“Religion is something different. Religion is spirituality, religion is humanity. I believe in Allah, that is my personal choice. But I don’t hate anyone. I love all the people who believe in other religions. I respect them. Connecting this to that incident is something bad. “-Dr. Kafeel Ahmed Khan.
Dr. Kafeel Khan was sent to jail in Ajay Bisht’s (Yogi Adityanath) Uttar Pradesh government where Dalits, OBCs and Muslims are getting murdered in fake encounters, for he tried saving the lives of children who are suffering from Japanese encephalitis, while they were denied of oxygen. Dr. Kafeel calls it a massacre.
We helplessly watched him being thrown to jail. They didn’t allow him to talk much to the media, and selectively and conveniently the media also forgot him. We were not sure whether he will come out alive, but he came out alive and in some ways he survived unlike Rohith, unlike Junaid, unlike Najeeb or unlike Gauri Lankesh.
Dr. Kafeel is now on his journey to thank his supporters, those who prayed for him, those who worked hard for him, those who stood with him. He cuddled babies. And he fears, “A Najeeb can happen to me”. And ask people to go in search of him if one day he goes missing. He asks people to remember him and his struggle if he gets killed by Ajay Bisht (Yogi Adityanath). Dr. Kafeel Khan said he would continue his fight. He said he would join United Against Hate team to fight this continuing victimization and injustice.
“What should I say more about these things? I already said everything”, Dr. Kafeel Khan said when I approached him for an interview.He was talking at Ernakulam, at Solidarity Youth Movement‘s program ‘Kerala Welcomes Dr. Kafeel Khan’.
I didn’t want Kafeel to repeat his 8 months ordeal. But what I wanted to know was certain other things. I wanted to know about how and why the UP government is continuing this silent genocide. I wanted to know if it isn’t it based on the discriminatory policies of the government towards underprivileged sections of people.
Q. Dr. Kafeel Khan, can you tell me about the disease these children are affected with?
Dr. Kafeel Khan. This is a disease known as acute encephalitis syndrome. Encephalitis is swelling of the brain. Acute is very sudden, within fifteen days… The child has fever on the day one, on the third day the child gets high fever, on the fifth day the child will die. This is very dramatic and acute in nature. Acute encephalitis syndrome is an umbrella which includes so many other diseases. One of the dreadful diseases is Japanese encephalitis. It was first reported in Japan. In 1971 it started in Japan but it was eradicated there because it has a vaccine called Japanese encephalitis vaccine. The vaccine is also available here. But that is not the thing. The vaccine is also funded by WHO. But the ground level work, I think they are not doing it properly. Maybe they are giving one doze, instead of two dozes which is needed, or maybe they are not maintaining the quality. Because in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, four years continuously the number of Japanese encephalitis patients decreased, but since 2016 it is in increase. ICMR says that 40% is because of scrub typhus. Scrub typhus is a bacteria which grows on a mite, which survive on a mouse or a rat. Rodent type. Whenever it pours, whenever it rains, the rats go inside the house and the mite bites the kid, the larva of scrub typhus goes inside the body of the children and it becomes encephalitis.
Q. So, does the disease depend on the caste and class positions of the kids?
Dr. Kafeel Khan. Yes. It is a disease of the poor. It is very strange that it is a disease of the poor. Only poor people get affected. If you go through the socio-economic status of those kids who died, 99% are below the poverty line. They don’t have good sanitation, they don’t have access to safe drinking water, they don’t have education, they don’t have food because they are malnourished. I think they don’t have all these basic things: sanitation, water, food, shelter and education. That is why they are malnourished, that is why they are easily affected and that is why their immunity is decreased. So, it is a disease of the poor. If you talk about the caste, it is not like Hindus are getting killed or Muslims are getting killed, or Dalits are more affected, it is above that, their class is lower class. Muslims and Hindus are getting killed. They are of low economic status, their income is very less, their houses are not pakka houses, they are living in huts.
Q. You call it a massacre.
Dr. Kafeel Khan. Yes, it is a massacre. That day what happened in BRD Medical college is a massacre. Just because they didn’t pay the money and the liquid oxygen was stopped, this happened. Pushpa Sales director Manish Bhandari was writing letters for the past six months, and he was writing to the District Magistrate, he was writing to the Principal, he was writing to the HoD of the Paediatrics, he was writing to the Director General of Medical Education KK Gupta, Principal Secretary Amita Jain Bhatnagar, he was writing to the Health Minister, he was writing to the Chief Minister also. But nobody took it seriously. They just forwarded it to one another. That is what they did. So, he sent a legal notice also, saying that I am going to stop supply of oxygen cylinders in 15 days. And he stopped. What is the current situation in BRD? Actually, see in Kerala there are fourteen districts and fourteen medical colleges. But in Gorakhpur there is only one medical college which caters to half of Bihar, half of Nepal, half of the Purvanchal, which includes adjoining districts. So, if you improve the infrastructure only in BRD, you can’t control the disease, you have to work on the peripheral level. I told you, encephalitis doesn’t give you so much time. It spreads very fast. When the fever starts you have to act. If you don’t act the child will go into coma. Then it is very difficult to save them. So, it is better to act early. The peripheral level health system in Uttar Pradesh, in Gorakhpur is like a white elephant. They have buildings, but they don’t have staff. They don’t have medicines, they don’t work 24 hours. We have to improve on that. After that incident government had given a lot of money, they woke up. They paid every debt off. But those kids who lost their lives are not coming back.
Q. The deaths are happening currently also?
Dr. Kafeel Khan. As far as I know, at least 250 deaths are happening every month. The number will increase in July, August, because of the rain. And we have only two months. They could not appoint a single doctor after my arrest. They could not appoint a single sister; human resource is still lacking. They are increasing the number of beds, they are giving money for infrastructure and equipment, but the peripheral level work is still lacking. They are not working up to the mark.
Q. What about the status of your case?
Dr. Kafeel Khan. The Honourable High Court has given me a clean chit, in the judgement he had beautifully written that Kafeel is not involved with the tender process of liquid oxygen, investigation officer dropped corruption charges because of lack of evidences during the investigation, and there is no evidence Uttar Pradesh government could produce against him for medical negligence. So, they removed all those charges. But still the case is going on. I have 308 charged on me, 308 means culpable homicide. I have to fight for the case. I am going to the court to quash my FIR, or clear at least my name out of it.
Q. You started off a campaign? You started it from Karnataka where you were working. You are travelling through states?
Dr. Kafeel Khan. It is not a campaign at all. It is to spread my thankful message to everyone. No, it is not a campaign. Everywhere, from all over India they are calling me. I have never thought that I will get such support from all over India, and all over the world. So, they are calling me and it is people’s love and affection coming to me. See, when I was in Karnataka they made it up that I came for a political party. I am not affiliated to any political party and politics is not my field. My passion is kids, I feel happy to be with kids and treat them. I am not going into politics. Politics is not my field, I am meeting all the people because at least they will remember me, because I feel anybody can be Dr. Kafeel. Anybody can be Dr. Kafeel. Because, even if you do good work, you get penalised, that is a bad thing. And we have to fight for those innocent people for whom this injustice is happening. I just came to say thanks and my fight is not over. They should remember me and they should support me.
Mrudula Bhavani is a freelance journalist.