Published: 30th November 2019
Education must be free at every Central University: Why Gorakhpur doctor Kafeel Khan supports the JNU students
Given a clean chit in the Gorakhpur hospital death case, Dr Kafeel Khan recently delivered a talk at JNU, supporting the #FeesMustFall movement
It was quite unlikely for anyone out of Gorakhpur to have heard of Dr Kafeel Khan, prior to August 2017. "I was a regular doctor who went to the hospital, met his patients and came back home to spend time with my family," he says. That definitely isn't the case now.
Two years ago, when an oxygen supply cut at Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College took the lives of over 70 infants, Khan, who was a consultant at the paediatrics department had spent his own money to buy oxygen tanks and save a few lives, he was hailed a hero. Later, he was arrested in the same case, which led to him spending over nine months in prison. Months of dilemma, inquiry and legal battles later, he was finally acquitted of all charges in September 2019.
But those two years had changed him altogether. "Now I roam all over India and I interact with people to get to know about their problems and needs. I have also conducted 100 camps all across India. I've treated around 5000 children. I've founded an NGO. I was a smalltown doctor once and now I see myself in a bigger role, correcting the broken health system. I get so much love from people," says Khan.
His personal struggle for justice was undoubtedly quite straining for Khan. That could be one of the reasons why he thinks that it is quite similar to the JNU students' #FeesMustFall movement. Along with South African activist Fasiha Hassan, Khan spoke in solidarity with the students who have been protesting, demanding that the administration roll back the fee hike.
Listen to his talk in JNU
Post his talk, we caught up with Khan for a conversation, where he spoke to us about the BRD Medical College incident, the JNU protest and the faults in the education and healthcare system in the country. Excerpts from the conversation:
Had the same strike took place two and a half years back, would you have supported it?
Definitely. Mine wouldn't have been a prominent voice at that time and I wouldn't have been delivering a talk at JNU. However, I would have spoken in support of the students in Gorakhpur.
Why would you support the protest?
For a country to develop, it must provide free education and free healthcare to its people. I believe that not just primary, but even higher education too must be free for all. At least 10 per cent of the total budget must be spent on education and 3 per cent must be spent on health. The government is trying to do what it has done in the past five years with medical education, to the other disciplines too. The NMC commission gave more power to the college managements. They could now sell 50 per cent of seats at their own will. Any student who gets even 20 per cent marks can be a doctor. They just need to have enough money. I believe that universities belong to the poor too. Education is a right. In fact, there should be no question of hiking the JNU hostel fees, but there should be no fees at all. Education must be free at every Central University. Now that JNU has come up as a leader in this struggle, AIIMS is following its footsteps. I'm sure that there will be more movements in India against these laws.
Raising voice: A snap from the #FeesMustFall protest (Picture: Facebook/ Aishe Ghosh)
Can you draw parallels between the students' struggle and your personal struggle against the Yogi Adityanath government?
Yes. In the BRD Medical College, there was a fund crunch which took a lot of lives. To hide the administration's failure, I was made a scapegoat. The government wasn't angry about the children's death, but about the whole incident coming to the public domain. I acted as a whistleblower there. Similarly, in spite of talking to the students and respecting their protest, the government is using manpower to suppress their voice. So many students, including the blind Shashibhushan, were beaten up. He is a poor student who spent 8 years in a blind school. He doesn't have the money to pay Rs 10,000. But instead of listening to him, the government machinery decided to beat him up. Many female students were brutally harassed for exercising freedom of speech.
This government is being unjust to the Dalit students and students who come from marginalised backgrounds by hiking the fees. The government has given a rebate to Vodafone and Reliance. They're selling Bharat Petroleum. They're spending so much money on statues. But they can't spend enough on students who are the future of the country. In 2011, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself accepted that most universities and colleges are below standard. We also have a rising issue of fake universities in this country.
Beaten up: Shashibhushan Pandey is a blind student and a JNUSU member
There is also a counter-narrative that JNU is a haven for anti-nationals who waste the taxpayers' money. What do you think about that?
Taxpayers' money is the wrong term. Everyone in this country is a taxpayer and they are supposed to reap benefits out of the money that they pay the government. During the past few months, I have travelled all over India and spoken to people. All of them want good hospitals, free services and affordable quality education. But instead of that, the government talks about talaq and ram mandir. Why can't it talk about malnutrition, the dropout issue and how medical institutions are tarnished. The students in JNU aren't anti-nationals. They're just raising their voice, which nobody in this country wants you to do. Your silence makes everyone happy.
What could be a solution for the JNU issue?
The exams are around the corner in JNU. I hope that the MHRD comes up with a solution so that the issue gets resolved soon. The MHRD is such an important ministry, but the government doesn't give it much importance. Our previous minister Smriti Irani wasn't even a graduate. The current minister believes that Lord Ganesha's head was transplanted through plastic surgery and that sage Kanada had conducted a nuclear test lakhs of years ago.
Now that the committee gave you a clean chit, when will you resume teaching?
Even though I received a clean chit, I was suspended again from medical college. Until the Yogi Adityanath government stays in power, I'll have no chance to resume teaching.