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By Arup Chanda, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: “I tried to save lives of children in India but for that, I was jailed. History will liberate me!” said the doctor.
Hundreds of children were dying in a hospital at Gorakhpur in India’s north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The hospital’s piped oxygen supply was cut off as the management had failed to pay the dues.
A pediatrician present could not bear the trauma in front of his own eyes. He went home, collected whatever money he had, and ordered oxygen from the private suppliers. He saved the lives of hundreds of children.
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This was August 10, 2017, and the scene was at BRD Medical College Hospital at Gorakhpur. Many child deaths occurred at this state-run hospital in 2017. As of 2 September 2017, 1,317 children had died at the hospital 2017. The 2017 deaths attracted attention all over India in August when 63 children died at the hospital after the hospital’s piped oxygen supply ran out. The number of child deaths in previous years was 5,850 in 2014; 6,917 in 2015; and 6,121 in 2016.
Acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) was a major cause of the deaths: As of 29 August 2017, 175 children had died because of encephalitis (including 77 in August alone)
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Government negligence arising from the shortage of oxygen supply was discovered to have been a major cause of avoidable deaths. The oxygen supply was cut by the supplier due to the long non-payment of dues. The Yogi Adityanath led government had ignored repeated requests for clearing the dues despite warning about supply being cut.
The sincere pediatrician saved the lives of hundreds of children but he was foolish in a land where corruption thrives. He was arrested on September 2, 2017, and charged with criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder, criminal breach of trust, cheating, and being corrupt.
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Why? Because his name was KHAN and he was not a terrorist! He was Dr. Kafeel Khan, the pediatrician who felt it was his duty to save the lives of the dying children as he had sworn by the Hippocratic Oath which all doctors have to swear.
Khan was incarcerated in Gorakhpur Jail where he remained for the next nine months.
Today Khan runs an NGO Doctors On-Road and travels all over the country to provide treatment to the poor even during this Covid19.
While in prison, Khan wrote a 10-page letter, detailing his version of what transpired when the deaths at BRD Hospital occurred due to the oxygen supply being cut. He claimed that he called the head of the department, the principal and acting principal of BRD, the district magistrate of Gorakhpur, the chief medical superintendent of Gorakhpur and BRD Medical College, and his other colleagues to inform them of the situation. He said that he also called local oxygen supplier agencies and begged them to immediately arrange for oxygen cylinders at BRD, and called nearby hospitals. He narrated that he went out to buy oxygen cylinders himself. He was able to scrape 250 cylinders together, paying for them himself and promising the suppliers that he would arrange for the rest of the payment soon. He carried some in his car and arranged with the Deputy Inspector General of Police for a truck and manpower from the Armed Border Force to deliver the others. He wrote that his family had been harassed by the police. He also wrote that in an encounter with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the latter had expressed anger at him.
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While in prison, Khan’s wife alleged that he was denied medical care in prison. Two days after the allegation, on 19 April 2018, the police took him for a medical examination, which had been due a week earlier.
In April 2018, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) released a statement in defense of Khan, saying that he had been framed. The secretary of the IMA blamed the state government officials and demanded a high-level probe. Over 200 health professionals and allied activists wrote a letter to Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, demanding justice for Khan, his immediate release, and the dropping of “false charges” against him.
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On 19 April, while responding to a Right To Information Act query, the BRD administration admitted that it was facing a shortage of oxygen cylinders on the night of 11 August 2018. It said that around six cylinders were bought from other hospitals and the then nodal officer Khan had arranged four oxygen cylinders on his own.
On 25 April 2018, Khan was released on bail after 9 months of imprisonment. The court ruled that there was no evidence of medical negligence on his part. Khan insisted on calling the incident a massacre and blames the UP administration for it. On being subsequently interviewed, Khan claimed to be made a scapegoat of the Yogi Adityanath government. Khan also regretted that despite their best collective efforts, he and his team could not save those 70 children from death.
In July 2018, it was reported that Khan had gone bankrupt. Khan said “People have stopped doing business with my brothers as they think it might upset Yogi ji. We still have properties worth crores but now we do not have buyers as nobody is willing to do business with my family”.
