According to some accounts, Bahraich District Hospital in UP saw at least 75 children’s deaths over 45 days in August-Sept, looking starkly similar to the mass deaths of children at BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur last year due to Japanese encephalitis. Dr. Kafeel Khan, who have been consistently persecuted by the Adityanath Government because of his whistleblowing into the deaths of the children in Gorakhpur that he said was caused due to the Government’s negligence in ensuring oxygen supply at the hospital. Recently, was recently arrested by the UP police yet again. He was visiting the Bharaich Hopspital, where he suspected that the deaths were again due to Japanese Encephalitis. Before arrest, the police kept Dr. Khan in unofficial custody for 18 hours, as mainstream media continued to maintain criminal silence about mass deaths of children, and illegal arrest of the Doctor who was talking about the state of healthcare in the country. Mrudula Bhavani writes.
“People are never considered by the government as their citizens if they don’t have money and voice. Politicians should consider (people) as citizens beyond the possibility of (just) voters,” Dr Kafeel Khan said during his visit to flood affected tribal villages in Wayanad, Kerala.
Disheartened to see the broken houses and starving, sick, TB affected children, he asked the Government of Kerala to pay special attention to the adivasis affected by poverty and poor health, who lack essential minimum living standards like proper toilet facility. He commented that Rs. 10,000 as immediate relief amount is not enough for people to rebuild their lives. Dr Kafeel expressed his worries about 30% of the population who are still struggling to get back to their lives because they are socially and economically underprivileged.
Few days after his Kerala visit, Dr Kafeel was picked up and kept in unofficial custody by UP police during his visit to Bahraich district hospital where 75 children died in 45 days due to what is thought to be Japanese encephalitis. The hospital authorities were claiming that these deaths are because of some unknown disease, but Dr Kafeel Khan recognized it as the Japanese encephalitis. He had taken permission from the CMO to visit the hospital. The police didn’t bother to check whether he did so or not, but they told the media that Dr Kafeel created disturbance in the hospital.
यूपी में रहस्यमयी बुखार से सैकड़ों लोगों की जाने चली गई
— Dr kafeel khan (@drkafeelkhan) September 18, 2018
According to a Mirror Now report, most of the Bahraich district’s primary health centers are shut or not functioning properly. They don’t have medicines or doctors. The only accessible hospital is the district hospital, which too lacks basic facilities.
On August 30, 2018 the UP government claimed that they are fighting the menace of Japanese encephalitis and acute encephalitis syndrome with a campaign called Dastak launched by CM Yogi Adityanath. Health minister Siddharth Nath Singh claimed that there is a drastic fall in cases of acute encephalitis syndrome and Japanese encephalitis. Most of the national channels and newspapers – whose willingness to bend to power was earlier exposed by CobraPost’s sting operation – carried the statement right away. But the number of deaths due to these diseases didn’t fall from August, last year. The BRD Medical college serves a diverse population of people from eastern UP, some districts of Bihar and other neighboring states. Only after the death of these children due to government negligence and victimization of Dr Kafeel Khan, the question of deteriorating healthcare in UP became big news.
“Japanese encephalitis is eradicated completely from Japan but in India it continues taking lives of children. WHO is distributing a vaccine against the disease but this vaccine is not rightly distributed to those needed. May be they are giving one doze instead of two dozes as needed. In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 – for four years continuously the number of Japanese encephalitis patients decreased, but since 2016 it is increasing. ICMR says that 40% of Japanese encephalitis is because of scrub typhus – 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 houses and the mite bites the children and babies, the larva of scrub typhus goes inside the body of children and it becomes encephalitis. It is a disease of the poor… Only poor children get affected. If you go through the socio-economic status of those kids who died in BRD last year, 99% are below 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 and they are malnourished. I think they don’t have all these basic things: sanitation, water, food, shelter and education. That is why they are affected and that is why their immunity is decreased. So, it is a disease of the poor. If you talk about their caste, it is not Hindus, Muslims, or Dalits who are most affected. It is above that. Their class is lower class. They are of low economic status, their income is very less, their houses are not pakka houses, they are living in huts.
The peripheral level health system in Uttar Pradesh, in Gorakhpur is like a white elephant. They have buildings but they don’t have staffs. They don’t have medicines, they won’t work 24 hours. Currently, at least 250 deaths are happening every month. They couldn’t appoint a single doctor after my arrest. I call the children’s death a massacre,” said Doctor Khan during an interview in May.
