Dissent and detention: On Dr. Kafeel Khan

Allahabad HC order quashing Dr. Kafeel Khan’s detention exposes state persecution

September 03, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 01:27 am IST

If ever any evidence was needed that Dr. Kafeel Khan, a government doctor from Gorakhpur, has been a victim of state persecution, the Allahabad High Court has provided that . Its 42-page order has laid bare the malefic manner in which the doctor was detained under the National Security Act (NSA) on February 13, 2020 , shortly after he was granted bail in an earlier case. Dr. Khan, suspended in 2017 after a severe shortage of oxygen cylinders took a deadly toll among children admitted to the encephalitis ward in the Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital, Gorakhpur, was arrested on January 29, 2020 , for an address to students of Aligarh Muslim University last December. His speech, which contained scathing criticism of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and its discriminatory nature, was deemed inflammatory weeks after he had made it. The High Court has now found that far from inciting Muslims, the speech, taken in its entirety, does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence; and nowhere does it threaten peace in Aligarh. The DM, Aligarh, the court says, used selective reading of some phrases and ignored its true intent while passing the detention order. No reasonable man, it says, would have come to the conclusion about the speech that the DM did. The grounds for detention under NSA provided nothing that indicated any attempt by Dr. Khan to disturb peace and tranquillity between the speech in December and his detention in February. The inevitable inference is that the NSA was invoked only to avoid releasing him following the Chief Judicial Magistrate court’s order granting him bail. The process to invoke the NSA itself began only after the bail order, the Bench comprising Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Saumitra Dayal Singh noted.

The use of stringent national security laws against political dissenters, in the absence of any appeal to violence, is something to be condemned in all cases. However, there is something perverse about the resort to preventive detention just to frustrate bail orders. In particular, the authorities have shown excessive zeal in dealing with Dr. Khan. In 2017, he was arrested on charges of negligence and corruption even though circumstances indicated his strenuous efforts to ensure continuous oxygen supply. He spent months in prison before an inquiry absolved him of the charges of negligence and corruption, but was found to have been engaging in private practice. The paediatrician’s suspension is yet to be revoked. Even though the verdict gives him relief, it comes after he spent seven months in jail. And his case will some day go to trial. The case of Dr. Khan is poor advertisement for India’s democratic credentials, for it brings to light its propensity to criminalise dissent, single out individuals for persecution and display a general disregard for basic rights.

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