5 Months, 5 Letters: What Dr Kafeel Khan Wrote From a UP Jail

“What is my mistake? When will I be able to return to my kids, my wife my brothers and sisters?” writes Khan.

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India
4 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim
Video Producer: Aliza Noor
Illustrations: Aroop Mishra

For over five months in Mathura jail, Uttar Pradesh, former lecturer and paediatrician Dr Kafeel Khan has written five letters, talking about the quality of life in prison, his demands from the government to contain the spread of coronavirus, and questioning his arrest.

The Quint accessed all the letters he has written from the jail – that his family alleged time and again has been under the scanner of the jail authorities.

“What is my mistake for which I am being punished? When will I be able to return to my kids, my wife, my brothers and sisters? When will I be able to contribute to the battle against coronavirus?” wrote Dr Khan in his last letter in mid-June.

On 29 January, Dr Khan was arrested at Mumbai Airport in connection with a “provocative” speech against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in December 2019.

Four days after he got bail in February, he was booked under National Security Act (NSA) which was further extended in May for three months. With his earlier arrest over the BRD medical tragedy – in which he was later acquitted – to his current imprisonment, Dr Khan has found himself to being targeted, he says in his letters.

In March, he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pleading that he be allowed to use his medical expertise to help in the fight against the COVID-19 crisis. He stated then that India needs massive testing, monitoring and stringent social distancing norms as lockdown is not enough.

“I have conducted 103 free medical camps since out of jail after the BRD oxygen tragedy examining over 50,000 children/patients all over India...I feel I could be of some help in curtailing this disease,” he said.

Dr Kafeel Khan’s Last Video Message From January

In his last video before going to jail, Dr Khan spoke about the controversy over his speech in Aligarh.

“Yes, I did tell this to the children, that CAA as such does not impact us but CAA and NRC together is a lethal combination. It is against our BR Ambedkar’s Constitution, and damages the social, democratic and constitutional fabric of the country.”
Dr Kafeel Khan

In another letter in May, he demanded that the government increases expenditure on healthcare and bring about 'Right to Healthcare' among other things. He added, "I wish the government had listened to us... we would not be struggling like today."

‘It’s Like Living in Hell’

The last letter that Kafeel wrote on 15 June has categorically explained the dilapadated conditions in the jail.

Noting that every barrack has 125-150 inmates with 4-6 toilets, he said that there are flies, mosquitoes and gives off a stench that makes him throw up.

“If the light goes off, the heat, the foul smell of urinal from the toilet is so suffocating that sometimes I feel nauseous. I try to read books but those few hours are like hell,” he wrote.

Family Seeks His Release

The Quint also spoke to Dr Khan’s family who stated that they are afraid that after the latest letter, his papers, pens and magazines have been taken away from him, and Khan himself informed them this over a call which he is allowed once in a week.

Stating that Dr Khan is being treated like a criminal in jail, Shabista Khan, his wife said, “He has done no such crime. He has also abided by law. He is in a jail which has a capacity of 500 prisoners but there are 1,600 lodged in it...He has been kept in the jail like a slave where there is no scope for social distancing.”

“He could not tell us everything on phone which is why he wrote his routine down, and what he is going through in these letters that he has sent. So we know he is living in the heat among all the other prisoners. Amid all this, how a doctor is keeping himself alive only he knows.”
Shabista Khan, housewife

From another video that Khan shot in Gorakhpur in January, he can be seen stating that he has received a lot of death threats.

Exasperated with the media which had tainted him when he was a junior doctor in Gorakhpur, Khan stated, “The same media creates an uproar when it's about other doctors but why was it silent about me then? And why is it silent even now?”

Doctors, Celebrities Tweet for Dr Khan

On the other hand, from Bollywood actors Swara Bhaskar to Richa Chadha to doctors and political leaders, Twitter was flooded with tweets in support for Dr Khan with the hashtag #FreeDrKafeel quite recently.

Meanwhile, a Change.org petition, that has already garnered over 2,40,000 signatures, is also urging the government to stop the arrests of students and activists amid a pandemic and to release Dr Khan.

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