DR KAFEEL KHAN | 12 JANUARY, 2019
Three Days in August
Justice for those parents means a health system that works for all of us
In those 54 hours 45 kids died, even though unofficial records give a higher figure.
We arranged oxygen cylinders ourselves, we gathered empty cylinders from every corner of the hospital. We managed to load these onto a Seema Suraksha Bal truck. It took hours for it to return with the cylinders refilled.
There were also ambu bags – these concentrate oxygen from the surrounding air – but the parents didn’t know how to use them.
We were 16 doctors for 250 kids. I was the junior most doctor there.
Every hour, half an hour a kid was dying.
When Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited the hospital he asked for me and said, ‘Tu Dr Kafeel hai? Tu samajhta hai cylinders arrange karke hero ban jayega. Main tujhe dekhta hun.’ (So you’re Dr Kafeel? You think that by arranging oxygen cylinders you’ll become a hero. I’ll see about you.)
In the space of a day the story changed from the kids who died, to Dr Kafeel. I was the junior most doctor there. No one asked who the head of department was, or why the oxygen ran out. Even a common person knows it’s not a doctor’s job to get oxygen.
They tried to blame the deaths on encephalitis. But 14 of the 23 who died on 10th August were newborns. Children less than 6 months old do not get encephalitis.
In all, 27 of the 45 who died were just a day or two old.
It’s been one and a half years, their parents are still waiting for justice.
I was suspended from my job.
‘Arey Yogiji ka gussa hai, thodi der mein shant ho jayega aur tum wapas aa jana.’ It’s only Yogiji’s anger, things will soon quiet down and you can come back.
I made a mistake in leaving Gorakhpur. I had done nothing wrong, I should have faced it.
On August 22 an FIR was registered against me, so I surrendered.
They didn’t take me to the police station, but to a government guest house. They kept saying you will not, will not talk about BRD any more.
In the evening the police would show up at my home when only women were present, though they are not permitted to do so. They would harass and threaten them. They filed false cases against us.
The police also started showing up at the home of whoever my brother was doing business with. He used to run a business in electrical goods. ‘Achha, tum us Kafeel ke sath business kar rahe ho’ – So, you’re in business with that Kafeel's brother?
My brother stopped getting orders, and people didn’t pay him the money they owed.
On September 3 I went to jail for the first time. It was a horrible experience. I couldn’t bathe for a week or ten days. I was locked up in a small room with hardcore criminals, each of whom had killed several people. There was one toilet for 160, 170 of us. They would deliberately lock us up near the stinking toilet for 12 hours at a time, so we could barely breathe. I couldn’t meet my family.
In my nine months in jail I wondered what it meant that I was being penalised for doing good work.
There has been a TV transition from saas-bahu serials (mother- and daughter-in-law) to news. People understand what’s going on now. But people in remote areas still believe what they see, the messages that are circulated. After the deaths at BRD, even journalists were printing stuff off of social media, or were just making it up.
I realised that as a citizen of the country you have to fight.
I’ve refused offers to go to the US, UK, Canada. I could compromise with Yogi, saying I won’t talk about BRD any more, but I haven’t.
They haven’t dismissed me, only suspended me, so I can’t get another job or return to work.
People called me killer, villain. But you have to answer only to yourself.
I know what happened.
The 10th and 11th of August were a horrible time.
I was rearrested on a false pretext and jailed for a month and a half, while I was trying to find out cause of 78 children deaths in district hospital Bahraich.
My brother was shot within 500 metres of the chief minister's residence in gorakhpur. You can imagine the security there, they say even a dove’s feather won’t touch you.
My brother was shot and in great pain, but the police deliberately delayed emergency surgery which was needed to removed the bullets to save him. It happened around 10 am, and till 3 pm there was no surgery. They operated on him only when there was an outcry.
This was the second murder attempt.
We have become untouchables.
I wrote a 10 page letter from jail, which we smuggled out inside my one year old daughter’s diaper.
The letter was such a bomb, we couldn’t believe it. Even the judge who’d give dates only on end, gave me bail, saying in his judgment that the UP police had failed to provide any evidence against me.
We never thought the letter would have such power. It was picked up by the social media, then the press, and even the judiciary is affected by public uproar.
