My interview of UP pediatrician Dr Kafeel Khan first appeared on National Herald on September 28, 2109 when Dr Khan was absolved of all charges in regard to the children’s death at BRD medical college, Gorakhpur. In January 2020 he was once again arrested allegedly for giving a provocative speech at Aligarh Muslim University on the issue of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). He was arrested under provisions of Indian Penal Code and was granted bail by a competent authority. But in-spite of a Court order, he was not physically released for four more days, the time presumably taken by UP State to re-arrest him under the draconian National Security Act and detain him for three months without bail which was then extended twice. As on date Dr. Kafeel Khan has been in jail for over 480 days and his ordeal seems far from over. Of the many unfair incarcerations this is perhaps the most shocking I have ever come across. Last time I spoke to him I asked if he seeks any compensation from government for all the mental agony and malicious prosecution. He said he only seeks justice for parents who lost their children.
I hope to see him again, and speak to him again.
In August 2017, a terrible tragedy struck the state run BRD medical college in Gorakhpur, UP as over 60 children suffering from encephalitis died due to alleged lack of oxygen within two days. The piped oxygen supply to the hospital had been cut off by the vendor allegedly due to non-payment of pending bills. Amidst the panic-stricken staff of the medical college the name of paediatrician Dr Kafeel Khan emerged as a hero who saved many children by somehow arranging oxygen cylinders in his individual capacity. But within three days, he was turned into a villain by the State government as several charges of medical negligence and corruption were laid upon him, followed by arrest and incarceration for 9 months.
Two years after he was jailed, an enquiry team appointed by the UP government has absolved Dr Kafeel Khan of all the charges. It has been established that Dr Khan was not the head of the encephalitis ward, he was not involved in tendering process for oxygen supply and as such not guilty of any corruption in the process, he was not involved in any private practice at the time of the incident and no evidence of medical negligence were found against him.
Dr Khan believes he had gone through this ordeal because the UP Chief Minister made him a scapegoat in order to save his health minister. I had a brief chat with Dr. Khan. Here is an excerpt.
ME: Can you tell us how did so many serious charges were even laid upon you to begin with were there any kind of enquiry going on, did you have a hint that this was coming?
Dr Khan: Not at all. It happened suddenly just after the tragedy. I had only joined BRD in August 2016 a year before, and I was on probation. So, I had no administrative responsibility, no decision-making power or authority to even indulge in corruption. The media made me in-charge of Encephalitis Ward, Principal, Head of the Department, these are all baseless social media information that mainstream media picked up.
ME: So, you were a junior doctor?
Dr. Khan: Not junior, I was the junior most. The investigation has now established this. It also absolves me of all related charges. How would a doctor be responsible for supply of oxygen, I arranged some cylinders because I could not see children dying in front of me.
ME: It is a common public perception that you were unfairly targeted because of your Muslim identity, would you agree?
Khan: No, no. I never said this. The UP chief minister targeted me because he wanted to save his health minister and DGME Dr KK Gupta who was responsible for making the payment for the oxygen. He did not clear payment. They thought I was trying to be a whistle-blower by exposing the tragedy in public. Usually, children death happens everywhere, like in Bihar so many kids died of chamki fever, but nobody cares. This incident justly got attention, because it was a man-made massacre. So, to save his people, Yogi ji made me a scape goat.
ME: In one of your public meetings you said that the UP Chief Minister visited BRD hospital, and as he looked at you he said something to the effect that you would be taught a lesson. Is this true?
Dr. Khan: Yes of course, many other people were also there that day. Like the District Magistrate of Gorakhpur was present, so was the Commissioner, and my whole team. Yogi ji came and asked in Hindi, “Who is Dr. Kafeel?” He then looked at me said, “Tu hai Dr. Kafeel (So you are Dr. Kafeel)?” I thought it was a general question but was a bit shaken as he used “tu” instead of “tum”. “Tu cylinder laya tha? Tu sochta hai hero ban jayega, dekhta hun tujhe (You brought cylinders? You think you will become hero? I will see to it),” he said. Those four words, ‘dekhta hun main tujhe’ changed my whole world. I faced suspension, arrest, torture, there were raids at my home, my brother shot at. Never imagined those four words could change my life.
ME: Does that make you angry?
Dr. Khan: Right now, I just feel relieved.
ME: What about your first emotion when you were going through the ordeal, was it anger or fear or something else?
Dr. Khan: First it was fear. But once in jail it was ‘determination’. I knew I have done nothing wrong, I read a lot of books in jail. I felt that God has a plan for me, whatever was happening was for a reason, there are no coincidences. Finally, when I came out of jail I was determined to fight for those 70 kids who died.
ME: Do you want to seek compensation and apology from the government for all the harassment?
Dr. Khan: See, I have three demands. Firstly, they should give me my job back with full respect. I am still under suspension. Secondly, there should be a CBI inquiry as to who really is responsible for the death of those children? The investigation should be shifted out of UP. And thirdly, they should compensate the parents who lost their children.
ME: You do not seek any compensation for yourself?
Dr. Khan: Nobody can give me back what I have lost. No compensation can help. When I was taken in jail, my daughter was just 10 months old, when I came out of jail (April 29, 2018) and saw her, she could not even recognize me. I missed her growing up days, I missed the day she first walked.
ME: True indeed but don’t you think somebody should pay for the all the metal agony, perhaps you could take the government to the court in a civil suit?
Dr. Khan: Well, that sort of cases doesn’t happen in India, do they? A lawyer would charge 50k to stand each time in Court. I cannot afford that. Moreover, at least I am alive, my mother has been able to see her son again, what about those parents whose children are dead. Yogi government may kindly do justice for them, I do not want anything for myself.
ME: Was the jail environment very hostile?
Dr. Khan: Yes, it was horrible. One toilet for 180 inmates, you could hardly breath because of the stench, terrible food for 9 months same muli ki sabji and kacchi roti. But jail made me stronger. For 9 months nobody came to meet me but when I came out, I could not believe the support I got, millions of people were there for me. I was financially broken, within 3 days people raised money, 22 lakhs, I got so much love and support it all made me stronger, it is a big fight and far from over.
ME: Lastly, what next? Have you got any job offers or something other opportunities?
Dr. Khan: No job offers. But I am involved in a campaign Health for All campaign launched in 13 states, we are fighting for right to health care for children. The year 70 children died in BRD, 8 lakh children died all over India, meaning 100 children died in every hour from preventable diseases. So, this is what our campaign is fighting against. Meanwhile, I have also written a book.