Hundreds of children died in the encephalitis ward in a single day at the BRD Hospital. It was utter failure on the part of the government authorities that caused these deaths. The communal government is engaged in a series of staged encounters mainly of Muslim youths. On the other hand people are denied basic public health facilities and basic living standards. In both ways the Yogi government is capitalizing at the expense of the underprivileged.
Whenever it pours, whenever it rains, the rats go inside houses and the mite bites the children and babies, the larva of scrub typhus goes inside the body of children and it becomes encephalitis. It is a disease of the poor… Only poor children get affected. If you go through the socio-economic status of those kids who died in BRD last year, 99% are below poverty line.
On 6th August Dr. Kafeel conducted a press meet at Faroke college, Calicut. He said, “Already 1200 kids have died this year also, from January 1st till July 4th. I thought I will start a five hundred bed encephalitis treatment center if they fire me. But that also they are not letting me do – start my service. When I was in jail in those eight months I got an opportunity, that was a positive you can call it. In prison, I got a lot of time to read and to know what is happening in India. In the name of caste, in the name of religion, they are spreading hate and terror, communal disharmony, violence. I never realized who is Najeeb, who is Akhlaq, who is Junaid when I was a doctor going to the hospital and coming back to my home. But when I was in jail, when I myself became a victim, I realized what this regime is doing. What happened to Rohith Vemula? What is Una Kaand? Why Dalits can’t ride a horse when they are getting married? Why don’t people have the right to have rights? While India’s foundation is pluralism, inclusion, and communal harmony, this regime of Modi and Yogi are spreading only hate and violence. Mob lynching? As a human being, you should be ashamed to see somebody killing someone. Here people are happy to see that. You know, like in Hapur, when Kasim was getting killed in front of Uttar Pradesh cops. There are so many people celebrating the killings on social media platforms. That is not humanity. To watch a human being lynched by another human being and finding happiness in seeing that – that is not humanity. You should be ashamed of this.”
By neither revoking his suspension nor firing him from government service (which would allow him to set up private practice), just to keep him tied up, the UP government is continuing the grave injustice towards Dr Kafeel Khan and the cause he is fighting for. In a country ruled by communal frenzied leaders, neither the Hindutva nor the ‘secular’ crowd will ever dare to stand by the side of a victimized Muslim doctor, the same way they won’t stand with Abdul Nasar Maudani, who can’t travel out of Bengaluru even when he is bailed out in a framed terror case.
Dr. Kafeel Khan and Media Victimization
According to Dr. Kafeel, the media is a co-accused in the conspiracy. When the children died on August 10 2017, media portrayed him in a positive light – a doctor who tried saving the lives of dying children. But next day after Yogi Adityanath visited the hospital and warned Dr. Kafeel about the possible consequences they changed the narrative. Dr. Kafeel became the ‘accused’.
“These mainstream media sitting in Mumbai, sitting in Delhi, they didn’t go to the ground level, to BRD medical college to find out who is Dr. Kafeel Khan. They started writing ‘vice principal of BRD Medical college’ while there is no such post in BRD medical college. [And generally] You need to be 35 to 40 years old to become vice principal and you need 20 years of experience. They made me head of the department of BRD’s pediatric department. You need to be a professor to be an HoD. I was only a lecturer. I joined only on 8th of August 2016. The liquid oxygen supplied to the ward got drained. How can someone steal oxygen from pipelines? They created a picture as if I was running the whole medical college. Two days they made me hero, then they made me infamous murderer Dr. Kafeel without knowing who is Dr. Kafeel. I think it’s just to save the Yogi Government because the Yogi Government was in a mess. They couldn’t respond to the 9 letters from Pushpa sales asking for the Rs. 68 lakh dues. So instead of telling the truth, instead of pursuing the spirit of true journalism, they acted under the pressure of Yogi Government. To save the Government, they made me the villain, they made me the scapegoat. I equally blame the Yogi Government and the central media sitting in Bombay and Delhi as the co-accused in this conspiracy.
And it is not just about me, it is about the children who died and their parents. It has been a year and they still didn’t get justice,” he said.
Allah rahem kare.
M not going to bend pic.twitter.com/uG4sZYVNVH
— Dr kafeel khan (@drkafeelkhan) June 10, 2018
It was when Dr. Kafeel wrote a letter from jail that the silence was broken. His wife Shabista who is a dentist, held a press meet with the letter which was sent out from jail, hidden inside their daughter’s diaper.
