Sandipan Sharma


His name is Kafeel Ahmed Khan. So, how could he have been a hero?


The sustained attack on Khan, hailed as a hero by the media for trying to save lives of children at Gorakhpur’s BRD Medical College, once again underlines the bigotry burning the soul of India. It tells us how the battle for imagined grievances, settling communal scores has numbed our senses. We have come to a point where, for some, the sound of applause for an Indian Muslim is so unbearable that it immediately needs to be buried under louder chants of “traitor, thief, and criminal”.


We will look at some of the baseless and fictitious charges hurled at Khan later; dissect them on the basis of evidence on record. But, first, the demands for Khan’s evisceration and public shaming need to be understood for what they are: a diseased section’s refusal — verging on hysteria — to let anything counter the propaganda that India’s religious minorities are incapable of being conscientious citizens of India (or anywhere in the world).


For some, it is not important what people do, but who they are. It shows, on the eve of 70th anniversary of our Independence, heroism is not earned by karma, but bestowed — and denied — on the basis of religious identity.


It is, of course, a classic red-herring, a diversionary tactic. The Gorakhpur tragedy is a blot on India. More than 70 (and counting) infants died within a week because the Uttar Pradesh government and BRD Medical College administration allowed it to turn into a death trap by not paying in time for maintaining the supply of oxygen. In any other country with a conscience, morals and a rule of law, this would have been unequivocally called murder by dereliction of duty. Instead, its aftermath tells us, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes, we have become a nation without common decency, common practicality and basic compassion.


The reaction of the government has been both appalling and mind-boggling. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for timely tweets on tragedies even in Europe, has been unusually silent. In April 2016, when a fire had engulfed a temple in Kollum, the prime minister had personally led a team of doctors to the site. But, Gorakhpur has so far have been deprived of even a sympathetic tweet. Perhaps, nothing focuses the mind better than an impending election.


Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has been a study in irony. Just a few days ago, he had personally visited the hospital in Gorakhpur, which was his constituency for nearly two decades. But somehow he didn’t learn of the unfolding tragedy. When deaths were reported in the media, Adityanath refused to accept shortage of oxygen was the reason behind the disaster. He, instead, blamed it on poor hygiene and lack of sanitation, ironically, in his own constituency for almost two decades, in the age of Swacch Bharat.


Other reactions have been equally confounding. The state’s health minister Siddharth Nath Singh claimed such deaths are common in August. And BJP president Amit Shah argued that such things happen in a country like India, that they have been happening in Congress-ruled states too.

When feet are being put in mouths, reputations are at stake, and Hindutva icons are in the dock, what better way to divert attention than target a Muslim hailed for heroism? Why not do a Navika Kumar and turn the debate on “real” issues like if Khan is really the hero, instead of talking about the villains of the tragedy? Why not replay Peepli Live?


The case against Khan, of course, is shallow. On the day of the tragedy, he was hailed for trying to arrange oxygen cylinders with his own money to save the infants in the hospital. But, within hours rumour-mongers, fact-distorters and haters began a smear campaign against Khan on social media platforms like Twitter and on WhatsApp.


This is the age of post-truths and post-lies. In deference to the trend, the crux of this smear campaign is the allegation that Khan was accused of rape. Now, if accusations were the measure of a person’s morality, half of Indian politicians should have been banished from public life. Many stalwarts of BJP and Congress have been accused of murder, rape, graft and other serious crimes. Some of them have a history of being jailed and were even externed.


Khan, in contrast, was given a clean chit by the police. In its final report dated 3 April, 2015, on the FIR (see below) against Khan, the Gorakhpur police said the charges against him are baseless. That the investigations reveal the charges against Khan were part of some conspiracy against him.


Khan has also been accused of stealing oxygen from the BRD Medical College. But, where is the proof? Where is the complaint? Did the hospital discover this theft only after he was hailed as a hero? Also, how does a doctor steal liquid oxygen flowing through the ducts in a hospital? Does he fill it up in bottles like water from a tap and take it back home? Or, did he take oxygen cylinders from the hospital to his clinic 15 kilometres away? Did nobody notice for all these years? Did the theft come to light only after the incident?


Khan has also been accused of running private practice. This is laughable. Almost every government doctor in India has a private practice. And, it is allowed under the country’s law. In August 2011, the Supreme Court had ruled that private practice by government doctors is no crime. It said, government doctors defying the ban on running private practice and charging consultation fee from patients in a clinic during spare time could neither be accused of indulging in trade nor be booked under the anti-corruption law. So, what exactly is Khan’s crime even if he had a private practice?


There are other unsubstantiated accusations dug up from the past to tarnish his image, including an outlandish allegation that he was part of a conspiracy to defame the Adityanath government. Only in the imagination of bigots could such malign fantasies have existed.


Even if Khan had skeletons in his cupboard, does it take away from what he did that day? Can a sinner not be a hero? Is the legend of Ashoka, the fable of Angulimaal not based on the premise that compassion has the power to change each one of us?


A report in News18.com quotes eyewitnesses that Khan indeed tried his best to arrange oxygen cylinders for the hospital. News18.com now has enough proof to question the government’s action against Khan. This proof has come from the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), one of the central armed forces of India.


According to OP Sahu, public relations offficer, SSB, “It was an unprecedented crisis situation at the BRD Medical College on 10 August. Khan came to DIG SSB and requested for a truck so that oxygen cylinders could be collected from various locations and be taken to the medical college.”


“The DIG also provided 11 jawans of the medical wing to assist the staff at BRD Medical College. For hours, our truck collected oxygen cylinders from various locations, including a godown ?in Khalilabad and ferried them to the medical college where it was a situation of acute crisis,” Sahu said.


It is a disgrace that Khan is being shamed and his image is being tarnished. In any other country, he would have been hailed as a role model. But the attack on him shows the mighty keyboard warriors of Hindutva are so insecure that they just can’t stand up to the fact that when their heroes failed, a Muslim proved that he is a doctor and an Indian first.


A society reflects its ideals and morals through its attitude towards children and heroes. Gorakhpur has shown us the mirror.


Firstpost: Aug 15, 2017 18:00 IST

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