Still in the dark about the health status of jailed poet Varavara Rao, his wife P. Hemalatha and daughters P. Sahaja, P. Anala, P. Pavana have yet again used the one power they have… words. The four women have now written to Maharashtra Home Minister (with copy to Addl Director General of Prisons) seeking an update on Rao’s health. It has been 12 days and they are yet to hear anything from the authorities. All the information they have so far is what they have read or heard in the media.
Eighty-year-old Rao has been ailing from multiple illnesses for a while now. To add to all that, he is now suffering from Covid-19, which he may have contracted in Taloja jail, is in hospital and the family is in hyderabad with no updates on him.
On Monday evening his septuagenarian wife, stressed to the point of falling ill herself, wrote an emotional letter to Maharashtra Home MinisterAnil Deshmukh, requesting updates on the poet’s health. The family says they were compelled to write to the home minister because they have been denied any information about his health condition or the line of treatment being given to Rao, at Nanavati Hospital for the last 12 days.
“We are extremely worried and anxious to know about his health. We are writing to you since he is lodged in a jail under your ministry as an under-trial prisoner and it is your bounden duty to look after his well-being,” they write. They reminded the minister that it was also his “duty to inform his family in case of any problem to his health, as per the Charter of Patient Rights prepared by Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry.” The added, “You should appreciate that we as family of an ailing, 80-year old prisoner admitted in a hospital as a tested positive Covid patient, have every right to know about his status and line of treatment.”
Rao’s family asserts that this is not only their legal right, but also “a right based on principles of natural justice. We hope you will understand the anxiety of a family who is kept in dark for 12 days when a member is lodged in a hospital in a grave condition.” From the time he was shifted out of Taloja Jail to JJ Hospital, then to St George’s hospital and eventually to Nanavati hospital, the only official information provided to the family was that Rao had tested positive for Covid-19 on July 16.
According to the family they have been calling Taloja jail ever since Rao was transferred to Nanavati Hospital. “On July 22, 2020, the jail personnel picked up our call and said that the jail hospital/ jail doctor might have information about Mr. Rao’s health. We tried to contact the jail hospital but there was no response. Our lawyer Ms. Padma called the Jail Superintendent on July 22, 2020 on his mobile number. Once she had introduced herself, the call was disconnected. She received no response to the text message that she had sent to the same mobile number,” they detailed the stonewalling.
The family called the Taloja jail again on July 24, but were told that the jail had no information about Rao’s health. “We have been calling Nanavati Hospital also every day since July 20, 2020 but received no response from them.” The family also contacted the PRO of Nanavati Hospital on July 21, five days later they were informed by the hospital authorities that the jail authorities were being updated regularly about Rao’s health. The family quoted the hospital PRO’s text in their letter to the minister: “Ms. Pavana, we are regularly giving updates to jail authorities, you can approach them for details …”
Rao’s family is concerned and confused why the jail authorities are not telling them anything at all, “It is a mystery why this information is not passed on to the family by the jail authorities.” Rao’s wife and daughters state, “It is inhuman and unethical to withhold the information about Mr Rao’s health to his anxious family. It is very clear that the Jail authorities have regular updates about Mr. Rao’s health. Mr. Rao is an under-trial prisoner in your custody and the jail authorities have the responsibility to give us regular updates or instruct the Nanavati hospital to release regular health bulletins.”
They have now asked the Minister to intervene and direct the Taloja jail authorities or Nanavati Hospital to provide them with regular updates on Rao’s health status, including the diagnosis, and line of treatment. They asked, “Is Mr. Rao doing well? Given his age and ailments, what is the impact of Covid-19 on his health? We have many questions and doubts lingering in our minds. We believe as Mr. Rao’s family we should have access to information about his health, according to the law of the land and medical ethics.”
Meanwhile, rights activists, intellectuals, poets and authors from across the globe have also been asking key questions such as: “Where is Vara Vara Rao? What is his health condition? What is the state hiding?”
Where is Vara Vara Rao?
What is his health condition?
What is the state hiding?
Is it vendetta or is it secrecy?
Release the ailing old man, now! pic.twitter.com/wteKys4r3C
— Sujatha Gidla (@gidla_sujatha) July 27, 2020
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