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Where is justice for Varavara Rao?

Mr Varavara Rao a poet who has espoused radical thinking and revolutionary ideas in his work. He has been in jail since 2018 for allegedly inciting caste violence. He has strongly denied the allegations and no charges have been formally brought against him.

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Where is justice for Varavara Rao?

Mr Varavara Rao a poet who has espoused radical thinking and revolutionary ideas in his work. He has been in jail since 2018 for allegedly inciting caste violence. He has strongly denied the allegations and no charges have been formally brought against him.

Where is justice for Varavara Rao?

Mr Varavara Rao a poet who has espoused radical thinking and revolutionary ideas in his work. He has been in jail since 2018 for allegedly inciting caste violence. He has strongly denied the allegations and no charges have been formally brought against him.

Where is justice for Varavara Rao?

Mr Varavara Rao a poet who has espoused radical thinking and revolutionary ideas in his work. He has been in jail since 2018 for allegedly inciting caste violence. He has strongly denied the allegations and no charges have been formally brought against him.

The court has ordered imprisoned 81-year-old poet Varavara Rao to be moved to hospital. But this decision is too little, and far too late.

On Wednesday 18th November the High Court ruled that poet and activist Varavara Rao should be moved to a private hospital in Mumbai to receive proper treatment. Rao – 81 years old and already in poor health before he contracted Covid-19 earlier this year - has been imprisoned without trial since 2018 and is now reported to be on his death bed.

This decision is long overdue. Since Varavara Rao’s arrest over two years ago, he has been held under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), an anti-terrorism law that is used as a pretext to silence intellectuals and activists who speak out against the government. Under the terms of the act, the prison gates remain firmly locked; repeated requests to grant bail on humanitarian grounds continually denied.  

Why are authorities so afraid of an octogenarian poet? Not only have they deprived him of his freedom without even bringing his case to trial, but they have also exposed him to a potentially lethal virus and refused to provide adequate medical aid. In effect, they have delivered a death sentence.

Varavara Rao is the greatest living writer in the Telugu language, with one of the most remarkable literary careers in India spanning six decades. Described as “the voice of millions of voiceless masses in Andhra Pradesh,” he has published numerous poetry collections since the 1960s, and his writing has always actively engaged with politics. In 1970 he founded Virasam, the Revolutionary Writers’ Association; perhaps more than any other literary figure in India today, he has brought art and activism together. His poetry is a cry for radical social justice. His activism takes the form of impassioned words. He has suffered the consequences, with numerous stints in jail amounting to over ten years in total – despite being acquitted of all charges in every case. Not once has anything been proved against him.

In July this year, Rao contracted Covid-19 while still in prison awaiting trial. Moved to a state hospital for treatment, the conditions were hardly more humane than his prison cell. When his family were allowed to visit, they found him delirious and lying in soiled sheets with no one to care for him. He was taken back to the prison in August, and his family had no further updates on his condition for months.

PEN International, an organisation that defends freedom of expression and supports writers worldwide, issued a statement: "In a civilised society that respects the elderly, cares for the sick, honours its poets, and has room for those who dissent, Varavara Rao would have had the freedom to be with those who love him. But because the state has not yet examined what it calls evidence against him, and because, apparently, it fears he might disappear during the time of a pandemic and lockdown, it refuses to let him be free. It is for the judiciary to do the right thing and display humanity. Justice has to follow due process, and the process is meaningless without mercy.”

The court has now ruled that he be moved to a private hospital for 15 days and allowed visitors. Fundamental human rights rather than “mercy” - but it comes far too late.

The foe fears the poet;

Incarcerates him, and

Tightens the noose around the neck

But, already, the poet in his notes

Breathes among the masses.

(from ‘The Bard’, by Varavara Rao. Translated by D. Venkat Rao.)

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