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“In a jail made for 534 inmates, there are 1,600 people kept with one barrack holding at least 100-125 of us. There are just 4-6 toilets,” Dr. Kafeel Khan wrote unveiling the torturous conditions inmates are subjected to even at the time of a pandemic.

This is a part of the pediatrician’s second purportedly hand-written letter from the Mathura prison where he is currently lodged since January 2020 for a speech where he allegedly criticized the government during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests. Though he was granted bail on February 10 by a court in Aligarh, the UP government invoked the National Security Act (NSA) against him to ensure his continuous incarceration.

The four page letter highlights the inmates’ daily struggle – living in indescribable filth, surviving on unpalatable meals and living with the threat to life due to congestion and no social distancing.

Relaying the dangerous prison conditions, Dr. Khan wrote, “With just one attached toilet, 125-150 inmates, the smell of their sweat and urine mixed with unbearable heat due to electricity cuts makes life hell over here: A living hell indeed. I try to read but cannot focus due to suffocation. It sometimes feels that I might fall due to dizziness caused by that suffocation. So I keep on drinking water.”

Saying that it was impossible to focus on anything, he further said, “After reading the maghrib prayers, I sit with a novel for a long time, trying to read at least a bit. But all in vain as it is so suffocating that I can’t just explain…”

Conveying the unbearable situation in jail, he added, “The entire barrack seems like a fish market infused with all kinds of smells including those someone coughing, sneezing, farting, urinating or sweating. Some people snore, some fight, some scratch themselves. Usually the entire night is spent sitting, waiting for the morning.”

The coronavirus situation had made it worse Khan expressed. While his family could visit before and offer some respite in terms of solace and food, Khan said that now he had to survive on watery dal and boiled vegetables. He wrote, “Due to the coronavirus, nobody can even meet me from outside. Otherwise they would bring me fruits and that would be good enough to survive on, but not now.”

The doctor also questioned his detention saying, “I don’t know why I am being punished. I don’t know when I will be able to see my children, my wife, my mother and my brothers and sister. I don’t know when I will as a doctor, fulfil my duties and fight the menace of Coronavirus alongside my brethren.”

On March 23, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered for the decongestion of prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was reported by The Indian Express that till June 25, a total of 17,963 prisoners had been released on parole as per the SC directives. However, Khan wasn’t one of them.

Just as Khan had requested now, to be allowed to fulfil his duties as a doctor, he had earlier written a letter to PM Modi on March 19, offering help to fight the coronavirus infection, using the 20 years of experience he had in the medical field. In this letter, he had also provided a roadmap to fight the virus advising the government to “Increase the testing strength (1 in each district), isolation wards (1000 in each districts), opening of new ICUs, extensive training of the doctors/paramedics, support groups including AYUSH and private sectors, curb the rumors, avoid unscientific views and mobilize all resources as soon as possible."

However, seemingly in a bid to save face, the police are questioning the veracity of Khan’s current letter, reported Ummid.com While Khan’s brother, Adeel Ahmed Khan said that Khan had written the letter on June 15 and it had reached the family on July 1, Mathura Jail Superintendent Shailendra Maitri said, “Kafeel denies having written any letter. We screen all the outgoing mails, and did not see any such letter written by Kafeel. And after the lockdown began, no one has been allowed to meet the inmates. So, how did the alleged letter go out?”

Khan was earlier suspended by the Uttar Pradesh government in the case of the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur, where the lack of oxygen supply had taken the lives of more than 60 children and had spent nine months in prison for alleged medical negligence. However, he was given a clean-chit in the matter and acquitted in the case after a government-appointed inquiry.
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