On 13 August 2018, Khan received a death threat on his mobile, on the same day that Delhi riots co-conspirator, according to admission from main accused, Tahir Hussain, and a student activist Umar Khalid, was attacked by an unknown armed mob at an event in Constitution Club, run by the Indian parliament in Delhi, which Khan was also attending.
On 10 June 2018, Khan’s brother, Kashif Jameel, was shot by unidentified assailants who were on motorbikes. He received three bullet wounds on his right upper arm, neck, and chin, but survived the attack. This was not the first time he was attacked. In 2014 also some people entered his house and aimed pistols, at him. Apparently, he is involved in multiple land disputes. This incident however took place in the Humayunpur North area near JP Hospital, 500 meters from the Gorakhnath Temple, where the UP Chief Minister was staying that night. In the aftermath of the incident, Khan said he had apprehended a murder attempt on his family members. He alleged that the police caused a delay of a few hours in his brother receiving urgent medical care. He further accused BJP MP from Bansgaon Kamlesh Paswan and his three associates of carrying out the attacks.
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On 24 February 2020, Khan’s uncle, a property dealer, was shot dead in Gorakhpur. The police stated that the death was unconnected to Khan’s case and appeared to be in relation to a property dispute.
Such was the vengeance of the Yogi government that Khan was arrested in Mumbai on 13 December 2019 by a special task force of the Uttar Pradesh police for offenses under the National Security Act 1980, in relation to a speech made by him at Aligarh Muslim University in earlier that month during the Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India. The Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR accusing Khan of committing an offense under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”. The FIR alleged that Khan’s speech amounted to a criminal offense because it “sowed the seeds of discord and disharmony” amongst students, and included disparaging remarks against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
He was granted bail on 10 February 2020 by an Aligarh court, but was re-arrested on 13 February 2020 and charged with offenses under the National Security Act, before his actual release from jail. The National Security Act allows preventive detention without trial for three-month periods, and on 12 May 2020, following the lapse of three months, his detention was extended for a second three-month period, until 12 August 2020. District Magistrate Chandra Bhushan Singh stated that the charges under the National Security Act were on the basis of confidential intelligence that suggested that Khan might, in the future, cause a law and order situation and that consequently the order of preventive detention was warranted.
On 1 September 2020, he was released by the Allahabad High Court, and all charges under the NSA against him were dropped.
On 19 March 2020, Khan wrote to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, offering to provide medical assistance during the Covid19 pandemic in India. He was not permitted to do so because he was arrested under NSA for his inflammatory speeches in December 2019.
On 23 March 2020, the Supreme Court of India ordered all states and union territories in India to establish panels to consider the release of all convicts who have been jailed for offenses for up to seven years, in order to decongest prisons in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in India. Khan was not among prisoners released under these circumstances because of NSA charges.
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In July 2020, a letter from Khan detailing conditions inside the Mathura Prison, where he was being detained, was published by several news outlets. His letter claimed that over 150 prisoners shared just one toilet facility, that the level of hygiene was insufficient, and that a number of prisoners were unwell, raising concerns about the spread of illness in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic. Khan’s brother, Adeel Khan, claimed to have received the handwritten letter on 1 July 2020; however, prison officials denied that Khan had written any such letter, and suggested that the letter was fake.
On 26 June 2020, a group of officials and experts in the United Nations called on the Indian government to release political prisoners who had been arrested for protesting India’s Citizenship Amendment Act, including Khan. The letter was signed by a number of Special Rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of speech and expression, and the members of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions.
On 1 September 2020, the Allahabad High Court ordered Khan to be released immediately and dropped the charges under the NSA against him. The Court observed that the speech for which Khan had been arrested did not disrupt the peace or promote hate or violent reactions; rather, the Court found that the speech “gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens. The speech also deprecates any kind of violence.” The High Court noted that the evidence provided by the prosecution was insufficient to warrant charges under the National Security Act and that Khan had been denied the opportunity to examine the evidence led against him. The Court observed that this constituted a violation of Khan’s constitutional rights, and accordingly set aside his detention. END.
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Curated and Compiled By Humra Kidwai