It has been almost three weeks since Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested and subsequently slapped with the stringent National Security Act (NSA). His family is worried and, at the same time, grateful for the support that has poured in for the paedatrician since his arrest.
Even on Thursday, when News18 got in touch with Dr Kafeel's brother, a demonstration was held outside UP Bhawan in Delhi demanding immediate release of Dr Kafeel.
"His name is being taken in rallies, on social media by noted activists, by Bollywood stars, people aren't as scared to take his name and demand justice," his brother, Adeel Khan said. Adeel recalled the harrowing period of nine months the family suffered after Dr Kafeel's arrest in 2017 following deaths of over sixty children in Gorakhpur's BRD medical college.
The family had to go from pillar to post to seek Dr Kafeel's release, had to hold several press conferences across UP and Delhi pleading his case everywhere before he was finally cleared of all charges of negligence by UP government's own investigation. "It was a tough period in which he was missed by his family, by his newly born child," Adeel said. This time there has been a visible, growing support for the doctor, not just by activists and Bollywood personalities but in media editorials and by student groups.
His brother credits Dr Kafeel's active social work after being released from jail in 2018 as the reason behind growing support for the doctor.
"Since his release he has attended to over 50,000 children. He has conducted over 100 medical camps at various places. Conducted numerous tests and volunteered his services at places of acute distress. All for free. People remember all these things," said Adeel.
Adeel said that when Bihar was suffering from 'Chamki' fever last year, which claimed lives of over 125 children, he was among the few doctors who set up camp in the worst affected places. Similarly, Dr Kafeel ran a free medical service camp in flood-hit Maharashtra in 2019.
"For 14 days in temperatures of over 44 degrees, Dr Kafeel conducted health camps and saved many lives. In Maharashtra he put his own life at stake when he worked in flood waters, where human refuse was flowing in waist high waters, amid fears of breakout of epidemic, and saved many more lives. But police has been treating him as if he some terrorist," said Dr Kafeel's brother.
Giving a brief chronology of the past three weeks, Adeel said that Dr Kafeel was arrested from Mumbai airport on January 29, just before he was about to attend an anti-CAA protest, a team of Uttar Pradesh Police's Special Task Force (STF). "For several hours, the police did not even inform us. Only at 3 in the morning did we receive a call from a police officer that he's been arrested," Adeel said. Following this, he was taken to the jail in Aligarh, from where he was transferred to a jail in Mathura.
"He was treated like he was some terrorist. They kept him in a high security zone in a separate barracks. They didn't let us speak to him. They didn't even offer him a change of clothes for three days," Adeel says. On 10th his family secured a bail for Dr Kafeel. "But he was not released for the next 72 hours. When we approached the court pleading contempt of court against police, they slapped NSA charges on him to keep him in jail," he added. NSA, a stringent preventive detention law, is meant only for booking those whose activities constitute an imminent threat of violence.
According to his brother, Dr Kafeel is suffering a new round of harassment and ill-treatment at the hands of the state because he criticised UP government for a new round of deaths that had happened in BRD Medical college. "In an interview he claimed that more than 1,500 children had died, and over 2,000 other patients had been killed by the same encephalitis virus. While the UP government was claiming that only 65 deaths had happened this time. As soon as he said that we got calls from people who had a foreboding that my brother would be in trouble again," Adeel said.
His family is now exploring all the legal options to get Dr Kafeel out again and they're counting on the public pressure to help them in what may again turn out to be a long drawn legal battle.
That the authorities invoked a stringent preventive detention law meant only for booking those whose activities constitute an imminent threat of violence.