Dr. Kafeel was not taken back to Gorakhpur Medical College. His suspension is not yet revoked even after a year.
On June 11, during the month of Ramadan, ‘unknown’ gunmen tried killing Dr. Kafeel’s brother Kashif Jameel. Dr. Kafeel Khan in a press conference alleged that it is the BJP MP Kamlesh Paswan, who is behind this attack and subsequently filed an FIR against him. But till this day no investigation has been carried out, nor any action taken. He was attacked on his way home after evening prayers. Next day most of the newspapers, while referring to Dr. Kafeel Khan as the accused in BRD medical college oxygen tragedy, conveniently ignored the murder attempt on his brother. Few days back, when Dr. Kafeel was detained and kept in unofficial custody for 18 hours, mainstream Hindi and English-speaking media failed to report that as well.
Dr Kafeel Khan’s Family
Right after he was taken in custody from Bahraich district hospital on September 22, Dr. Kafeel’s wife Dr. Shabista asked people to raise their voice against this goonda raj.
His sister Zeenat Khan made it clear that she can’t trust the media anymore and thereby sought public support for Dr. Kafeel. The next day police raided Dr. Kafeel’s house in Gorakhpur and picked up his elder brother Adeel Khan. Zeenat, who stays in Lucknow and was the source of continuous updates during all this, told the author that she is scared that her family may also be targeted soon, and if something happens there would be no further updates.
Dr. Kafeel’s brother-in-law Samar Khan said that public protest is the only way to get him released as soon as possible. He also said that the government thinks, people will stop talking about him after a few days. “We must keep talking about him. Social media and mainstream media must be stormed about this,” he said, raising a call for countrywide protest.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Dr. Kafeel’s family countered the false news being shared by the media: “Dr. Kafeel and his elder brother Adeel Khan were sent to Gorakhpur jail yesterday night. Dr. Kafeel had gone to Bahraich district hospital to visit sick children. The hospital authorities were saying that the 79 children’s death happened because of an unknown disease. But according to Dr. Kafeel these symptoms are of Japanese encephalitis. To inform the world about this, Dr. Kafeel wanted to meet the press at Bahraich itself. But before that, he was picked up and detained from inside the district hospital. From then, [over the next] 18 hours the police were shifting him from one place to another. It kept us in frenzy and fear. They continued telling us that they are bringing him to Gorakhpur. They charged [him with] 151 and later he got bail. They told us Yogiji is in Gorakhpur, he will leave by 4 and [after that] they will bring Dr. Kafeel home. They didn’t. They kept him in custody. This time they were planning to frame him in a case. And they did that. Dr. Kafeel and Adeel Khan are sent to jail framed in a fake account case. It is some case from 2009. Why police doing these all now?
Because the government is scared. Their ‘children killing governance’ is once again exposed like how it was exposed in BRD medical college. They want to hide the children’s death because of encephalitis.
So we understand what message the government is giving – Shut up, Dr. Kafeel. Or else we will continue attacking you and your family. We will frame you in fake cases again.”
The family however didn’t get enough popular support. When mass arrests of human rights activists under fake charges in the Bhima Koregaon case happened few weeks back there was public outcry for freedom. People cried out that there is undeclared emergency. But there is not much popular unrest seen when Dr. Kafeel got arrested.
“We have to file two bail applications, one at Gorakhpur and one at Bahraich. We are in the process of all the legal things. Our lawyers are fighting their best to get the bail from the lower court. With an exception of United Against Hate, no social organization has come for support, no political party, nobody has come forward with support, we are trying everywhere but there is hardly any support.
None of the media here is talking about the injustice done to Dr. Kafeel. Whatever has happened is because the government can’t control the encephalitis, but they are manipulating and misrepresenting the data. They had been doing this for the past two three months and Dr. Kafeel had been very vocal about it. In Bahraich district hospital children are dying and the authority is saying it’s a mysterious fever. But according to Dr. Kafeel the mysterious disease is encephalitis which the government is trying to hide. He wanted to create more awareness about the disease and about the misrepresentation. He had arranged a press conference too. But before that police arrested him. He wanted to speak the truth, he wanted to tell everyone that the government services have not improved at all in the UP region. Dr. Kafeel’s replacement is still not done. It has been a year since he was suspended. You can understand the level of failure,” says Samar Khan. According to him, Dr. Kafeel’s family is going to file for a fresh bail application at the Gorakhpur Sessions court tomorrow.
Mrudula Bhavani is a freelance journalist based in Kerala.
Image Courtesy – First Post