NEW DELHI: As India celebrates another Independence Day, the line of millions for whom freedom has litte meaning as poverty, oppression, distress, agony haunts their daily life has just grown longer. A couple of days ago the widows of men lynched by mobs gathered in the national capital to recall not just those who they had lost, but the manner in which they had lost them, and the fear that stalks their families and indeed the districts and villages in which they live with threats, police intimidation and abuse becoming part of a struggle that till now was largely economic.

Not a tear has dried in the eyes, as Gandhi had spoken of when India attained her independence, and in fact afer the Dalits, the Muslims have become the new targets of free India in a manner that is as ruthless and violent as before. In the backwaters of Siddharthanagar in eastern UP many years ago I ran into an old man, ancient who did not live long after, a Dalit who had faced brutal torture and humiliation for his caste. He had been tied to a tree and flogged for hours by the upper castes, his frail wasted body testimony to the violence. He had joined the communist movement subseqently that was at one time influential in the area, and after its demise, was waiting quietly for his own death. Beside him was a young man Ambedkar, who had joined a regional UP party and converted to Buddhism. Why? As at least I do not need to get a pundit into my house for every occasion, and feel the humiliation of my case, was his immediate response.

And to them are being added the Muslims, with palpable fear running through targeted districts and regions such as Mewat in Haryan, Alwar in Rajasthan, western UP, and of course almost every where else. JNU student Najeeb Khan mother is still waiting for her son to return, refusing to give up hope; Mohammad Akhlaq’s family is without home since; Pehlu Khan’s widow is having to contend with the release of all those who killed him; the list is long, and getting longer by the day as the Muslim becomes the ‘other;’ the target for ‘armies’, and the secular opposition parties joining the rest in invisibilising India’s largest minority.

A year ago a large number of children---figures vary from 45 to 64--children died at Gorakpur’s BDS hospital because of a sudden disruption in oxygen supply. This in the home constituency of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath whose response to the horrific incident was to cover it up by packing a bunch of hospital employees, including doctors, to jail and thereby ensuring there was no ‘version’ from those who knew the hospital best. In the midst of this was young Dr Kafeel Khan who was penalised only because he caught the media attention, rushing around trying to get oxygen cylinders to save the children.

He along with the Principal of the Baba Raghav Das Medical College Dr R.K.Mishra, and his wife Purnima Shukla (a homeopath by profession) were also despatched to jail. But it was not a term that was going to be easy, All were denied bail, spending most of the past one year in jail. Dr Khan was released after The Citizen asked where he was for eight months at the time, and whether saving lives was now a crime? And Dr Mishra and his wife released ten months later, after a similar report carried by us.

Dr Kafeel Khan and his family has been feeling the heat ever since he came into the limelight for saving children at a Gorakhpur hospital from certain death because of a sudden disruption in the oxygen supply. The doctor has had to go on a fund raising drive as he is not able to practice, being under suspension after eight long months in jail without bail, and his brothers have also been systematically targeted.

Dr Mishra and his wife Purnima Shukla y have only just been released with their only son Dr Purak Mishra having had to leave his job in a reputed Delhi hospital to fight the legal battle. Both the husband and wife are extremely ill, with the legal battle turning into a medical batte for their son who told The Citizen that he is extremely worried for his father whose health has deriorated dramatically during the long months in jail.He is a heart patient with severe diabetes, whose liver is now impacted.

For Kafeel Khan, the aftermath of his release has been more traumatic. One brother was shot at with the bullet hitting his neck, a second brother now is running around as a case has been lodged against him, and a third brother also in the firing line has had to shut down his business to face various charges levelled against him. Khan told The Citizen recently that life had become very difficult, and at times they had no idea what to do. “All I know is we cannot and should not keep silent, I was silent for eight months and was kept in jail without reprieve all that while,” he said.

After his release he has been very public in his appearances but his family has born the price. Khan broke down after his brother was shot, as the police instead of allowing him immediate treatment took them for a meaningless ride to a government hospital a distance away for a medico legal examination. Valuable hours were lost before his brother was able to undergo surgery for the bullet wounds.

Currently the family is running around trying to fight the various legal cases, with Khan still under suspension. Ironically he was present at the Constitution Club in Delhi when an attempt on the life of JNU student Umar Khalid was made. As he said later, those who had attacked his brother were visible on the CCTV cameras at Gorakhpur and fled with impunity. No one has been caught. Khalid was shot in Delhi’s VVIP high security zone, a stone throw away from Parliament; and his brother shot near Gorakhnath Temple where CM Adityanath was present at the time and security high.

Khan has been trying to find solace in some medical activity from donating blood himself to treating patients in free camps. “I have been so frustrated, but feel a little better now” he said after one such camp recently where he treated ailing children. Being under suspension he remains unemployable, with even Kerala not following up on its offer a few weeks ago to use his expertise in treating children suffering from the Nipah virus that had symptoms in common with encephalitis. Fear stalks the family, with Khan living with it every moment of the day. The role of the police in UP certainly does not inspire confidence.

Both families are finding it difficult to recover with the pressure on in different ways. Dr Mishra is disoriented and in pain. Punrima Shukla is breathless and has great difficulty breathing. As Purak Miskhra said, their health is shattered and he has been now spending his days and nights looking after his parents who health remains a matter of deep concern. As the young doctor said, “from last Independence Day to this one, or lives turned upsdie don. From being the victims of a fasle case, getting caught in a political web and being named as ‘killers’ to finally getting bail, we never lost our faith. And we never will.”

This is the grit that defines the Khan and the Mishras of Gorakhpur.