Citizenship Amendment Act in central Delhi’s Daryaganj area. According to eyewitnesses, the police beat up several protestors that evening. It also detained 31 adults and eight minors. At around 8 pm, when news about the detentions spread, several lawyers and doctors started to gather outside the Daryaganj police station. They asked the police to let them provide legal and medical aid to the detainees, if necessary. But for over two hours, the police refused to let them inside. 

At around 10.30 pm, one doctor and one lawyer was allowed inside to meet the detainees. The doctor was Harjit Singh Bhatti, a 33-year-old who is also the national president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum. The PMSF is a collective of around hundred doctors from all over the country, which was initially formed to fight the perpetuation of pseudo-science and superstitions. Inside the police station, Bhatti found that the detainees, including the minors, were “wreathing in pain” and in need of medical assistance. 

The crackdown against the ongoing anti-CAA protests across the country has resulted in thousands of people sustaining injuries. Since at least the second week of December, the Delhi police—which operates under the union ministry of home affairs—has used brute force, including lathis, water cannons and tear gas, to quell protests. The situation in BJP-ruled states seems to be similar as well. But the protests have continued. 

Ajay Verma, a 27-year-old member of the PMSF who was also present at the Daryaganj police station, said, “We could see that there were chances of violence at the protest sites, so we planned to make medical help available easily.” The PMSF set up medical camps at protest sites itself. The members of the PMSF have since treated protesters suffering cuts, bruises, wounds and swellings because of lathi charge, and even those who sprained their ankles while running away from the police.  

“It is important to give first-aid and then transfer the injured to hospitals where further medical care could be provided,” Verma said. But, according to him, the police even interfered in the functioning of hospitals at times. “This is not acceptable, hospitals are sacrosanct places where all patients could go without fear whoever they are,” Verma said.  

Bhatti and Verma recounted the police’s apathy for the medical condition of the detainees at Daryaganj on 20 December. Both of them, along with another member of the PMSF, reached the police station at 9.30 pm. According to Bhatti, the doctors told the police personnel that they just wanted to meet the detainees who have been subjected to lathi charge, “and if everything is alright we will leave.” But, Bhatti said, the police personnel replied, “Why do you want to see them? Ye dande bhadkane walon ko kyu dekhna chahta ho?”—Why do you want to meet people who provoke us to use lathis?

“There is no need. We will do it ourselves. You people leave!” the doctors said the police told them. But Bhatti said his team could see some blood stains on the roads outside the police station. “We were told that one minor who had suffered head injury was shifted to a hospital,” he said. 

Meanwhile, a lawyer approached Arul Varma, the chief metropolitan magistrate for Central Delhi, to intervene in the matter and direct the police to let the detainees access legal and medical aid. At around 10.30 pm, one of the lawyers brought an electronic copy of Varma’s order outside the police station. Among other things, the order directed the police to provide any necessary medical aid. 

When Bhatti went inside, he saw that the eight detained minors “had bruises and wounds on their body.” Varma’s order had also noted that detaining minors in a police station itself was “a flagrant violation of law.” Other detainees had sustained injuries too. “Someone had injury on knee, while another in the abdomen. We gave them pain relievers and first aid,” Bhatti said. “But they had to wait in severe pain for an hour because the police did not let us in.” 

Image result for How the police prevented medical volunteers from working at the CAA protests

Bhatti outside the Daryaganj police station on 20 December.Shahid Tantray For The Caravan

After witnessing the situation at the Daryaganj police station, the PMSF began to organise teams to provide medical care for those injured at protests. Some doctors who are a part of the Democratic Youth Federation of India—the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)—helped PMSF crowd-fund money to arrange for ambulance and medicines. 

The PMSF now has four ambulances that shuttle between various protests—two ambulances are used to transport injured people to hospitals, while the other two are stocked with medicine and first-aid equipment. Usually, a PMSF medical team at a protest site has seven to ten members.  

On 23 December, a PMSF medical team was stationed at a protest in South Delhi’s Nizamuddin area and one outside the Assam Bhawan located in central Delhi. At Assam Bhawan, students had organised the protest to demand the release of the right-to-information activist Akhil Gogoi, whom the Assam police had arrested in early December for his participation in an anti-CAA protest. The Delhi police detained 93 protestors from outside the Assam Bhawan, including two volunteers with the PMSF medical team.  

“The police could see that the volunteers were wearing T-shirts and had identity cards which said ‘medical volunteers,’ even then they were arrested,” Singh said. “They dragged the nurses out of the ambulance. One doctor who was standing outside the ambulance was chased away,” he added. According to Singh, the police personnel told the volunteers, “You people get out of here. There is no need for any medical-aid here. Leave your ambulance here and run!” The detained volunteers were released after over four hours. 

 “Denying medical-aid is a gross violation of human rights,” Singh told me. He also referred to the Geneva Convention—the international law for humanitarian treatment during armed conflict—of which India is a signatory.  Article 19 of the Geneva Convention states that the parties in a conflict should not attack mobile units providing medical service under any circumstance and such units “should at all times be respected and protected.” But, Singh said, “Here, the police is attacking people who are giving medical care,” he told me.

On 24 December, the PMSF volunteers went to Connaught Place, located in central Delhi, so that they could easily move to any of the multiple protests that were happening that day—a protest march from Mandi house to Jantar Mantar; and a protest at the Jamia Millia Islamia university—if their help was required. The PMSF’s medical teams have also been present at the protests at the multiple protests at the Jamia, which witnessed a police crackdown against its students on 15 December. 

“If there are no casualities, the ambulance also operates as a mini-medical camp,” Singh said. A PMSF medical team was stationed in Shaheen Bagh from 22 December till at least 28 December—where a continuous protest has been going on since 15 December. While there was no violence there, PMSF’s volunteers gave medical advice and medicines to the protestors. According to Bhatti, one day during the Shaheen Bagh protests, “around five hundred–six hundred people had come for check-up and medical advice.” 

The PMSF was among the seventy groups that joined forces under the Young India National Coordination Committee, a joint-platform created to oppose the CAA and the all-India National Register of Citizens, on 24 December. The forum is also “arranging teams in Uttar Pradesh in collaboration with doctors there to provide similiar medical service,” Verma said. The Uttar Pradesh police is also leading a brutal crackdown—at least nineteen people have died in the state during anti-CAA protests. 

“We also treated some of the police men who were injured at some of the camps,” Verma told me. “We are just doing humanitarian service to the injured, irrespective of who they are.” 

courtesy- The Caravan