Don’t Kill Varavara Rao in Jail!

Family members of the noted Telugu poet say he is incoherent, and his  health is deteriorating fast

Varavara Rao

On Sunday afternoon, family members of noted Telugu revolutionary poet Varavara Rao (79) spoke to the media and concerned citizens in an urgently called together video meeting to share that his health is deteriorating fast and he needs urgent medical attention. The public intellectual, is incarcerated in Navi Mumbai’s Taloja Jail, and has begun to now sound incoherent and disoriented, say his wife P Hemalatha, and P Sahaja, P Anala, P Pavana, their daughters.

“Anyone who has heard his speeches know the flow of his words, this time he was looking for words,”  said his family, alarmed to see how much his health has deteriorated. They spoke to him on Saturday, July 11 and were shocked that Rao seemed to be “delirious and hallucinating” as he spoke about the “funeral of his father and mother”. Rao’s father died over 70 years ago, and his mother died over 40 years ago, said the family, again shocked that he was speaking about these events when they asked him about his own health. 

“He kept talking about his nana’s and his amma’s (father and mother) deaths and funerals, they have passed aways decades ago,” siad his wife, her voices shaking in concern for her husband, “his attendant said he is not well at all,” she said and broke down.

This was supposed to be another  ‘routine’ call, between Rao and his family, like the ones they received on June 24 and July 2. Even in those calls the family was concerned as Rao sounded “weak and muffled” and was “abruptly jumping into Hindi” when he normally spoke to them, especially his wife in Telugu. “But he was able to understand and spoke about the case, gave instructions for his lawyers, how to approach bail petitions etc,” said his daughter. 

 “As an eloquent and articulate public speaker and writer in Telugu for over five decades, a Telugu teacher for four decades and known for his meticulous memory, this fumbling, incoherence and loss of memory were in themselves strange and frightening,” said his family during the video conference and later in a press statement. 

According to his wife, Rao’s co-accused Veron Gonsalves, took the phone from him and informed the family that Rao was not even able to walk, go to the toilet, or even brush his teeth on his own. “We were also told that he is always hallucinating that we, family members, were waiting at the jail gate to receive him as he was getting released. His co-prisoner also said he needs immediate medical care for not only physical but also neurological issues,” said his family.

“My father has always had a great memory, he would remember dates and events everyone knows he is a great speaker. Now there was a 30 second gap between words, and repeating words, he was speaking like a child,” siad his daughter, “we could understand that he is disoriented. He should be given the medical support immediately and shifted to a private hospital. We are demanding this from Telengalam Maharashtra and central governments. They have to see that undertrails have rights to healthcare.”

They say that Rao’s confusion, loss of memory and incoherence could be because of an “electrolyte imbalance and low of Sodium and Potassium levels.” They say the condition can also prove fatal, especially for a man Rao’s age. Taloja jail is not at all equipped to handle this kind of serious ailment either in medical expertise or equipment and the family wants Rao to be urgently be moved to “a fully equipped super specialty hospital to save his life and prevent possible brain damage and risk to life due to electrolyte imbalance.” 

Rao’s condition has been fragile  for over six weeks now, says his family,  “since he was shifted in an unconscious state to JJ Hospital from Taloja Jail on May 28.” He was discharged from the hospital and sent back to jail three days later, however his health is getting worse now, “he is still in need of emergency health care.”

The family says for the moment if they even set aside “”pertinent facts like, that the case against him is fabricated; he had to spend 22 months in jail as an undertrial with the process turned into punishment. His bail petitions got rejected at least five times now and even the bail petitions with his age, ill-health and Covid vulnerability as grounds were ignored. His life is the top most concern for us right now. Our present demand is to save his life. We demand the government shift him to a better hospital or allow us to provide required medical care.”

They said the government has no right to deny the right to life of any person, much less an undertrial prisoner. The 79-year-old renowned literary critic who had been arrested in the Elgar Parishad case in 2018, was lodged at the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai and was hospitalized at the JJ Hospital in Mumbai on Thursday, May 28.

In the wake of the past appeals from the family and the reports of Varavara Rao’s health, a special court in Mumbai on Saturday, May 30, directed JJ Hospital to submit Rao’s medical report on account of a plea submitted by his lawyer R Satyanarayana before special judge DE Kothalikar.

According to media reports, hospital authorities had said that Rao had tested negative for Covid-19 and was stable. A senior doctor at the hospital told IE, “He is stable as of now and is being evaluated. He had dizziness, which seems to have been a vertigo attack.”

Rao’s wife, P Hemalatha had earlier issued a statement depicting the apathy of the authorities and the gaps in information that were passed to the family about his condition. In her statement, on Saturday, May 30, she said that the family got to know of his precarious health condition at 8:30 PM on Friday, May 29, 2020 and that he was moved from Taloja Jail to JJ Hospital. 

However, on the other hand, there were news reports that said he was hospitalized in jail for three days and then only moved to JJ Hospital. His wife said that between these two news reports that emerged, they couldn’t decide which contained the truth about his exact health condition. The statement by the Telangana Police officials stating they would make arrangements for the family’s visit to Mumbai to meet with an ailing Rao, were very worrying, his wife said.

Rao’s wife had also said earlier that due to the continuous stress, her age and poor health, she wasn’t in a position to travel to Mumbai. She appealed to the Central and State governments of Maharashtra and Telangana asking that the family be apprised about the actual status of Rao’s health condition and that a video conference with him be arranged immediately and that a comprehensive medical examination be undertaken.


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