NEW DELHI: “I will not leave Gorakhpur. I will not leave India. This is my home,my soul resides here” asserted Dr Kafeel Khan in his first interaction with journalists and civil society members after his release from Gorakhpur prison.

“It is a strange feeling actually because this is the same hall and probably in front of the same people where my family came to plead and tell the world what had happened that night and what was my role. I am the lucky person who came out of jail while others are still there,” the young doctor said. The venue was the Press Club of India.

Khan was in conversation with The Citizen Editor Seema Mustafa. And his first comments were a big thanks to The Citizen team for having remembered him in jail, writing about it, and bringing him back into focus after eight long months in UP prison without bail. He was released soon after, at the next court hearing.

He spoke with passion and sincerity. A couple of times he choked up, with eyes brimming with tears as he spoke of the anguish he and his family had endured. But he was categorical that he had lost his fear, and would fight for justice. “It is important to speak up I have learnt that. If you are innocent, if you have done nothing wrong, you should speak up instead of being a coward and remaining silent,” Khan said.

Khan was arrested by the UP government after a number of children died at the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) hospital in Gorakhpur. He worked as a resident in the hospital and was charged with Section 308 (Culpable Homicide) and Section 409 (Criminal Breach of Trust) by the UP government. Sixty-three children died in a span of four days in the hospital due to lack of oxygen cylinders.

He said that no one had come to him during the long ordeal. Friends and extended family members were too scared to even telephone him. Except for his immediate family he was deserted. But that when he was finally released and came out he was very moved to see hundreds of people, including parents of the children in hospital, with garlands and love.

“I am from a middle class family in Gorakhpur. We are six siblings and my father hoped that his sons would become doctors. I did my MBBS from Manipal. I was there for 12 years and was working as an assistant Professor in the Pediatric department. I joined as a lecturer on August 8, 2016 in the pediatric department at BRD hospital.”

Talking about the day of the incident, he said, “I was on leave on April 10, since Yogi Ji had arrived a day before, which was his first official visit; He had to inaugurate the High Dependency Unit and we had worked hard on it. I received a message at 10 at the night informing that there was a lack of liquid oxygen and whatever leftover |cylinder was there, had been depleted. Then I started calling everyone. I called the Head of Department (HOD) and the Principal. The Principal wasn’t available. I called up friends and the Acting Principal and arrived at the hospital myself. I tried to arrange jumbo cylinders from nearby hospitals and even tried to contact local vendors but to no avail. We then approached the Seema Suraksha Bal and got the cylinders with their help. On April 10, the liquid oxygen got finished by 7:30 and we had to switch to jumbo cylinders to make it work and even that finished by 11:30. There was absolutely nothing between 11:30-1:30. We tried to save lives with the help of angiovac.”

“There were a total of sixteen people including junior doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. The senior doctors came in the next day. From the 10th night onwards, the next 48 hours were spent in the hospital and arranged nearly 500 cylinders in that time span. The liquid oxygen arrived on April 12 at 11:30 in the night. We connected the liquid oxygen to the central pipeline of the hospital.”

Khan said it was a“total administrative failure” and regretted that media platofrms were used to malign his image by “rumour-mongers” and “fact-distorters.”

“Before Yogiji arrived on the 13th in the morning, smear campaigns had already started against me. When he came, he asked me, “Tum Dr. Kafeel ho? Tum kahan se cylinders laye?” (Are you Dr. Kafeel? Where did you get the cylinders from?). All the doctors and everyone were there. He continued, “Tum sochte ho ki cylinders laake hero ban jaoge? Main dekhta hoon.” (You think you are a hero by bringing in these cylinders? I will see you.). After that, it was all over for me. Everyone started ushering me and asking me to leave and come back two days later. They told me to not say anything and to leave. When I reached home, I started receving phone calls telling me I might be a victim of an encounter and that I should run for Lucknow.”

“Then I went to Lucknow, then Delhi and then they started harassing my family. I got to know that an FIR had been filed and a warrant for my arrest had come out. They had arrested my brother and were on the verge of arresting my sister. That’s when I knew I had to surrender.”

Speaking about how his arrest played out, he said, “I surrendered in Lucknow. They took me to a guest house instead of a police station at around one, where I was kept for 8-10 hours, 30-40 kilometres away from Gorakhpur. They were threatening me with legal action and then went on to threaten me with physical abuse. I told them that if they touched me, I would scream in front of the media. So they stuck to threatening me verbally. At 9:30, they took me to the Sajanwa district hospital for a medical check-up after which they took me to jail.”

He further went on to speak about his harrowing experience in jail. He said, “We were kept in a place which had a capacity of 60 people but had around 180 prisoners in it. We slept on the floor in the cold during winters. Some even had to sleep in the toilets due to lack of space.”

“I’m a pediatrician by profession but there were prisoners who were addicted to drugs and alcohol and started showing withdrawal symptoms. They used to have seizures and I provided them with medical aid. I started carrying medicines for stomach aches and fever which helped a lot”, he added regarding his time in prison.

Talking about whether he had given up hope during his time in jail, he said, “There were definitely times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to go back home. They did not directly tell me this in jail but indirectly they told me to forget about it till the 2019 elections. I believed that God was testing me and something better was stored in future. Everything happens for a reason, there are no coincidences. Apart from this, I read a lot of books and started writing a lot too.”

Lastly, when asked about what he has planned after his release, he added, “If the suspension is revoked, I’m willing to serve again. I will not go back to what has happened. I will fight encephalitis. I will start an encephalitis treatment centre. It will be free and there will be no shortage of medicine or treatment. We will try to do that.”

It should be noted that Dr. Kafeel Khan has been released on bail and that he is yet to be acquitted.

(Cover Photograph by S.M.Seraj Ali: Kafeel Khan with Seema Mustafa)