In August 2017, a tragedy occurred at Baba Raghav Das Medical College, a hospital in Gorakhpur, involving the deaths of several patients—34 children and 18 adults due to a shortage of oxygen. The oxygen provider had allegedly cut off supply because of delayed payments by the administration.
In The Gorakhpur Hospital Tragedy: Memoir of a Deadly Medical Crisis, Kafeel Khan, a doctor who made several last-minute efforts to obtain oxygen cylinders during the crisis, puts forward his unanswered questions about what transpired. Khan is widely believed to have been framed in this case. He was accused under various charges, including negligence, corruption and running a private practice. Khan was arrested, granted bail in April 2018, but arrested again under the National Security Act in January 2020 for a speech at Aligarh Muslim University in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act. In September 2020, these charges were quashed. In November 2021, BRD Medical College terminated Khan’s position and currently there are cases against him in lower courts.
In this excerpt on his time in prison, he reflects on how media reporting around him detracted from the tragedy that had occurred, as well as how he returned repeatedly to the question, “How could I, a junior professor still on probation, with only a year of service and no knowledge of the central supply system, be held responsible for a failure that was well beyond my grasp?”
My long journey–from a relatively happy-go-lucky doctor to an unjustly imprisoned professional dispensing medicine to fellow prisoners–had brought with it several realizations. In the weeks that I had spent in Gorakhpur Jail, I had discussed every detail of the BRD oxygen tragedy with my co-accused as well as several other inmates. This allowed me to identify several important threads. These helped me understand how the tragic events had unfolded and also how they could have been prevented.