“This time they broke me,” says Dr Kafeel Khan who has finally shaved off his long beard denoting confinement. Despite the second stint in jail---now of over eight months---Khan who has become a household name has taken a toll mentally and physically with the torture and abuse, but his signature smile remains. And is already preparing to take a team to the flood impacted areas of India, to do what he is best at : heal.

Khan fell foul of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for doing little more than his duty, A doctor working in a Gorakhpur hospital, little known outside his own vicinity, Khan stepped up to the occasion when the hospital’s oxygen supply ran out and children afflicted by encephalitis started collapsing as a result. Instead of an award he got time in jail, and as he recalls at that time his daughter was just a few months old and when he came out of confinement she was walking.

This time too he left an infant baby boy in the arms of his wife, also a doctor, and returned to a toddler who is still getting to know him. His mother, despite the pandemic, ran along with his wife and brothers from pillar to post to get legal counsel and somehow get him out of jail. This time there was little hope, but the family laboured on, with the businesses of his brothers now completely finished. A well to do family has been ruined financially over these years, apart from the mental agony that they are all too resilient to speak of.

Khan who spoke only in bits and pieces about what he went through, still managed to bring out the complete terror of imprisonment. The Special Task Force that arrested him from Mumbai, and kept him in custody for a few days, stripped the doctor, beat him repeatedly, did not let him sleep, abused and threatened him till he had no idea of where he was or what was going on. He could not sit because of the increasing pain, but one of the questions he remembers was about a supposed powder he had invented to kill everyone. “They treated me as if I was some terrorist, a hard core criminal,” he recalls wryly.

From custody he was sent to Mathura jail on the night of January 31. All he wants to do now is somehow forget what followed. He was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell for five days and nights. He was given two rotis and a little water for the five days. Khan says since he was hungry so ate the first roti rapidly, and then realised that he was not getting any more. “So I dried the second roti, and would break small pieces and eat with the water,” he recalls. “But I became so hungry and desperate that I would scream out loudly, ask for food, beg for food, gnaw at my clothes. I started hallucinating about food, dishes in the air…”, he says. “I could not pass urine, and when I did the pain accompanying the few drops had me screaming again,” he says recalling the agony.

Meanwhile his family was running for legal help and his brother finally managed it at the time. Khan was then moved to a cell with 150 inmates against the capacity of 40 to a maximum of 60. There was one toilet, and the inmates had to queue often for half an hour or more to use it. The staple diet was watery dal and chapatis twice a day, with the morning meal occasional and usually just some chana or dalia. In Covid times the inmates had no space to even sit, with sweaty bodies huddled in corners at night, without even the space to turn.

The trauma remains, “as I never thought they would hit and beat me, it never even crossed my mind.” The authorities kept skirting court orders or delaying court hearings. For instance during the last six months the High Court gave dates at least 14 times but five judges recused themselves from the cause, causing delays of two to three weeks each time. Khan’s family was doggedly persistent, and as he says, it is because of their effort and the “excellent” ruling that he is out of jail. As Khan says, “I have been married for just five years, and have spent two and a half years of this in jail.”

Now please stay out of jail. “But what have I done, what can I do? I said nothing, I only speak about my love for India, the Constitution and the law. I have never made any inflammatory speeches, I have never incited people, I speak about the issues of concern and yet I was taken in, tortured and beaten, “ Khan points out. “I do not want to go to jail but they drag me there on false pretext, and even this time kept telling me to stop talking about the children who had died in hospital, to forget about them,” he says.

Khan is very concerned about his family. “They have gone through a lot, they have suffered tremendously. This is the first time my old mother folded her hands and pleaded with me to stay silent. My brothers had good business, these are finished completely. My wife has gone through hell. I am a stranger to my children. Why, what have I done to deserve all this,” he asks.

The charming, smiling, conscientious, courageous doctor is being targeted over and over again. What will you do now? Khan says that he wants to return to his profession, he needs to as well to earn money. The legal fees were huge, and as he and his family found, friends and others deserted them during this period of trial. But the UP government has kept him under suspension so that he cannot work anywhere as a result.