There has been a lot of coverage in the press recently over jailed poet Varavara Rao – think pieces have been published on his incarceration, and statuses and stories have been shared on Facebook and Instagram imploring people to look into his negligent treatment in jail. 79 years old, he already had a host of medical issues, and has now been declared covid positive.
But who exactly is Varavara Rao? In essence, he is an Indian activist, poet, and journalist from Telangana who has spent decades fighting for human rights.
Born in 1940, he founded a forum for modern Telugu literature in his 20s, which ran as a monthly for several decades. He was also one of the founders of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association, known by its acronym Virasam, and wrote for many other progressive and revolutionary Telugu journals. A Marxist critic, Rao has been arrested on multiple occasions, first being arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in Andhra Pradesh in 1973.
The revolutionary academic was also arrested during Emergency in the 70s, survived attempts on his life post emergency, and was jailed yet again in the 80s.
In August 2018, Rao was arrested and jailed, along with 10 other human rights defenders, for alleged involvement in the violence that broke out at Bhima Koregan on 1 January 2018.
Synchronised raids were conducted across five Indian states in connection with an alleged plot by Maoist extremists to assassinate PM Modi. Rao’s name popped up in the investigation when Pune police arrested Surendra Gadling from Nagpur in June in connection with the Elgaar Parishad rally case. A letter was recovered from Gadling in which Rao complimented him.
Rao denies having anything to do with a plot to assassinate Modi. However, he has spent 22 months in the overcrowded Taloja jail in Mumbai, despite his medical conditions which require specialised treatment and now being diagnosed with coronavirus.
After his health deteriorated drastically in recent days, and outrage over the negligent treatment meted out to him grew louder, he was shifted to the state-run JJ hospital. However, what he requires is urgent specialised treatment in a private hospital.
There’s been a growing movement to get the man out of jail and get him adequate medical assistance. His family even alleged that they found him in a pool of urine when they visited him.
Pragya Thakur got bail on health grounds. She ended up fighting elections.— Parth MN (@parthpunter) July 12, 2020
But Varavara Rao is being left to die in jail.
This country is an embarrassment.
If an 81 year old poet who’s currently tested positive for covid is a threat to the nation and its interests then we must raise questions on how & why are we such a weak nation…#FreeVaravaraRao— Kunal Kamra (@kunalkamra88) July 17, 2020
The health of poet Varavara Rao has deteriorated immensely.— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) July 12, 2020
He isn’t a convict – just an accused. By law, a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Fadnavis arrested him on fake charges. NIA has no evidence.
But the courts continue to deny him justice. #ReleaseVaraVaraRao
https://t.co/AYIKuconbb— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) July 13, 2020
An 80 year old needs to be hospitalized immediately as his health is declining. I appeal to the CM of Maharashtra @OfficeofUT & Home Minister @AnilDeshmukhNCP to act out of compassion & humanity. Politics & everything else can come later.
The poet and human rights activist is currently critically ill, and several authorities have been accused of treating him negligently when he needed help the most. It remains to be seen if any timely action will be taken.