Till 2017 very few people outside Gorakhpur were familiar with him. When an oxygen shortage, because the state government had failed to pay the suppliers, led to the death of 60 children at the BRD Medical College, Dr Kafeel Khan was hailed as a hero for saving the lives of many other children. He went out of his way to procure oxygen cylinders and ferried them to the hospital.
But the publicity given to the doctor was taken as a personal affront by the state’s chief minister. Dr Khan was suspended, blamed for the deaths and sent to jail. He spent 11 months in jail before being absolved of all charges. But in January, 2020 he was arrested for making ‘anti-government’ comments during his suspension and inciting hatred through a speech he delivered at Aligarh Muslim University against the Citizenship Amendment Act. When the court granted him bail, he was arrested immediately under the National Security Act. The Habeas Corpus petition filed by his mother was referred by the Supreme Court to the Allahabad HC but hearings have been put off repeatedly, ostensibly because of the pandemic and the lockdown.
An FIR was registered against him the day after he delivered the speech at AMU on December 12, under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion). The FIR blamed his speech for trying to “disrupt the harmony between the communities”, and said it was “also likely to create law and order situation”. Yogendra Yadav, highly regarded academic, commentator and activist, was present when the speech was delivered. He swears that there was nothing that the doctor said that could incite hatred or violence.
But the FIR referred to certain sentences from his speech, including references to “mota bhai (the Gujarati term for big brother)” and the RSS. He was arrested more than a month later, on 29 January, and was granted bail by the Aligarh chief judicial magistrate on 10 February. But he wasn’t released for the next three days, despite three release orders from the magistrate. Instead, he was charged under NSA. The detention order, passed by District Magistrate Chandrabhushan Singh held that detaining Dr Kafeel Khan was necessary to “prevent him…from engaging in activities that are prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. It added that “through discreet inquiry by the district police and the LIU (local intelligence unit) Aligarh”, it had been found that there was a “strong and complete likelihood” of Khan re-entering Aligarh and instigating students, “thereby posing a serious threat to the prevailing public order”.
While experts have alleged misuse of the NSA on several occasions, the exact number of detentions under the NSA is unknown because the National Crime Records Bureau does not include cases under it, as no FIRs are registered. People can be detained under the NSA for up to a year, three months at a time. The doctor has already spent over six months in jail and it remains to be seen if his detention is extended again in August or if the Allahabad High Court comes to his rescue.