Penguin Random House has listed poet, and activist, Varavara Rao, who they describe as “a well-known Telugu poet and an ideologue of Maoist politics” and “also one of the spokespersons in the first ever talks held between the Maoists and the Andhra Pradesh government in 2000” as one of their authors on its website. They put on record that Rao has being “been continually persecuted by the state and intermittently imprisoned since 1973,” adding that when “he was subjected to ‘one thousand days of solitary confinement’ during 1985-89 in Secunderabad Jail, a leading national daily invited him to write about his prison experiences” and he “expressed himself in a series of thirteen remarkable essays on imprisonment, from prison.” That book ‘Captive Imagination Letters From Prison’ was published by its imprint: India Viking in 2010.
The blog on its website says that Penguin “acquired to publish a collection of poetry” by Rao, titled ‘Varavara Rao: India’s Revolutionary Poet,’ edited by N. Venugopal and Meena Kandasamy. It was to be published under Penguin’s Vintage imprint and released in 2021.
Has publication been stalled, as reported?
The Quint has reported that Penguin Random House which was expected to publish Rao’s collection of poems in June or July 2021 may have “stalled the publication” reportedly citing “concerns” about the “nature of charges” levelled against Rao who was arrested in November 2018 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. Rao is currently on medical bail and the Bombay High Court, has said he “need not surrender before the police or Taloja Jail authorities until November 18”.
According to The Quint, Penguin has now “decided to publish the book only after the court looks into the case.” The news report also states that the publishers had also sought to select poems which are “less controversial”.
However, N. Venugopal, who is one of the editors and the nephew of the poet, told SabrangIndia, “The process that began a year ago is still underway. The publishers have time till October 2022, and we hope to see the book before that.” The news report quotes Penguin’s commissioning editor Elizabeth Kuruvilla saying, it was “not the only book in our list whose publication has been delayed in the past pandemic year, as it is undergoing the same rigorous processes we follow for all the books we publish.”
In October 2020, the publishers had stated on their blog that “Rao is currently incarcerated in the Bhima Koregaon case. About two-thirds of the poems featured here were picked by the poet himself before his arrest.” N. Venugopal, was also quoted then as saying, “This is like fulfilment of a long-cherished dream, as making Varavara Rao’s work accessible to English readers has been my dream for decade. As a person who has closely watched the making of his poems, as one of the first readers in manuscript form, I believe his poetry is an expression of his complete personality that blended social history, alternative people’s politics, people’s right to self-determination and unceasing urge for freedom.”
In August 2021 the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed draft charges before the Special NIA court in Mumbai, against 15 human rights defenders accused in the Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case. The NIA had taken over the probe in the Elgar Parishad case from the Pune Police in 2020. While Pune police had already arrested Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj in 2018, the NIA arrested Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Hany Babu, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap, and (now deceased) Father Stan Swamy in 2020.
Father Stan Swamy’s demise in the NIA custody raised much furore and was termed as institutional murder by many. In early July, SabrangIndia’s sister organisation, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) appealed to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to release the 15 accused in the case. The letter focused on the deteriorating health of some accused like Sudha Bharadwaj and others who tested positive for Covid-19 in their incarceration.