From the time of his first arrest in September 2017, the Gorakhpur doctor has faced a series of cases in which he insists he is being implicated.
Lucknow: A stern verdict of the Allahabad high court finally gave a reprieve to Dr Kafeel Khan, who has been a target of the Uttar Pradesh government for almost three years.
Even as he walks out of prison, where he was languishing for over six months under a visibly trumped-up National Security Act (NSA) charge, many have been left wondering if Kafeel had to pay a heavy price simply because his name is “Khan”.
The sequence of events does suggest that his name could have been among the key factors that led to his repeated incarceration. After all, there could be no denying that what he did as an assistant professor of paediatrics at the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur three years ago should have earned him laurels, rather than jail term after jail term.
His first arrest came on September 2, 2017, shortly after he went out of his way to ensure availability of oxygen cylinders for dying children in the Gorakhpur Medical College. Soon after he got bail from the high court after seven months in jail, he was hauled up for “creating ruckus” at the Bahraich district hospital. He, however, managed to get bail on the same day. But even before 24 hours could pass, he was in for yet another arrest – for having submitted “fake” documents to open an account in a nationalised bank way back in 2009.
Arrest in relation to CAA protest
The next arrest came as a consequence of his allegedly “provocative” speech made during anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in December 2019. This time, the state government had detailed the Special Task Force (STF) to his case. Eventually, STF sleuths arrested him from Mumbai, where he had gone for personal work on January 29, 2020. Over the next few days, the administration invoked the NSA that was extended after its three-month period came to an end in May and then again in August.
Had it not been for the high court’s intervention, his family feels, Kafeel Khan would still have been languishing behind bars.
While setting aside the NSA order against Khan, the high court felt that the Aligarh administration had played up half-truths and used selective remarks made by Khan at the AMU anti-CAA rally to issue the order. It may be pertinent to mention that the Aligarh administration invoked the NSA soon after the local chief judicial magistrate granted Khan bail in the earlier case that was registered under various provisions of the IPC. Sure enough, there was reason to believe that the district administration was acting under directions from the political masters, who had apparently made up their mind to teach Khan a lesson.
The high court bench went to the extent of terming the government’s decision to invoke the NSA on Khan as “bad in law” and the extension of the NSA term as “illegal”. It also flatly refuted the government’s charge that Khan’s speech was aimed at spreading hatred, noting instead that it “gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens”.
The Gorakhpur tragedy
As mentioned above, Khan’s first arrest was in September 2017, shortly after 67 children affected by encephalitis died in the Gorakhpur Medical College simply because of abrupt suspension of oxygen supply to the children’s ward. The supplier of the cylinders, Manish Bhandari, later pleaded that he had no option but to do so as he had exhausted his own funds while the state government was sitting pretty over his pending payments of Rs 68 lakh. Later, it was discovered that the file was held back by a senior IAS officer in the medical education department simply because the officer wanted a “cut” ‒ a routine practice rampant at all levels in UP.
Knowing that bureaucratic red-tape had little room for emotion, Kafeel got down to using his personal resources to muster up oxygen cylinders on the night of August 11, 2017. He managed to procure a few cylinders from some private hospitals in the neighbourhood and carted them over in his car to the paediatrics ward in the medical college, where 34 kids had already breathed their last in the absence of oxygen over the preceding 48 hours. And sure enough, his actions resulted in saving a few precious lives.
Perhaps, anybody else in that position would have been lauded and rewarded for being a good Samaritan. But far from any recognition, he received a rude shock when he was reprimanded for the act by none other than chief minister Yogi Adityanath himself.
On August 13, 2017, the chief minister flew down from the state capital to his spiritual home, Gorakhpur, to take a first-hand account of the tragedy at the medical college. And according to Kafeel, the moment he appeared before the chief minister, he said in a reprimanding tone, “Toh tum hi ho Dr Kafeel Khan jo oxygen cylinders idhar udhar se jama kar raha tha; tum sochte ho cylinders ki vyvastha kar ke tum bahut bare hero ban gaye; dekhta hoon ise. (So you are Dr Kafeel Khan, who arranged cylinders. So you think by arranging cylinders you became a hero? I will see it)”
What followed was unabashed hounding of the doctor. Kafeel was suspended and arrested, along with eight others, including the medical college principal, Dr Rajiv Misra, his wife Dr Purnima Shukla, owner of Pushpa Sales (the company supplying the oxygen) Manish Bhandari, and anaesthesia department head Dr Satish Kumar. It took about seven months for each of them to get bail.
Meanwhile, departmental inquiries instituted against them also gave them clean-chits. One-by-one, eight of them (none happened to be a Khan) were reinstated. But Kafeel Khan was the only one to face a fresh inquiry by the state government. And this time, he was charged not only of dereliction of duty, but also indiscipline, negligence and even corruption and for “stealing oxygen cylinders”.
Even as Khan’s family feels relieved to have him back after months in the prison cell, they are still apprehensive that the doctor could be once again implicated in another case. “Anything can happen when the government is hell-bent on harassing him,” said Kafeel’s brother Adil Khan, who seems convinced that the doctor is paying the price either for his good deed in August 2017 or because his name is Khan.
Courtesy The Wire