A small Delhi hospital overwhelmed by wave of violence

By Zeba Siddiqui and Anushree Fadnavis
A Muslim man is treated at Al Hind hospital after he was injured in a clash between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in a riot affected area in New Delhi

By Zeba Siddiqui and Anushree Fadnavis

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - As deadly violence erupted in the northeast of New Delhi this week, with armed mobs rampaging the streets, a small hospital located in a densely packed Muslim neighborhood found itself at the epicenter of the unrest.

Al-Hind Hospital, in the riot-torn Mustafabad neighborhood, was flooded with patients this week, and it has also become a place of refuge for people whose homes were burned or destroyed.

At least 38 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the worst sectarian violence in Delhi in decades, as groups of Hindus and Muslims clashed.

The violence began after weeks of protests over a citizenship law that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government introduced in December, which eases the path to Indian citizenship for minority groups from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India's secular constitution. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any bias against India's 180 million Muslims.

On Thursday people were still trickling in, saying they had suffered acid attacks and beatings with rods.

Doctors described being overwhelmed on Monday and Tuesday when dozens of wounded streamed into the 15-bed, two-storey building. Some were carried on people's shoulders and others on wooden carts, stretching the hospital's resources to the limit.

Many medicines ran out, as did oxygen supplies. But the flow of patients didn't stop, said doctor Mehraj Ekram.

"We were all crying as we treated them. For the rest of my life, I will not be able to shake those days from my mind," he said. "The brutality with which people had been beaten, it'll never leave me."

"At one point, we had to pull the shutters down, because we could not take in more people," he said, tears welling up in his eyes.


AMBULANCES BLOCKED

M.A. Anwar, a local doctor who set up the hospital two years ago to make up for the lack of good primary care in the area, said the facility was only built to give patients basic initial treatment.

But, as thousands gathered around the hospital on Tuesday, ambulances could not enter to take patients to bigger hospitals, said Anwar.

Amid the cries of worried families, Anwar contacted lawyers who secured a midnight hearing from a High Court bench in Delhi that eventually ordered the police to escort ambulances to the entrance.

Al-Hind had no mortuary. As they got into an ambulance to take the dead bodies away, Anwar said the vehicle was chased by men wielding swords.

"I hope in my life I never have to witness such inhumanity again," he said.

On Thursday, traumatized families sat at the hospital. Some had lost their homes and livelihoods.

Irshaad, a tailor who uses only one name, sat with his four young children and wife with a small pile of clothes - his house had been burned down.

"Everything is gone," he said, breaking down. "What will my kids' future be? I have no documents, nothing to show anymore."

On the floor below lay 26-year-old Muslim Shabana Parveen, who had given birth after being beaten while heavily pregnant at her home on Tuesday.

She went into labor that day, and a Hindu neighbor took her to safety, she said.

"A mob came into my home and hit me with rods on my stomach. I didn't think my baby would survive," she said, as her rosy-cheeked infant yawned beside her. "I don't know where I'll go. We've lost everything."


(Editing by Euan Rocha and Mike Collett-White)