Moving on from its loss in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, the Samajwadi Party has now set its eyes set on smaller Dr Kafeel Khan in a bid to set the stage for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council elections. According to reports, Khan is likely to be fielded from Devariya-Kushinagar, a set that was won by SP’s Ramadhav Yadav in 2016.
Kafeel Khan came into the limelight first with the 2017 Gorakhpur hospital deaths controversy at BRD Medical College where several deaths occurred due after oxygen was cut off due to non-payment of dues. Khan, who had been present at the spot, was hailed as a hero by many after he claimed to have spent his own money in arranging supply of oxygen for patients. He has since been targeted by the Uttar Pradesh government which claimed that no deaths took place due to oxygen shortage in BRD Medical Colleges in 2017.
Who is Dr Kafeel Khan?
Born in Gorakhpur, Dr Kafeel Khan is a former paediatrician in Baba Raghav Das Medical College (BRD Medical College) where he got a permanent commission in 2016. In 2017, at the time when media reports estimate 63 children died in the state-run hospital allegedly due to oxygen being cut off, Khan was instrumental in saving lives of many patients.
In and out of jail
Since speaking out about the incident, Khan has been repeatedly targeted by the Uttar Pradesh government. Soon after the incident, Khan was removed as the nodal officer of the encephalitis ward upon allegations of dereliction of duty and conducting private practice outside of the hospital. Following that, Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR against Khan and arrested him on a non-bailable warrant.
The arrest was condemned by AIMMS’ resident doctors' association and Khan was also later defended by the Indian Medical Association. In a 10-page letter he wrote in prison, Khan outlined how he had arranged for 250 cylinders at personal cost to help patients after making futile calls to the head of the department, BRD principal and acting principal, Gorakhpur district magistrate, the chief medical superintendent of Gorakhpur and BRD Medical College, and his other colleagues. He was released after nine months on bail when police failed to provide evidence to support the allegations against him.
Khan was eventually acquitted in the Gorakhpur case in 2019, only to be arrested again in December of the same year under the National Security Act (NSA) for a speech he made at Aligarh Muslim University amid the anti-CAA protests. Khan remained in and out of prison till September 2021 when he was finally released from prison for good and all NSA charges against him were dropped. While Khan's work as a doctor and medical administrator has won him popular support, his involvement with the anti-CAA protests led to death threats.
Abuse and attacks
While Khan himself lost his job, has faced incarcerations and even death threats, his family has also not been spared. Reports of Khan going bankrupt in 2018 surfaced on the media and the doctor claimed no one in Uttar Pradesh wanted to do business with him fearing government reparation. The same year, in June, Khan’s brother Kashif Jameel was attacked by assailants who fired three bullets at him. It remains unclear if the attack was based on Khan’s tiff with the government or Jameel’s own property disputes. Khan has nevertheless been at the forefront of debate and discussion and even offered his assistance to the Kerala government amid the 2018 Nipah outbreak.
Proponent of healthcare reforms
Khan has been a vocal proponent of reforms in the healthcare centre. The government-run BRD Medical College where he was in charge of the encephalitis ward is notorious for child deaths. According to estimates, nearly 25,000 children have died in BRD between 1978-2017 due to encephalitis. In August 2016 when the oxygen deaths occurred, the oxygen supply had been cut due to alleged non-payment of fees to the supplier. Khan holding the government's negligence responsible for the deaths drew international attention to the matter and widespread condemnation. While the Uttar Pradesh Health Minister at the time has said that such deaths occur in August, the Samajwadi Party had raised the pitch against the BJP government for allowing corruption and oxygen rackets to exist within the public healthcare sector in UP.
In 2022, Khan released a book outlining his memoirs as the juniormost lecturer in BRD Medical College's paediatrics division. The book, titled The Gorakhpur Hospital Tragedy: A Doctor’s Memoir of a Deadly Medical Crisis, which was released soon after his termination from the college, spoke about his experiences of helping patients at the time of the crisis and also his struggle after standing up to the Yogi Adityanath-led government. In the book, he claims Adityanath asked said he will see to him (Dekh lunga tujhe) for his apparent insolence. In September 2020, the doctor had met with Congress's Priyanka Gandhi and spoken against the rampant use of laws like NSA and UAPA.
With the nominations for the Legislative Council Elections on Tuesday, Khan joins a list of candidates fielded by the SP, marking his formal entry into politics.