Dr Kafeel Khan is a child specialist from Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College (BRDMC), which came into the public eye in August 2017 when over 70 kids died due to short supply of liquid oxygen. He is one of the nine doctors who have been accused of being negligent and responsible for the tragic incident.
He was arrested on September 2, 2017, and after eight months of imprisonment, the Allahabad High court released him on bail on April 28, 2018, with the court categorically stating that there was not a single shred of evidence which could prove his medical negligence and charges of corruption in Liquid Oxygen Tender. The UP govt set up 13 enquiry committees to probe his role, but all of them have absolved him of any negligence.
He was again arrested on September 22, 2018, in Bahraich, where he went to highlight the death of over 78 children in a government-run district hospital due to a viral infection called encephalitis. The hospital authorities had tried to cover up their negligence by calling it a mysterious disease. He was released on November 3, 2018, again on bail.
When the Centre passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, he started campaigning against it and in this regard, he addressed a gathering of 600 students in Aligarh Muslim University on December 12, 2019. The college campus witnessed violence on December 15. Local police blamed his speech and lodged an FIR against him for inciting students for communal violence. However, the police arrested him 46 days after the incident on January 29, 2020, when he was about to address a gathering in Mumbai. When the local court granted him bail on February 10, he was still kept in detention for three days. When the court again ordered the police to release him on February 13, he was re-arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) on February 14.
On September 1, the Allahabad High Court ruled that his detention under NSA illegal and held that his speech was not communally inciting, but was instead a call for national integrity and unity. After his release, Khan left for Jaipur with his family as he fears for his life.
In an exclusive interview with Outlook’s Jeevan Prakash Sharma, Khan talked about his plans to work as a Corona warrior and for that he said he is going to write UP CM to give his job back. He also described how he was tortured after his arrest in Mumbai, and why he fears the UP government will encounter him or his family members. Excerpts:
Q: Why do you think the BJP-led state government in Uttar Pradesh will ‘encounter’ you and your family members?
A: I think it is because I have been vocal about the death of 70 children in Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College (BRDMC) due to shortage of oxygen supply in August 2017. The authorities tried their level best to make me a scapegoat of the whole incident but they haven’t been able to do that. I got a clean chit from the 13 probe committees that the government set up one after the other to investigate my role. None of them said that it happened due to my negligence. In fact, they appreciated my role as I spent money from my own pocket to arrange oxygen cylinders. Now, the government has set up the 14th committee to investigate my role. All other eight accused have been reinstated in the service, but I haven’t. My suspension still continues.
Q: Do you think one of the reasons for your harassment is your religious identity as you are a Muslim?
A: I don’t think so. I am being physically and mentally tortured not because I am a Muslim but because I have been raising the real issues of the health sector which have scared the government. I am telling people how the whole health system has collapsed in the country and a corrupt system is responsible for the death of 70 children in BRDMC. If this continues many more children will meet a tragic end like that. Let me refresh your memory that the children died in BRDMC because corrupt officials wanted a bribe to clear the long-pending dues of the company that used to supply Liquid Oxygen to the hospital. The day it stopped the supply, the tragic incident happened.
Q: But BRDMC is an old issue now. Your most recent arrest was on January 29 this year for delivering an allegedly provocative speech against Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 in Aligarh Muslim University which, police said, caused communal violence.
A: Yes, but the speech was made on December 12, 2019, and my arrest happened after 46 days on January 29 at the Mumbai airport. I was going to address a gathering along with Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson in Mumbai. Not only that, for 46 days, between my speech and my arrest, I also kept meeting people and highlighting the government’s failure on the health front. I became a constant pain in the neck of the state government and they were looking for an excuse to silence my voice. Just imagine that after 46 days of delivering a speech, a Special Task Force from UP arrived at the Mumbai airport to arrest me. The only purpose was to detain me so that I shouldn’t expose the government’s failure.
Q: But if a government wants to get someone killed in an encounter, why will it wait for so long or why is it so difficult for it?
A: I am surviving by the grace of Almighty. If you remember my brother was shot with three bullets near the Chief Minister’s house in Gorakhpur at night on June 10 2018. In fact, I was the target but they mistook my brother for me. I wassupposed to meet my brother and the assailants thought it was me standing there. I still apprehend that I and my family members are on the hit list of the state government. The government can go to any extent to get me or my family members eliminated.
