The release from detention ordered by Allahabad High Court of Dr Kafeel Khan, the pediatrician of Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur, is a landmark event dealing a blow to state terrorism that revels in invoking draconian laws against targeted individuals - even those with record of selfless public service - prompted by racial hatred and false prestige. Dr Khan had become a bete noire for the Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adityanath ever since the August 2017 tragic event of the death of 63 children in the medical hospital for want of oxygen. Leave aside the role of Dr Khan in rescuing scores of children from the emergency using his own personal efforts to procure oxygen cylinders apart, now the High Court verdict has ordered his immediate release and nullified the invocation of National Security Act (NSA) on him.
What had put the chief minister Yogi Adityanath on the dock in administration, and antagonised him towards the doctor, was the revelation by Dr Kafeel Khan that the reason for the large number of deaths by suffocation was the stoppage of oxygen cylinder supply by the vendor following non-payment of bill arrears. The revelation had caused a furore across the country which belied the claims of Yogi about the development tempo of UP.
Left helpless, Kafeel Khan took the initiative to deal with the emergency by securing oxygen cylinders from private agencies, but still could not save all children. Instead of appreciating the pediatrician for rising to the occasion and taking action against those actually guilty of dereliction of duty, the Yogi-led BJP government went whole hog in penalizing Dr Khan out of sheer vendetta.
What Dr Khan faced thereafter was disciplinary action including suspension on charges of failure in duty and corruption, and worse, cases being filed against him under Indian Penal Code and anti-corruption law. He secured bail from Allahabad High Court which found no substance in the charges, but by that time the altruistic doctor, who also had a public service profile, had spent nine long months in jail. Although he was exonerated even the enquiry conducted by the UP government itself, the hunters did not sit idle, for the Yogi regime ordered another department level probe. And again this year on 29 January, he was arrested in Mumbai under NSA.
The case in which he was arrested was about a speech he made in Aligarh Muslim University which allegedly incited hatred and violence and stirred religious disaffection. After his three months in Mathura prison, his arrest was extended by another three months. Subsequently, on a habeas corpus petition filed by his mother Nusrat Parveen, the Supreme Court directed Allahabad High Court to conclude his case within two weeks. It is in response to that petition filed by his mother that Tuesday's crucial verdict came from the division bench of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Saumitra Dayal.
After having read the entire speech Kafeel Khan made in Aligarh, the court said in unequivocal terms that there was nothing in the speech that would foment hatred or violence. On the contrary, the bench said, there was a call for national integration and unity among the citizens. The judges said in definitive terms that they had " no hesitation in concluding that neither detention of Dr. Kafeel Khan under NSA, 1980, nor extension of the detention are sustainable in the eye of law."
The trend of invoking black laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and NSA with vengeance and putting innocents in jail for years without trial with prejudgements, had started during the UPA government and gained strength during the Narendra Modi rule. What the Allahabad High Court has exposed now is only one example of how even a socially responsible physician is victimised. In a way, one cannot expect anything better from governments deprived of any commitment to justice, morality or constitutional values.