Communalisation of Public Space Hospitals, Gujarat 2002

Courtesy: Reuters

One of the most disturbing and sinister truths about some prominent masterminds behind the Gujarat carnage was the fact that many of them hailed from the medical profession and, despite their professional allegiance to the Hippocratic oath, violated it to lead mobs to rape, pillage, maim and kill and that too, in the most barbaric ways. Dr. Praveen Togadia, Dr. Jaideep Patel, Dr. Amita Patel and Dr. Bhartibehn, Dr. Maya Kotdani (the latter three are BJP MLAs) are all doctors by profession who were named by victims as masterminds and leaders in brutal crimes.
Dr. Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP, is well- known for his frequent threats of hatred and violence. He is a cancer surgeon by profession and also owns the Dhanvantri Hospital at India Colony, Ahmedabad. Doctors belonging to the Muslim minority testified to the fact that, on February 28, Shri Togadia had put in an ad–slide of his, which was telecast on Citicable in Ahmedabad city, asking all doctors and nurses to report to his hospital. He was making this appeal to all doctors. Many witnesses who deposed before us raised the question of whether this was also part of a master plan, to keep, through threats and warnings, Hindu doctors away from Muslim–run hospitals.

Justice AP Ravani spoke of his personal acquaintance and knowledge of (Hindu) doctors being threatened and told (by the VHP) not to treat Muslims. He knew of one doctor in the Shahibag area who must have attended to 17–20 deliveries for women staying in camps. The doctor was personally threatened by Shri Togadia himself, “Stop this, otherwise consequences will not be good.” Other doctors have also confided to Justice Ravani saying they too had received similar threats.

Soon after the bodies of the kar sevaks had been cremated, from the evening of February 28, the bodies of another set of victims started pouring in, this time bearing another identity. They were Muslims from Chamanpura, Rakhial, Bapunagar, Behrampura, and late, at night, Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya. 

The ‘borders’ drawn within Ahmedabad have ensured a severely ghettoised existence. This has been an unfortunate fact for the past three decades and it has had serious implications for inter–community interaction and relations. In the recent state–sponsored genocide, it was used cleverly by large, well–organised and well–armed mobs numbering several thousand, through bloodshed, violence and intimidation, to restrict the passage of ambulances from the inner, old city to either the Vadilal Sarabhai (VS) Hospital or the Sola Civil Hospital. This was another cruel method of preventing victims from receiving urgent medical attention.

At least six injured persons rescued from Chamanpura (Gulberg society), testified before the Tribunal confirming that the VS Hospital had refused them treatment, demanding that a police statement be obtained first. This, from a group of persons who had been brutalised and traumatised, having been witness to 60–70 of their close relations or neighbours stripped, raped, cut into pieces, and burnt alive.

One eyewitness from Jamalpur stated, “The worst conduct was at the Sola Civil Hospital. Here Bharti behn and Anita behn, both BJP corporators (Bharti behn is from Mani Nagar), were actually telling doctors whom to treat or not to treat.” At the VS Hospital, which gave more access to the minorities initially due to the presence of Congress corporators on the hospital’s managerial board, there were attempts to deny treatment to Muslims that were not entirely successful.

Even in the second week of April, while violence in the city of Ahmedabad had trickled down to stray incidents, fear stalked public spaces — hospitals, schools, government offices and even the Gujarat High Court. One witness told the Tribunal that on April 11, groups of 15-20, armed with unsheathed swords, stalked the corridors of the VS Hospital each night and no one challenged them. They did not directly harm or kill but the message spread through nurses and class IV staff was that the area was out of bounds for the marked — the Muslim population in Gujarat.
But no incident can typify the extent of communalisation of hospitals more than the brutal murder of a Muslim who had brought a severely injured person to the VS Hospital by ambulance on May 7, while the Tribunal sat. The youth was stabbed when he alighted from an ambulance carrying a patient who had been stabbed in the Juhapura locality. The assailants were sangh parivar activists who were demonstrating against the alleged “partisan attitude” of the hospital authorities against Hindu patients. 

As bad as the perpetration of crimes by medical professionals during the Gujarat carnage, and the attempts to brutally communalise hospital spaces, were the attempt by the police in Ahmedabad and Vadodara to actually harass and stop ambulance services belonging to the minority community. At the height of the carnage, these ambulance services were the only ones to provide desperately needed medical support, reaching help, saving groups, carrying mutilated bodies, etc. The fact that even they were stopped, as were trucks carrying relief, indicated the premeditation of the carnage at the very top levels as also the genocidal nature of its entire execution.

