Prophets in Modi Era: Dr Kafeel Khan, Prophetic Voice against Corruption

Jacob Peenikaparambil
14 Sep 2020

The popularity of PM Modi has not dwindled despite the three huge disasters: Unprecedented spread of Coronavirus infection making India the second most infected country in the world after the US, crash of economy with 23.9% contraction of GDP in the first quarter of 2020-21 and intrusion of Chinese soldiers into Indian territory, threatening the security and sovereignty of India. The godi media continue to keep away the real issues affecting the country by pandering to the stories related to the suicide of the movie star Sushant Singh Rajput. Despite the large scale brainwashing of the people through print, electronic and social media, there are a good number of Indians who are courageous to speak the truth and stand with the prophets of truth and justice. The massive support to Prashant Bhushan in the contempt of court case from the intellectuals, activists, academicians and lawyers etc. shows that the prophets of truth and justice are not totally abandoned and disowned in India in spite of the threat from a government that is allergic and revengeful to any criticism.

Prophets are the conscience of the society. Throughout the history of different societies and nations, prophets appeared when adharma (unrighteousness) prevailed over dharma (righteousness) and they spoke fearlessly against oppression, exploitation, injustice, corruption and immorality. These prophets belonged to different fields like politics, religion, professions, bureaucracy etc. What was common to all of them was their unwavering commitment to truth and love for the people. Three prominent qualities of a prophet are COURAGE, COMPASSION and CREATIVITY.

Ever since the BJP under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre in 2014, its main focus has been implementing its Hindutva ideology that is divisive, exclusive and anti-democratic. Hatred and revenge against certain communities were reflected in its policies and actions. Although the BJP had promised to the aspiring Indians sabka saat sabka vikas and vishwas, its policies reflected just the opposite. Good governance, the plank on which Narendra Modi was projected as the vikas purush, took a backseat during the last six years. Anyone who disagreed with the ideology of the BJP and criticized its policies was branded as anti-national and an enemy of the nation. Many who expressed their dissent were put behind the bars by making use of the draconian laws like Sedition law, National Security Act (NSA), Public Safety Act and Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act (UAPA).

Dr. Kafeel Khan, a child specialist from Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College (BRDMC), is one among the many prophets that the Modi era has created. He was arrested and put behind the bars four times from September 2, 2017 to September 1, 2020. His brush with the Yogi Adityanath government started when he exposed the corruption in the Health Department in connection with the death of 70 kids at BRDMC in 2017 due to short supply of liquid oxygen. He was one among the 9 doctors accused of being negligent and responsible for the tragic incident.

In an interview with Outlook's Jeevan Prakash Sharma, Khan described how he was tortured after his arrest in Mumbai on January 29, 2020, and why he fears the UP government will encounter him or his family members. The interview was published in the Outlook Newsletter on 7th September. The experience of Kafeel Khan exposes what extent a government can be vindictive to an individual whom it perceives as a threat. Kafeel Khan made it very clear in his interview that he was arrested and persecuted not because he is a Muslim, but because he exposed corruption in the government.

Kafeel Khand was first arrested on September 2, 2017, being accused of medical negligence that led to the death of 72 children. According to Kafeel Khan, the authorities wanted to make him a scapegoat. The 13 committees that the government had set up to probe the case could not find any fault with him. On the contrary, they appreciated his role, as he spent money from his own pocket to arrange oxygen cylinders. Now, the government has set up the 14th committee to investigate his role. All other eight accused doctors have been reinstated in the service, but his suspension still continues. After 8 months imprisonment the Allahabad High Court released him on bail on April 28, 2018. The court categorically said that there was no shred of evidence that could prove his medical negligence.

The second arrest was on September 22, 2018, in Bahraich, where he went to highlight the death of over 78 children in a government-run district hospital due to a viral infection called encephalitis. The hospital authorities had tried to cover up their negligence by calling it a mysterious disease. He was released on November 3, 2018, again on bail.

The third arrest was in connection with the protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). When the parliament passed the act he started campaigning against it. In his interview, he said that he did not oppose CAA per se. According to him, CAA + NRC (National Register of Citizenship Act) is a dangerous combination. That is why he protested against it. He was invited to address a gathering of 600 students in Aligarh Muslim University on December 12, 2019. As the college campus witnessed violence on December 15, the local police blamed his speech and lodged an FIR against him for inciting the students.

