The doctor who supervised treatment of patients with firearm injuries at Bijbehara sub-district hospital from July 8 to July 10 recalls a ‘colossal tragedy’ that was matched only by the brutality of police and CRPF men
Bijbehara/Srinagar: As dusk falls over sub-district hospital Bijbehara on Tuesday, in a corner at the end of the hospital an orange light cuts through the darkness. A group of volunteers assisted by a cook are bent over a fire they have kindled with wood. They are cooking food for the patients admitted in the hospital. The place is absolutely still. There is no commotion.
Two weeks ago it was not so. The Bijbehara sub-district hospital was like a flame that attracted swarms of moths to it. Scores of people injured in CRPF and police firing in the three days after Burhan Wani’s killing had nowhere else to go.
The hospital itself was ransacked, its ambulances damaged, its staff beaten and bullied. Amid this onslaught, the medics fought their nerves and for three days from July 8 to July 10, stitched gaping wounds, operated on dying people, extracted from tissue, skin and bone, pellets and bullets.
Former medical superintendent of the Bijbehara sub-district hospital Dr Naheed Malik supervised the treatment of patients with firearm injuries. She told Kashmir Reader that for three days and nights the doctors did not sleep a wink.
“On the morning of July 9, our hospital presented a scene of carnage,” Malik said. “Those images are still haunting me and the other medical staff working here. Mostly the injured were young patients. They were screaming, shouting, weeping, their clothes splattered with blood, their bodies writhing in pain. I and few other doctors wept at their sight, silently, for we had children of the same age. It was unbearable.”
From Friday evening of July 8 to the night of July 10, the hospital received 37 patients with serious injury.
“Eight people died in the hospital who received straight bullets in the vital parts of bodies, mostly above waist. Three were brought dead. We tried to operate the rest of the injured; those we could treat were kept in the hospitals, the others were shifted to Srinagar,” Malik said.
Narrating the tragic incidents of the three days, the doctor said she remembered a 17-year-old boy screaming, his thigh struck by bullets, and two girls who were beaten so badly that their heads and face were swollen.
“We had to trim the hair of one of the girls while she was crying in pain. We did it to get a clear view of the wound in the head,” Malik said. “Another young boy of 16, of my son’s age, was hit by bullets in his testes. He was shouting in pain and profusely bleeding. After providing him first aid, doctors referred him to Srinagar as he was in critical condition. When he left, one of the doctors came to me and said that the boy will not survive. We were so sad that we could not help him despite our best efforts.”
Then there was an 80-year-old woman, Sara, Malik said, who was brought on a hand-cart (reda) by her husband.
“Her old husband was pushing the cart in the middle of the deserted road. The area was so tense that except slogans and bangs of gunfire, nothing could be heard. It was scary as hell,” she said. “When we saw from a distance the old man wheeling the cart, I sent the staff to help him. He was weeping. The old lady was beaten so badly by police that she was unable to move. Her body had turned blue. We could not believe such barbarity was happening.”
Malik said that on the third day on July 10, there were protests outside the hospital. There was sloganeering and stone-pelting, she said, in which a kid was shot before her eyes.
The hospital was also attacked by the police led by SHO Bijbehara, Arshid Khan, Malik said. She said that the police acted as guides for the CRPF men for ransacking the hospital and for beating the doctors and paramedical staff.
“The police came in to beat a boy who was being transported to Srinagar hospital after he was hit by bullets. When they barged into the hospital, they beat the injured boy, his attendants, the ambulance driver, and then they broke the windowpanes of the ambulance,” Malik said.
“Later, the police guided the CRPF into the hospital. They beat doctors, paramedics, broke down doors, smashed windows and glass panes, damaged the casualty ward and operation theatre, even beat the injured patients,” she said.
Residents of Bijbehara said that the boy beaten inside the ambulance was 22-year-old Delhi University student Nazir Ahmad Latoo, who later succumbed to his injuries at SMHS hospital Srinagar. They said that Latoo could have been saved if the police had not detained the ambulance for half an hour.
Dr Malik said that a day or two before the attack on the hospital, SHO Bijbehara Arshid Khan was treated in the hospital for injuries caused by stones.
“I asked the SHO how you can mount an assault on the hospital that treated you. We brought medicines to you, we put ice on your swollen eye. We treated the local DSP Tanveer for his injuries in legs. We were shocked.
“The situation turned so ugly that I called the Deputy Commissioner Anantnag, Dr Abid Shah, who himself has been a doctor. I told him we were in danger and really sacred. He assured us of help and sent the SP (superintend of police) to the hospital,” she said.
Malik said that there happened another incident when the police led the CRPF inside the hospital to beat staff and patients.
“I remember one patient had come from Pulwama. He was a Sumo vehicle driver and had taken a different route to go to Jammu. He was waylaid by the CRPF and ruthlessly beaten. He was dead when he reached the hospital. Still, we arranged to conduct an ECG test on him. In the meantime, CRPF men entered the hospital and beat his weeping parents. Then they thrashed the dead body before the parents. I completely lost myself there.”
Medics in the hospital said that the police also fired pepper gas into the hospital, which worsened the condition of critical patients.
“Our staff could not move from one block of the hospital to the other to get medicines. The CRPF and policemen would be present at the gates of the blocks. One of our paramedics was pregnant and she was extremely shaken by the assaults. She was crying. I consoled her all the time,” Malik said.
“I encouraged the staff to keep moving since we had to save lives of people, especially the young boys. I asked them to wear white aprons and move from one building to another. If they would hesitate, I would assist them,” Malik recounted.
Doctors in the hospital said that they watched CRPF and policemen stealing fruits and other eatables from shops by breaking their locks or windows. They were doing it openly, in broad daylight, the doctors said. They also said that protesters who were being shot were being deliberately targeted.
According to doctors, the sub-district hospital has seven ambulances among which is one for critical care, its cost Rs 45 lakh. All the seven ambulances have been damaged, their windows broken and their surface dented by police and CRPF men.
“The images of those incidents haunt me. I cannot come to terms with what I have seen. We are all traumatised,” Malik said.
“All along, while we watched this colossal tragedy unfolding before our eyes, we would question, why are we living? Why are we suffering? What is happening to us?”
On the evening of July 10, Dr Malik was relieved from her duties. In accordance with an order issued earlier, she was attached to the Directorate of Health.
“Why was I relieved at that time of crisis? I have no idea,” she said. “But I am happy that I could serve people, the prime job of a doctor.”
“I have collected six bullets which were taken out from the bodies of young boys. The bullets will remind me of those days whenever I will look at them,” Dr Malik said.