Several witnesses who deposed before us actually detailed how, in Ahmedabad, one police officer, stopped the Nobel Ambulance Service personnel at Bawa Lababi to prevent it from reaching Danilimda, Char Rasta, Sardarbridge and Calico, despite the fact that they had curfew passes.
The Tribunal recorded the written statement of Dr. Ishaq Shaikh, vice-president, Al Ameen Garib Niwas General Hospital, Ahmedabad. This 40-bed hospital had over-stretched itself in service of the community from February 28 onwards. He described how, from 12.30 p.m., there was a flood of patients – virtually a patient per minute. With this pressure they had to make painful decisions of which patients to treat and which to leave to their fate.

Twice on February 28, when Dr. Shaikh tried to drive a grievously injured patient to the Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital in his ambulance, he was attacked at Raipur between 4 and 5 p.m. When this happened a second time, mayor Himmatsingh Patel helped them out by calling for an ambulance from the Ahmedabad municipal corporation.

A severe strain on community health services was evidenced during and after the carnage, with the state abdicating its primary role. In the numerous relief camps that sprung up across the city/state, there was a severe problem of clean drinking water, sanitation facilities and adequate food. Children were suffering from jaundice, a water-borne disease, diarrhoea and dehydration. One child died in a camp in mid-April. The strain on small privately run hospitals increased. On April 3, Dr. Shaikh was brutally beaten by inspectors Modi and Parmar as he tried to take his ambulance to Shamser Bagh, Gomtipur, where two persons had been shot in the leg. He was pounced upon by the police and beaten badly. 

Justice AP Ravani spoke of his personal acquaintance and knowledge of (Hindu) doctors being threatened and told (by the VHP) not to treat Muslims. 

This most appalling state of affairs can be appreciated and properly understood from the fact that victims and doctors had petitioned the NHRC, pleading for SRP protection within hospitals. This is a sad commentary on the situation in Gujarat during those months, and reflects the depth of communalisation of Gujarati state and society. Muslims were terrified to go to government run hospitals to claim their dead because systematic efforts were made to create an atmosphere of dread and terror there. Menacing groups of Bajrang Dal and VHP youths would stalk the casualty departments of hospitals, 50–60 at a time.

In 1992, this sense of fear did not prevail within hospitals. 
There were countless injuries caused by swords. The mutilation of breasts in the case of women was common. There were some cases of mutilation of the penis. In yet another Vadodara hospital, a doctor conducted 17 post-mortems, the majority of whom were women who had been gang-raped. There were three survivors of gang rape. In one case, the police had intervened and saved the victim from death. A woman from Kheda district who was gang raped, had her head shaved and an Om cut into her head with a knife by the rapists. She died a few days after she was admitted to hospital. There were other instances of Om engraved with a knife on the back and other parts of women’s bodies, as well as of some men. According to the doctors, the deaths of the few Hindus, both men and women, who were admitted to hospital, were of people who had disobeyed prohibitory orders and fell victim to violent circumstances.   

Dr. Ali Shaikh, Vadodara, a witness who appeared before the Tribunal, ran a 15-bed nursing home in a building near the Panigate police station in Vadodara. The building is just five minutes away from the police station, and all the vehicles, mobile vans etc. belonging to the police station were usually parked outside it. Despite this, his clinic and everything inside it, including the ICU and expensive medical equipment, was looted or destroyed on March 1. Two days later, the nursing home was burnt. As of May, the police had not taken any action in the matter. The witness tried to return to the premises about three weeks later and to resume his practice, when he was assaulted by a group of people. He and his son had a narrow escape. 

The Tribunal records with shock and horror that, two-and-a-half months after the crimes, even when insurance officials  visited the building for a survey, the crowd, comprising of local people who lived around the clinic, did not allow them to enter the premises. That these incidents could occur in such close proximity to the Panigate police station makes the whole situation almost farcical. Another community health centre — the Muslim medical centre in Bhoiwada was also destroyed and burnt.

The Gujarat government is culpable of failure to protect the lives of at least 2,000 victims. It is also guilty of failure to provide medical aid and relief to victim-survivors in life–threatening situations. 
To allow the spaces occupied by doctors and hospitals, which are sacred by sheer nature of the job they do, to be vitiated by hate speech and propaganda sounds a serious warning to the extent of percolation of communal ideology in  Gujarat.
The fact that many leaders and perpetrators of the crimes are doctors surely behoves upon the Indian Medical Association to initiate disciplinary action against them for never can the mandate of a doctor, who’s first job is to save and preserve life, become exactly the opposite — of being the one to snatch life away.      

Archived from Communalism Combat, November-December 2002 Year 9  No. 81-82, Communalisation of Public Space, Hospitals



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