It is very strange that the police arrested him 46 days after the incident on January 29, 2020, when he was about to address a gathering in Mumbai. When the local court granted him bail on February 10, he was still kept in detention for three days. When the court again ordered the police to release him on February 13, he was re-arrested (fourth time) under the National Security Act (NSA) on February 14.

As part of the interview Kafeel Khan narrated how he was tortured brutally during his travel from Mumbai to Agra. “During the journey, they stopped me at various places, took me to many isolated locations, undressed and beat me brutally. They hit me on my bum repeatedly and injured it so badly that I couldn’t even sit for days. They threw water on my face. They didn’t give me anything to eat or drink. My intestines were crumbling and I begged for water and food, but they remained callous”, he told.   When the court sent him to Mathura jail for the initial three days, he was kept in a separate cell with no food and water. Thus during the six days he was given only two chapatis to eat. “I was so hungry and thirsty that I used to shout in pain. I was not able to stand. I felt like I would eat anything, even grass or bricks”, he told the interviewer.

Although the Supreme Court on March 18 had asked the Allahabad High Court to hear his case on priority basis, his case was not taken till August 4. On August 11 the SC again asked the High Court to hear his case within 15days, and his case was taken on August 27 and 28. On September 1, the Allahabad High Court ruled that his detention under NSA illegal and held that his speech was not communally inciting, but was instead a call for national integrity and unity. Kafeel Khan fears that he could be eliminated. Therefore he has shifted his family to Jaipur in Rajasthan.

At the end of the interview he said that he would continue his fight against the CAA and NRC combination. Similarly he is determined to expose the government’s failure on the health front and its vindictiveness against the poor people. Before his arrest on January 29 he had initiated a campaign for “Health for All”. He has decided to continue his mission of improving the health of the kids.

Even though Kafeel Khan had to suffer a lot, he is not ready for any compromise with corruption and religion based discrimination. He is determined to continue his fight against injustice and corruption along with his work of compassion for the children. He is truly a prophet because a prophet is ready to accept the consequences of his prophetic actions, however harsh they may be.  

Dr. Kafeel Khan is only one representative of the hundreds of prophets in India. Journalist Gautam Navlakha and academic Anand Teltumbde were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on April 14, 2020. They have been charged under the strict Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly having links with the Maoists and conspiring to assassinate Modi and overthrow his government. Both of them were initially booked for allegedly instigating caste based violence at a gathering in the town Bhima Koregoan in Maharashtra in January 2018.

In connection with Bhima Koregaon violence nine prominent activists were arrested in 2018 and they have been in jail since then. They are 1) Sudha Bharadwaj, a law professor and trade unionist who fought for the rights of the tribals 2) Vavara Rao, a poet and a Communist ideologue 3) Arun Ferreira, human rights lawyer 4) Vernon Gonsalves, human rights lawyer 5) Sudhir Dhawale, an activist working with tribals 6) Shoma Sen, an academic and women’s rights activist 7) Surendra Gadling, human rights lawyer and Dalit Activist 8) Mahesh Raut, an activist working with the tribals amd 9) Rona Wilson, Delhi based social activist. Their crime is that they have been fighting for the rights of the underprivileged groups and in that process they have become stumbling blocks to the vested interests who have been exploiting the socially and economically backward groups. The 79 year old poet, Varavara Rao, is not given bail even after contracting Covid in the Jail. ‘Maoist sympathiser’ or ‘supporter’ is an easily used pretext by governments to haunt the activists.  

Prophets in all societies were branded as extremists and lawbreakers and were persecuted and even murdered. Jesus was crucified being accused of sabotaging the society because of the nexus between the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman authorities. The followers of Jesus are called to become His Disciples and continue his prophetic mission. Jesus was primarily a prophet who questioned injustice, exploitation and abuse of power in the society in which he lived. While hundreds of Indians are becoming the prophets of truth and justice in the present socio-political context of India are the Christians fulfilling their prophetic role? Are the Churches in India making aware of their members about their prophetic mission or are they satisfied with carrying out the routine rituals and devotions?

(The writer can be reached at: jacobpt48@gmail.com)

(Published on 14th September 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 38)

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