Gorakhpur paediatrician Dr Kafeel Khan, currently out on bail, talks to Sonia Sarkar of The Telegraph about the fateful night that changed his life
When I meet him, he is trying to cajole his little girl, Zabrina, into playing with him. First, he tosses her in the air, then pulls her onto his lap and thereafter, rocks her back and forth. But she is not interested, shrugs off his overtures and runs away.
“My daughter cannot recognise me anymore,” says Kafeel Khan, the 38-year-old paediatrician from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, who is just back home after spending eight months in jail.
Zabrina was barely eleven months old when Kafeel was arrested last September. She used to crawl then; now she can walk, climb and run. She could barely say “Papa” then, now she can string whole sentences. Says Kafeel, “As a paediatrician, I always tell parents, never miss the milestone moments of your child. But I have missed all her milestones. I couldn’t even celebrate her first birthday.”
Kafeel, who was an assistant professor at Baba Raghav Das Medical College (BRDMC) in Gorakhpur, and eight others were held responsible for the deaths of at least 60 infants over a span of five days.
It all started on August 10, 2017, when the agency, Pushpa Sales, stopped supplying oxygen to the government-run hospital because of non-payment of dues worth Rs 68 lakh. Apparently, the company had sent 14 reminders to the authorities, including BRDMC principal Rajiv Mishra, UP health minister Siddharth Nath Singh and chief minister Yogi Adityanath to clear dues, but nobody paid any heed.
When the hospital ran out of its supply of liquid oxygen by 7.30pm, an alert was put out on the WhatsApp group of the doctors. Kafeel was on leave, but upon getting the message he rushed to the hospital.
As he goes over that day’s incidents with me at his three-storey house – with an armed guard stationed at the entrance – in UP’s Basantpur, Kafeel claims he called the head of the department of paediatrics, Mahima Mittal, and Mishra, but nobody responded.
He says he arranged cylinders from a local hospital and a local agency. “There was no oxygen available in the hospital from 11.30pm to 1.30am. Every day, 12-13 children were dying of premature birth or because of Japanese encephalitis. But on August 10, 30 infants died. I cannot deny that the sudden stoppage of oxygen supply was one of the reasons for these deaths.”
He picks up his phone to show me an image from that fateful night. Four living infants along with a dead one cramped into a single warmer at the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit. He also shows me screenshots of the calls he made to the higher authorities and the cash memos for the oxygen cylinders he bought from local vendors.
Along with his colleagues, Kafeel procured over 250 cylinders in 48 hours. The oxygen tank finally arrived on the night of August 12. By then, television channels were running his images and hailing him as the saviour. But on August 13, when Adityanath arrived to inspect the reason for the deaths, he blasted Kafeel.
“He told me, ‘You are Dr Kafeel? You bought cylinders? You think you are a hero? I will see…’ He thought I had informed the media about the mess in the hospital. At that point, my life turned upside down,” he recalls.
And before he knew it, Kafeel had moved from being saviour to villain. Charges of corruption were levelled at him; it was alleged that he was running a private nursing home and diverting oxygen cylinders from the medical college to this nursing home. He lost his post of nodal officer under the National Health Mission at the 100-bed acute encephalitis syndrome ward at BRDMC. Well-wishers warned him that he could be killed in an encounter.
Fearing for his life, he left for Delhi on August 17 and stayed at an undisclosed location for a fortnight. Since he was untraceable, the police allegedly harassed his family. Kafeel’s daai, the elderly helper at his Basantpur home, tells in chaste Bhojpuri how the cops would often come around at night, banging on their door, when no male member was present in the house. When she refused to let them in, they barged in and ransacked the house.
Courtesy: The Telegraph