In the post-truth world where alternative facts are worshipped and logic is insulted, internet trolls thrive. Often, they are sponsored by corporations or political parties with an agenda in mind, eager to further this agenda by swaying public opinion by establishing a culture of rampant self-censorship, cyber-bullying and whataboutism on social media.
In such a miserable environment, fake news is not only created, it also thrives. And more often than not the widespread traction of such frivolous stories is manufactured, engineered by the same organisations who look to gain from the confusion that fake news causes.
The latest victim of the online lynch mobs and trolls was Dr Kafeel Ahmed Khan, Nodal Officer and in-charge of the encephalitis ward of the BRD Medical College, which was the site of the tragic deaths of over 70 children in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Dr Kafeel Khan’s mistake was that he was dutiful
On the night of August 10, it was Khan who decided to take control of the situation by driving to private homes to borrow oxygen cylinders, reported DNA. Khan even paid Rs 10,000 to an oxygen supplier out of his own pocket, reported CNN-News18.
Khan was removed from his position on Sunday, 13 August, on charges of “dereliction of duty” and for “carrying out private practice”.
Khan, a paediatrician, and a former principal of the medical college, Dr RK Mishra, were responsible for ensuring a steady supply of oxygen cylinders in the medical college, hospital sources said. (Mishra himself was suspended on Saturday after which he resigned.)
Khan became a hero on social media after he reportedly spent from his own pocket to arrange three oxygen cylinders at BRD Medical College on Thursday night when the supply of liquid oxygen stopped.
Confirming his removal from the post, Dr Khan told The Times of India, “It’s a smear campaign against me. I was only trying to help the children. I did everything from getting in touch with oxygen firms to ensuring prompt help to patients.”
Khan’s removal took the country by surprise. For the past week, even as the death toll in Gorakhpur escalated, Khan was a ray of light amidst the despair. He was hailed as “the hero doctor” and a “one-man army” for his efforts in containing the situation and for using his own money to purchase oxygen cylinders for the children when the underfunded hospital failed to elicit a response from the government.
The list of charges lengthened on social media where within moments there were countless allegations against Khan from rape to conspiracy against the UP government. The smear campaign evolved along clearly communal lines as people online took to attacking Dr Khan for being a Muslim. Sure enough, shouts of being a “traitor” and “anti-national” soon followed, all the while being based on false claims and frivolous charges (explained below).
Baseless allegations and outright lies meant to distract people from the real issue of how the government & hospital could allow the Gorakhpur tragedy to happen
There were allegations of rape against Dr Khan in 2015. The Gorakhpur Police, after investigating, threw away the charges in its final report on April 3, 2015 (see FIR copy here). The police concluded that the allegations were part of a conspiracy and an attempt to malign Khan’s image.
Khan has been accused of “illegally” running a private practice alongside his work at the government-run BRD Medical Hospital. This is meaningless: firstly, many government doctors have a private practice on the side and, more importantly, this is not illegal. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that doctors in government hospitals can have a private practice alongside the same freely. Besides, Khan’s cousin told The Quint that he left his private practice after getting a job in BRD Medical College.
Therefore, this is an accusation of illegality over something legal that never existed in the first place.
There were many other allegations – like Khan “stealing oxygen” from the hospital (How? By transporting it across the atmosphere from his office to his home?) and his dislike for the Yogi Adityanath government (Disgustingly, fake tweets were manufactured in his name to create the impression that he was anti-Adityanath and unverified tweets from an unverified account carrying his name that is now deleted has been hastily attributed to him; and when did it become a crime to not support a politician?).
Khan himself gave a statement to the media saying the allegations against him were false and appealed to people to stop spreading rumours about him on Facebook and WhatsApp.
“Please stop spreading rumours saying ‘Dr Kafeel Ahmed is a Muslim,’ or ‘Dr Kafeel Ahmed is a fraud’. I am an Indian first and foremost and all I did I did as a doctor, which is my profession,” he said.
Kafeel Khan is being made a scapegoat for the government’s mistakes
In Dr Kafeel Khan’s dismissal, the medical fraternity saw a shameless – and predictable – attempt by politicians and bureaucrats to shirk responsibility, not own up to their mistakes and instead shift the blame on others.
“Doctors are being made scapegoats,” said Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti, who heads an association of resident doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The association has written a letter condemning Khan’s sacking, accusing the state government of “gross neglect of public health.” By blaming doctors for the death of the children, the association told NDTV, “politicians are hiding their incompetence,” and asked, “Who is responsible if oxygen, gloves, equipment not available?”
Writing on Firstpost, Sandipan Sharma called the tactic “diversionary” and a “classic red-herring”:
“The Gorakhpur tragedy is a blot on India. More than 70 (and counting) infants died within a week because the Uttar Pradesh government and BRD Medical College administration allowed it to turn into a death trap by not paying in time for maintaining the supply of oxygen. In any other country with a conscience, morals and a rule of law, this would have been unequivocally called murder by dereliction of duty. Instead, its aftermath tells us, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes, we have become a nation without common decency, common practicality and basic compassion.”
If allegations are the only factor it takes for the public to judge a person’s innocence and character then we should immediately demand the resignation and imprisonment of most of our politicians.
The smear campaign against Dr Kafeel Khan shows a lot about the kind of people we are. Some among us were party to manufacturing these fake news stories, many among us shared these stories, believing them without second thought. Both practices should be vigorously condemned by all of us if truth and facts mean anything anymore.
The UP government is trying hard to distract the public but it will not and should not succeed in doing this. The country still has not come to terms with how a tragedy like Gorakhpur could be allowed to occur in this day and age. Being distracted by Dr Khan’s surname and non-existent controversies serves no purpose other than enabling politicians to elude accountability.
We should not let this happen at any cost. It is time we pushed back the spotlight on the medical and administrative mismanagement that led to the Gorakhpur tragedy.
Also read: 79 Children Die Till Now In Gorakhpur Hospital: What Has Happened So Far