Aligarh: Niha Khan, an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) who worked in Jamalpur, an extremely cramped area in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh, has found herself at the centre of a storm.
The 29-year-old is being called a “vaccine jihadi” after being accused of just pricking people with injections and not actually administering the Covid-19 vaccine. A pharmacist, Arvind Kashyap, was the first to raise a complaint. He told ThePrint that he didn’t witness the incident himself but complained to higher authorities when he found discarded syringes filled with the vaccine.
Twenty nine syringes were allegedly found in a dustbin at Jamalpur Urban Public Health Center (UPHC) on 22 May, where vaccination for the 18-44 age group was ongoing. An FIR was filed against Khan and the UPHC incharge Dr Afreen Jahra on 30 May. Currently, vaccination at the centre has been suspended.
Based on a complaint by Additional Chief Medical Officer, Aligarh, Dr Durgesh Kumar, Khan and Jahra have been booked under sections 203 (giving false information respecting an offence committed), 176 (omission to give notice or information to public servant by person legally bound to give it), 465 (forgery), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and section 4 of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 and section 3, 4 of The Epidemic Disease Act.
Khan is accused of disposing of the vaccines while Jahra is accused of hiding the matter from higher authorities.
Khan has now been suspended from duty and Jahra has been transferred to the Hardua Ganj Community Health Centre. Other staff who were on duty on the day, another ANM Anu and nurse Sonam Rajoria, have also been transferred.
Khan alleges Kashyap, who is a pharmacist with the UPHC, conspired against her since they had a disagreement. However, the BJP, which is the ruling party in the state, says there’s a conspiracy in Aligarh against the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vaccine programme, and claims Muslims in the area are averse to taking the vaccine.
Meanwhile, police and a committee set up by Aligarh’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Bhanu Pratap Singh Kalyani to investigate the incident are yet to establish a clear motive for the alleged crime.
‘Have no reason to do this’
Khan countered the allegation with several claims.
“If I had ill intentions, why would I have not vaccinated 30 people? I would have pricked them with the needle too. Truth is Arvind [the pharmacist] is trying to hide vaccines wasted by him, and is conveniently pinning the blame on me.” According to Khan, she administered 15 doses on 22 May. However, in a voice note to Rajoria, which has been listed as evidence in the FIR, Khan purportedly says she administered 60-70 doses.
The Aligarh Police is currently unaware of Khan’s whereabouts. When ThePrint reached her over the phone, she refused to meet in person but agreed to a telephonic interview, in which she claimed she is being “framed” because she’s a Muslim.
“There’s no evidence against me. The UPHC is covering up its wasted vaccines by accusing me of this crime. Tell me, sister, I have been doing this work for over six years now and am an expert, why will I wake up one day and decide I don’t want to vaccinate people? And now news channels are calling me jihadi after serving this country for years.”
Khan added she herself got vaccinated in January, when healthcare workers were prioritised by the Centre in the first phase of the national vaccination programme.
She went on to allege her colleagues “used to discriminate against me because of my religion”, and this was the “perfect excuse to get rid of me”.
According to Aligarh CMO Kalyani, the Jamalpur UPHC had received 250 vaccines on 22 May, of which 200 had been administered (including the ones that were discarded) and there was zero vaccine wastage.
Khan further alleged that she had an ongoing feud with the pharmacist who had threatened to get her fired, but didn’t explain what the disagreement was about. “He had told me that by next week, I’ll be out of a job, that’s why he framed me with the help of other colleagues … They all conspired against me,” she claimed.
Anu and Sonam Rajoria said they were aware of the feud, but had no reason to be in cahoots with Kashyap. “Both of us had been recently posted there. Why would we frame her [Khan]? We had worked there for hardly two weeks. Why would we have an ill will against her?” Anu said.
When ThePrint spoke to Kashyap, he said he was unaware of there being any feud between him and Khan.
ThePrint tried to reach Dr Jahra for a comment via multiple calls to her personal contact number, but her phone was switched off. ThePrint also tried to reach her at her workplace in Hardua Ganj on 4 June, but she hadn’t reported for work by then.
BJP claims Muslims hesitant about vaccine
BJP says scholars at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) shape the Muslim thought process and that’s why those in Aligarh are so averse to the vaccine.
“I am not saying this to accuse any community of any wrongdoing but the fact is that Muslims are calling Covid vaccines ‘Modi vaccines’ and refusing to take the jab. This is a conspiracy to derail the BJP government’s vaccine drive in Aligarh, so the virus can once again wreak havoc and fingers can be pointed at CM Yogi [Adityanath] and PM Modi,” said Arvind Saraswat, zila head for BJP’s Aligarh Urban unit.
ThePrint had reported that Aligarh’s residents were strongly opposed to getting vaccinated as they fear it will kill them. The notion was only amplified when 18 of AMU’s staff died of Covid-19. Of them, 16 hadn’t taken the vaccine.
Saraswat said the BJP has done its duty by highlighting the matter, and further investigation in the Niha Khan case is up to the police. “If found guilty, the accused should be booked for sedition,” he said.
Asked if vaccine hesitancy among Muslims could’ve translated into Khan’s alleged actions, CMO Kalyani said, “One cannot say with full conviction that this was Niha’s motive, but one cannot reject this theory either.”
Police yet to find motive
So far, Aligarh Police and health authorities are yet to establish a clear motive behind Khan’s alleged crime.
There’s no CCTV footage to show that Khan did not administer the vaccine or had disposed of vaccines in a dustbin, according to Station House Officer Ravinder Kumar, Civil Lines Police Station, Aligarh. The FIR against Khan is registered at the Civil Lines Police Station.
Speaking to ThePrint, CMO Kalyani also said it’s difficult to determine whether people actually received the vaccine from Khan.
“Covaxin in general doesn’t give you strong side effects like Covishield. So it’s tricky to determine who got the jab and who didn’t. I have sought directions from higher health authorities in the state to figure this out,” he said.
In its report, the committee set up to investigate the matter claimed Khan was “mentally upset”, purportedly based on her testimony, Kalyani told ThePrint.
However, Khan rejected this claim. “Just because they don’t have any hard evidence against me, they’ve conveniently said I’m ‘mental’. This is ridiculous, if you ask me,” she told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, Rajoria said Khan was tense after the passing of her mother recently. “She told me she might have made a mistake because she’s tense and wasn’t paying attention on her work, that she didn’t deliberately do anything,” Rajoria told ThePrint.
Anu, who goes by a single name and was on duty with Khan on 22 May, said she saw Khan disposing of syringes without using them. “I could see she’s not pushing the injection properly. A patient also asked her to vaccinate him properly after he saw Khan just pricking him with a needle. I can testify to this,” she told ThePrint.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
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