Q: Did any government official ever ask you not to raise the health issues among people?
A: No, but the sequence of events is such that one can easily make out why I am being targeted. At the end of August 2017, when BRDMC tragedy happened, I was arrested on September 2 and remained in jail till April 28, 2018. When I came out I decided to highlight the brutal face of the broken health system in the country. If you remember over 78 children had died at a government-run district hospital in Bahraich and the government said it was due to a mysterious disease. I went along with a team of doctors to find the real facts and proved that it was not a mysterious disease but a viral infection called encephalitis. The government failed to act on time. An FIR was lodged against me and I was arrested on September 2, 2018, just before I was going to hold a press conference there. I got bail on November 3, 2018. I started touring other states and highlighting health issues with the help of senior doctors. But the torture I have gone through during my incarceration in Mathura jail is unimaginable.
Q: You have alleged that when you were arrested at the Mumbai airport on January 29, the UP police brutally tortured you. Did they ever tell you to withdraw from your public appearances etc?
A: When I was arrested, it took me almost three-day to reach Aligarh. And those three days were like going through hell. You cannot imagine how brutally they abused me physically and mentally. I travelled the distance from Mumbai to Aligarh by various mode of transport including trains and other vehicles and all the way, they kept torturing me. During the journey, they stopped me at various places, took me to many isolated locations, undressed and beat me brutally. They hit me on my bum repeated and injured it so badly that I couldn’t even sit for days. They threw water on my face. They didn’t give me anything to eat or drink. My intestines were crumbling and I begged for water and food but they remained callous. They asked me strange questions. Like they asked me that I have invented a powder that could kill millions of Indian. Similarly, they said that I went to abroad to conspire with foreign powers to destabilise the government. I told them I couldn’t travel abroad when my passport was in judicial custody since September 2017.
Q: Did the torture continue when you were sent to Mathura jail after three days?
A: Yes. After three days of the journey, I was produced before the court which sent me to Mathura Jail. For the initial three days, I was kept in a separate cell with again no food and water. So, in six days, I was given only two chapatis to eat. I was so hungry and thirsty that I used to shout in pain. I was not able to stand. I felt like I would eat anything even grass or bricks. When the court allowed my family to meet me, I was shifted to the general
barrack. They didn’t do anything to torture me there but its pathetic condition in itself an agonizing experience. The barrack’s capacity is 40 but 150 inmates were there. There was one toilet in utter unhygienic condition for 150 people and we stood in a queue for more than half an hour to defecate.
Q: You were arrested on January 29. Why did you take so much time to move court against your detention?
A: No. It was the legal process that took a lot of time. We had moved the Supreme Court on March 18 and the apex court asked the Allahabad High Court to hear my case on priority basis but the HC didn’t hear me. My case was listed 14times but every time the honourable judges recused themselves from taking up my case. It was so surprising. I against approached the SC on August 4 and got an order on August 11 that the HC should hear my case within 15 days. The hearing went on for two days, September 27 and 28. The CJI delivered the verdict and October 1 and you all know how the HC overruled the NSC order and took the government authorities to task. Even after the HC order, they wanted to delay my release. The police said they were waiting for the DM’s order. The DM said he was waiting for his high command’s order. Then, my brother and other family members sat on a dharna (protest) before DM’s office and we told the police that we would move a contempt petition immediately. I think the threat worked and I was released on 11:55 pm.
Q: After so much physical and mental pain, do you want to keep quiet now or continue your crusade against CAA and the health system?
A: Let me tell you that I am not against CAA. But when the Home Minister, Hon’ble Amit Shah ji narrated the chronology in the parliament and said that CAA would be followed by National Register of Citizens (NRC) and then I decided to oppose. So I am against NRC. Further, I am a child doctor and it is my duty to make people aware of child’s health issue. I will continue to do both. I have taken a break as I am reuniting with my family after so long. They have gone
through so much emotional pain. I am equally concerned about lakhs of parents who lose their children due to medical negligence. I will never stop in exposing the government’s failure on the health front and its vindictiveness against poor people. Before my arrest on January 29, I had initiated a campaign for ‘Health For All ‘. I conducted more than 100 free medical camps all over India in which more than 50,000 kids were treated and given free medication with the help of ‘Dr Kafeel Khan mission smile Foundation ‘. I will keep the good work going.