By Dr Kafeel Khan

Their Stick, My Behind

When Uttar Pradesh Police’s Special Task Force (STF) arrested me at Mumbai airport on January 29, I had no clue why. I didn’t know that an FIR was lodged against me in Aligarh. Police never informed me. I had addressed a gathering of 600 students to educate them about the government’s initiative to introduce the National Register of Citizens. I was charged with inciting communal violence. They kept quiet for 46 days and all of a sudden, the STF landed at the airport. My torture started the moment I was arrested. I thought they would kill me in a fake encounter.

Perhaps they were aware that doing so in custody would cost them dearly. So, they tortured me instead. On the way from Mumbai to Aligarh, they interrogated me at various spots—asking me to undress and hit my behind repeatedly with sticks. It hurt so much that I could not sit. There was no food, no water either.

Life In Isolation

When we reached Aligarh after three days, I was produced before a court, which sent me to jail. I was shifted to Mathura jail the same night and the torture continued. I was put in an isolation cell and kept hungry and thirsty. After much begging, I was given two stale rotis. I asked them why they were doing that to me. No answer. Instead, they tortured me more. My family, in the meantime, petitioned the court and I was subsequently moved to the general barracks following a judicial order. The four-five days in isolation were of unthinkable humiliation and demoralising pain.

The Barracks

The barracks were a different zone—meant for 44 inmates, there were 150 packed inside. Jail officials woke us up 5 am and made us sit in pairs for the daily headcount. To answer my morning call, I had to queue up for at least half an hour. By the time my turn came, my belly would be in a tight knot. Often, some inmates were unable to hold on and defecated or urinated in their trousers. The toilet was a stinking hellhole. The first few days, I almost vomited or fell unconscious. Swarms of flies and mosquitoes infested the place—and the vermin would not only bite but try to enter my ears and nose as well. Swatting and shaking off the mosquitoes was one hell of an experience while doing my business. My morning ablution included washing my clothes and a bath at one of the four taps in the open. Then breakfast—dalia or gram—for which there was a long queue too. The overcrowded barracks were insufferably hot and stifling. The fans hardly worked because of long outages. I cooled off under a tap three to four times.

Lunch was at 11 am. I would wash my plate, stand in a queue for chapattis and move to the line for lentils. For boiled vegetables, another queue. To avoid these endless queues, I would take some chapattis and gulp them down with water. The food? The less said the better. Before the pandemic, my family would bring me fruits. Lockdown restrictions ended that luxury. They closed the barracks from 12 to 3 pm. Daytime lie-downs were impossible in the cramped barracks, where I had a torn blanket to spread out—my bed. But I could never catch a wink. There were too many flies and mosquitoes; and my fellow inmates constantly hit me when they moved their limbs in sleep.

The same queue system worked for dinner too. Nights were more painful—the foul smell suffocated me. The inmates sneezed, coughed, broke wind and fought over trivial issues. This went on the entire night. I could barely sleep.

Midnight Freedom

After six months of a torturous jail term, the Allahabad High Court declared my detention illegal on September 1. Even after the HC order, my release was delayed. Police said they were waiting for the district magistrate’s order. The DM said he was awaiting orders from higher-ups. My brother and other family members had to sit on dharna in front of the DM’s office, despite the court setting me free. We told police we would move a contempt petition if they keep ignoring. I think that worked. I was released at 11.55 pm. Finally.

Kafeel Khan is a doctor who saved the lives of many children after a Gorakhpur hospital ran out of oxygen

courtesy Outlook