Because the government didn’t pay 70 lakhs, 70 kids died.
The supplier wrote 14, 18 letters, saying give me my money or I’ll stop the oxygen supply. He was ignored. To save the district magistrate, the principal secretary, higher authorities, they found a scapegoat.
Those 48 hours were very harrowing. Parents were clutching our feet, saying please save my child. But we couldn’t.
Dead bodies – they cut sheets into quarters, and wrapped and smuggled the kids’ bodies out the back door – the media shouldn’t see.
It was a total administrative failure of the government in power.
I’ll continue my fight till those kids’ parents get justice.
Their parents aren’t alone. If you go to the villages, about a third of people’s income goes towards medical care. One child falls sick and all of their savings are wiped out.
They were keen that the international media shouldn’t see this, as a massive failure in a government run hospital.
The oxygen supplier wrote letters to the district magistrate, the health secretary, the Directorate General of Medical Education, the health minister, the chief minister. Every fortnight he was writing a letter.
They got the letters, they didn’t pay the money.
Yogi wanted to change the narrative and save his own people. He was successful in doing that.
Yogi lost the Lok Sabha bypoll in Gorakhpur. Why? Because in all the villages those kids were from, the whole village didn’t vote for Yogi. They know what happened. He may have been CM for just six months, but he was the Gorakhpur MP for 30 years.
It wasn’t just the oxygen supply. A cradle warmer costs only 50,000 – if the infant has a fever it lowers the ambient temperature, and vice versa. If you put multiple kids inside, it gets confused. We had only 16 warmers for 78 kids.
Across north India, primary health centres and community health centres are in a very bad state – the mohalla clinics in Delhi are a rare exception.
In south India the primary health system is working much better. Primary doctors identify the problem, and refer critical patients to bigger hospitals.
I want to bring health as a main issue, as one of the most important issues, into party manifestos for the upcoming elections.
Why aren’t parties talking about this? Teen talaq, there have been perhaps 400 such divorces, no one cares. Ram mandir, go ahead and make a temple there, no one cares.
All parties are united in distracting from the main issues.
Encephalitis has been prevalent in UP, West Bengal, Assam and Bihar for 25 years now. Why has no government done anything about it?
Because these are all poor people’s kids who are dying.
If you work in the field, you will see the people sitting at the top think we are insects, vermin.
If a poor kid dies they don’t care.
There is an ongoing drug epidemic among youngsters, because of unemployment. I met many such young men in jail, addicts who were caught for stealing because they had no jobs.
An entire generation is going to waste. We have to talk about these critical issues.
Justice for those parents, means a health system that works for each and every one of us.
Make it an issue.
Deaths in the Paediatric and Neonatal Wards, BRD Hospital, Gorakhpur
August 10, 2017
, 2 days, 3.30 am
, 3 days, 3.45 am
, 4 am
, 1 day, 6.30 am
, 6 days, 10.30 am
, 12 months, 11 am
, 1 day, 11.55 am
, 1 day, 12.10 pm
, 2 days, 1.30 pm
, 4 days, 1.45 pm
, 1 day, 2.30 pm
, 20 days, 3.15 pm
, 20 days, 4 pm
, 7 months, 4.45 pm
, 1 day, 5.10 pm
, 13 months, 6.25 pm
, 3 years, 7.30 pm
, 1 day, 8 pm
, 2 years 6 months, 8.25 pm
, 6 years, 8.40 pm
, 2 years 6 months, 10 pm
, 4 years, 10.05 pm
, 3 years, 5.30 am
, 20 days, 9.05 am
, 7 years, 10 am
, 12 years, 10.45 am
, 4 days, 2 pm
, 7 years, 3.30 pm
, 4 days, 3.40 pm
, 1 day, 6.15 pm
, 5 years 6 months, 10.50 pm
, 5 days, 11 pm
, 2 days, 11.30 pm
, 1 day, 3 am
, 4 days, 6.30 am
, 4 months, 8 am
, 2 months, 8.05 am
, 1 day, 2.30 pm
, 1 day, 2.30 pm
, 1 month, 4.30 pm
, 1 day, 6.30 pm
, 7.30 pm
, 10 years, 9.15 pm
, 1 day, 9.30 pm
(As told to The Citizen.)