The Big Story: Secrets of Gorakhpur

It was one of the dramatic reversals that have become the hallmark of our pubic discourse. After 63 children suffocated to death in 48 hours when a Gorakhpur hospital ran out of oxygen on the night of August 10, 2017, Kafeel Khan was feted in the national media. The paediatrician was hailed for doing his best to save the patients, scrambling for oxygen from nearby hospitals, paying for the cylinders out of his own pocket. Weeks later, he was in prison, accused of attempt to murder and graft, though he has since been cleared of corruption charges. Eight months after the tragedy, he remains in prison, denied bail by lower courts while hearings at the Allahabad high court keep getting postponed. But a poignant, 10-page letter scrawled by Khan in prison has emerged to remind a forgetful public of his plight and of the many unanswered questions that the Gorakhpur tragedy left behind.

As the Yogi Adityanath government struggled to deal with the public outrage that followed the deaths, heads rolled among the staff at Baba Raghav Das Medical College and Hospital. Along with Khan, the former principal of the medical college and the head of the former head of the anaesthesia department were arrested. Yet reports and investigations in the aftermath of the deaths revealed problems that lay beyond individual cases of negligence: a crippling lack of infrastructure that had been highlighted by the comptroller and auditor general’s report back in May 2017, funds that were not transferred or not utilised, staff shortages and other deeper failures in the public health system. The Adityanath government seemed inclined to brazen it out and deny responsibility in the face of public outrage back in August 2017. It is unlikely that the administration has moved to plug the gaps after the tragedy faded from the news.

While responsibility for these larger lapses is yet to be apportioned, Khan’s continued incarceration raises new questions. What exactly is the basis of the charges against him? Why has the doctor, who claims he was made a scapegoat, not been granted bail in all these months? Why has a trial not even begun eight months after he was arrested? If the Gorakhpur deaths of August 2017 revealed the grim state of Uttar Pradesh’s public healthcare system, Khan’s imprisonment reflects the equally worrying state of its justice system.

The Big Scroll

Menaka Rao reported from Gorakhpur in the aftermath of the tragedy, talking to parents who had just lost their childrens and doctors who explained why oxygen supply was cut off.

Menaka Rao and Priyanka Vora found that oxygen supply had not been restored to the hospital 72 hours and 30 deaths later.

Nayantara Narayan had questions for the Uttar Pradesh government to answer, and pointed out that the tragedy went beyond the responsibilities of the hospital staff and that the poor state of infrastructure had been noted months before the deaths in August.


1, In the Indian Express, Upendra Baxi on the proposal to impeach the chief justice of India and why the politics of embarrassment matters.

2. In the Hindu, Vidya Ram on why the Commonwealth summit felt out of step with the times.

3. In the Telegraph, Manini Chatterjee on the season of acquittals.


Don’t miss...

Amish Raj Mulmi reflects on why tales of shikaar continue to fascinate, in spite of the the ecological horrors of hunting:

What then explains the continued fascination, and the love, for shikaarliterature, even among conservationists? Ullas Karanth, the noted tiger scientist, has said he’d grown up “on stacks of nature books and Jim Corbett’s tales of man-eaters”, while leading wildlife biologist and author of Field Days, AJT Johnsingh read a Tamil translation of Corbett in his childhood that he said “stimulated my inherent interest in wildlife”.

A possible explanation could be the deliberate ambivalence, as a recent paper suggested, that hunters like Corbett and Anderson presented in their writings – between that of a white colonial hunter and of a “rescuer” who sympathised with locals and projected man-eater hunting as a “nobler undertaking”. While this explanation holds true, there were others who hunted man-eaters, and wrote about it, such as Ajai Kumar Reddy, Sher Jung and Donald Anderson. Why aren’t they considered the equals of Corbett?