New Delhi: Gorakhpur-based child specialist Dr Kafeel Khan believes the seven months he spent in jail this year wasn’t for his anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) speech, but for “exposing” the country’s broken health system, and demanding answers on who was responsible for the BRD medical tragedy in 2017, he told ThePrint.
Khan’s comment came five days after he was released from the Mathura district jail. He was arrested on 29 January for an alleged inflammatory speech made in an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protest at Aligarh Muslim University in December 2019.
In February, days after his arrest, he was charged under the stringent National Security Act. Hearing his case last week, the Allahabad High Court deemed his arrest, based on a “selective reading” of his speech, “illegal”.
In an interview to ThePrint, Khan spoke about the “reasons” why he had been sent to jail. He said his work at the health camps he organised across the country wasn’t to prove his nationalism.
He also said he was allegedly tortured in custody, and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra helped his family move to Rajasthan. He added that he wants to return to Uttar Pradesh soon.
Three reasons for arrest
Talking about his arrest, Khan listed three reasons why he had to stay in jail for the last seven months.
Ever since he came out of jail in the BRD oxygen tragedy case, Khan said, he had been asking: “Who was the real culprit who killed those innocent kids?
Khan was one of the accused in the 2017 incident in Gorakhpur’s BRD Medical College when 63 children died of encephalitis due to shortage of oxygen cylinders. The Yogi Adityanath government accused him of medical negligence and corruption, being in-charge of the encephalitis ward, and having a private practice.
Khan had then spent nine months in jail because of the allegations, but was later absolved of all charges in September 2019 by a departmental inquiry commissioned by the state government. The panel had noted that Khan made all efforts to save the lives of the children.
However, days later, the UP government initiated a fresh departmental inquiry against him for spreading “misinformation” about the probe report and making “anti-government” political comments during the period of his suspension.
“If the Allahabad High Court says Dr Kafeel is not a murderer, your own internal inquiry says Dr Kafeel is not a murderer, then who is the real culprit who killed those 70 innocent kids? I keep asking this question, and the government doesn’t like this,” he said.
The second reason, according to him, was that he had begun “exposing India’s health system”.
Khan said when he began conducting medical camps across the country after he was first released, he realised that “the BRD tragedy was just the brutal face of our broken health system”.
Lastly, Khan said the second inquiry initiated against him for spreading misinformation also gave him a clean chit on 23 January. “This was the reason that after 23 January, I was arrested on 29 January… Since the government had no other reason to deny my reinstatement anymore, they went back and found something,” he said.
‘Nationalism comes with birth, just like religion’
Over the past six-seven years, people have been so divided on the basis of religion, caste and socio-economic status that they have stopped thinking, said Khan.
He said when people started seeing him as a hero, there was a division of opinion there as well.
“While Muslims started calling me a hero, several others were on Yogi ji’s side… They didn’t give it a thought that I am a doctor. If instead of Dr Kafeel Khan, I was Dr Kafeel Mishra or Kafeel Kumar, even then I would’ve done the same thing. Wouldn’t have let the kids die,” he said.
Khan also said Muslims do not have anything to prove when it comes to nationalism and patriotism. “Nationalism is something which comes when you are born, just like religion. When I was born in India, then India is the country that I will love if I’m a true Indian. There’s no way to prove it,” he said.
“The way you love your religion, in the same way, you love your ‘Indian-ness’ and your citizenship,” he added.
Khan said he conducted 103 health camps across the country, checked up on 50,000 children, and distributed free medicines.
“Out of those 50,000 children, I never saw who was a Hindu’s kid or who was a Muslim’s, or who was a rich kid and who was a poor kid. I was examining everybody. But that wasn’t to prove to anybody that I was doing this because I am an Indian, because I know that the country is mine,” he said.
‘We’re still discussing Ali-Bajrangbali, Ram Mandir’
Khan also spoke about how India is struggling with a “massive disaster” on several fronts at the moment.
“Coronavirus is not the only thing. Till now 70,000 people have died because of corona, but 28,000 people are dying everyday because of non-corona diseases. So many migrants died because of the lockdown. China has intruded our country. On the Pakistan border, every day a soldier is dying. Unemployment has gone to what it was 45-50 years ago. Economy is broken,” he said.
“Roti, kapde, makan, health, employment and education — people have the same six demands for the past 72 years since Independence, but we don’t talk about it. Instead, we talk about shamshan kabristan, Ali-Bajrangbali, CAA-NRC, Pakistan, Ram Mandir, triple talaq, halala. So we aren’t talking about the basic issues at all,” he added.
On help from Priyanka Gandhi
Khan also highlighted how he was allegedly “tortured” physically and mentally while in custody.
“They made me naked, made me lie down, used batons and sticks to hit me… I couldn’t sit for so many days,” he said. “No food, no water, no sleep for 72 hours… When I used to feel drowsy, the officers would pour water on me.”
He said his family was naturally apprehensive and worried. This, he said, they shared with Priyanka Gandhi, who then suggested that they move to Rajasthan.
“The same night she arranged for everything in Jaipur… But I haven’t joined the Congress. And whatever Priyanka ma’am helped me with, there wasn’t any political motive in it,” he said.
While Khan clarified that he wasn’t planning to join any political party anytime soon, he added, “When I get frustrated, I do feel that the system is so rotten that you have to get into the system to fix it. So maybe after sometime, a few years down the lane, I’d have to compel myself to join a party.”
He also said he will request the UP government to reinstate him and leave Rajasthan in another week or so. He wants to work as a “corona warrior”, he said.
“I won’t bend. And I won’t leave Uttar Pradesh… I am not going to get scared of the harassment for the past three years that my family is going through. I’m going to keep speaking the truth,” he said.