How Delhi police and Lok Nayak hospital staff prevented detained, injured protesters from seeking legal help

At least 40 people, including eight minors, were detained after violence erupted during protests against the citizenship law in Old Delhi.

ByAyush Tiwari
How Delhi police and Lok Nayak hospital staff prevented detained, injured protesters from seeking legal help
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By late evening on December 20, at least 32 adults and eight minors had been detained at the Daryaganj police station. Earlier in the day, several thousand people had gathered at Jama Masjid in Old Delhi to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, both of which have been widely criticised for purportedly being anti-Muslim.

At around 5.45 pm, as the protesters marched from Jama Masjid to Delhi Gate, some of them started pelting stones, and the police responded by using lathicharge and water cannons. The protesters also burnt a constable’s car outside the Daryaganj police station, where 40 protesters were then detained.

A car burnt by protesters outside the Daryaganj police station.

A group of young lawyers reached the police station by 7.30 pm. By then, the Daryaganj Road was deserted, with shoes and sandals left behind by protesters lying scattered around. The police and the Rapid Action Force were marching down the road, and shopkeepers who had locked themselves in when the violence started in the evening were finally leaving for their homes.

The gate of the police station was closed. The lawyers, who wanted to meet the detainees were denied entry.

“Lawyers across India have come together to help detainees after what happened in Jamia last week,” Mishika, one of the lawyers, told Newslaundry at the police station. “We got a call from parents that their children had been picked up from this road. There are injured children inside and their legal rights are being violated. The police is not allowing us to meet them. We should be allowed because that’s the basic legal right we are asking for and to which we are entitled.”

Lawyers speak to parents of those detained at the Daryaganj police station.

According to Article 22 of the Indian constitution, no person held in custody can be denied the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his or her choice. This, however, does not apply to those deemed “enemy alien”, or those who have been detained under a law allowing preventive detention.

“My son Akram had gone to Jama Masjid for work,” said a parent, who suspected her son, 23, was being held at the Daryaganj police station. “In the evening, Akram called my daughter-in-law and told her he had been picked up by the police. We have been looking for him for the past two hours. Now they are not allowing me to enter this police station. They’re asking us to wait. I have brought all the documentary proof with me.”

By 8.30 pm, lawyers were arguing with the police officers to let them in. “We just want you to admit one male and one female lawyer,” an advocate told the officers across the white metal gate. Another one went further: “We’ll leave our phones outside and meet the detainees. We’ll take a piece of paper and a pen. Why aren’t you letting us in? How can this be a problem?”

The pokerfaced officers, however, first told the lawyers that the station head was not present. A few minutes later, they said they were seeking permission from “seniors”.

“My son Mohammad Sohail came to Delhi Gate to have food with his friends. They were going on a scooter when a police officer approached them. They were detained,” said his father Omar Haroon. Sohail, 19, had reached out to him from inside the police station.

Parents of Mohammad Sohail outside the Daryaganj police station.

At the Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital a few hundred metres away from the police station, the staff and the police had blocked entry for journalists and lawyers. Those injured in Daryaganj, both policemen and protesters, had been admitted to the hospital’s emergency ward. Hospital staff told Newslaundry that only a guardian was allowed to accompany a patient inside.

Not only was the entry blocked from the outside, but the hospital premises leading to the emergency ward were also sealed from inside as well. “There’s tension outside and we don’t want anyone to get hurt,” a police officer told Newslaundry at 9 pm when there was no palpable tension in the area.

The emergency ward at the LNJP Hospital was sealed from inside and locked from outside.

Mohammad Faris, a lawyer trying to enter the hospital, said he suspected that the due process of medicolegal cases wasn’t being followed as far as the injured protesters were concerned.

Medicolegal Certificates are an important part of medical practice. They are issued in medical cases with legal implications where doctors, after examining the patient, think that investigation by law enforcement agencies is necessary. Proper handling and accurate documentation of such cases is crucial to avoid legal complications. “The hospital staff told me that the Chief Medical Officer had asked them to not let any advocate or anyone not concerned with the patients inside. If we don’t know whether the MLCs of the injured are being issued inside the hospital, we will not be able to help them in any case whatsoever,” Faris said.

At 9 pm, a 17-year-old injured protester went inside the hospital. One of his eyes was swollen and bleeding. He entered with one guardian, received seven stitches, and left without acquiring a medicolegal certificate.

“They were segregating the injured protesters and the rest of the patients inside the hospital,” the guardian said. “I was afraid that he would be detained because he was injured at Delhi Gate. So I made up a story and convinced them that he is a separate case. They didn’t issue an MLC.”

This injured protester is a minor.

At 11.30 pm, the pressure put on police officers at the Daryaganj police station by the group of lawyers finally bore fruit. One lawyer, Tara Narula, was allowed to meet the detainees. While the adult detainees were to stay in custody, a police officer announced the names of the eight minor detainees. Those whose parents were outside the station were released.

“The police said preventive detention is in force and that they will release the adults, but we don’t have any time estimate,” a lawyer at the station said. “We are trying to get them legal access but so far only one lawyer has been allowed in. We want to meet the rest of the victims.”

On Friday, several protesters were also detained in northeast Delhi’s Seemapuri. As at Daryaganj, lawyers were not allowed to meet the detainees for hours. They were only allowed in after Karkardooma Court, at 5 am on December 21, directed the Station House Officer, Seemapuri police station, to provide medical care to the detainees if required and enable them to meet the lawyers.

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