The Supreme Court directed on March 23 that all prisoners, under trial or convicted and jailed for less than seven years, be considered for release on a six-week parole, in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 28, Dr Kafeel Ahmed Khan, twice-suspended paediatrician from Gorakhpur BRD Medical College, too was supposed to get released. But at the last minute, his parole order was suspended. “All other prisoners on the list were released,” his brother Adeel Khan told this writer. His was a special case, of course.
The Kafeel Khan story is usually told as one that speaks of polarised times and a hard, carceral state—the easy scapegoating of an innocent with the wrong kind of name, dissent being criminalised, acquittal being followed by a harsher charge, bail being followed by more prison…. But there’s another track to the story. A medical one, which connects the present context of COVID-19 to that of another deadly epidemic.