Save his life: Poets and writers appeal to President of India to help Varavara Rao

Rao (79) is suffering from Covid-19, contracted due to abysmal conditions at Taloja jail, says family

Varavara Roa

Poets, writers, human rights advocates, and citizens across the country are coming together and raising their voices in support of those seeking help for the ailing revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, who contracted Coronavirus while being incarcerated at Taloja Jail. When 79-year-old Rao’s health deteriorated rapidly he was shifted to JJ Hospital on Monday. He tested positive of Covid-19 on Thursday. His family was extremely concerned about the callous treatment Varavara Rao had been provided so far. They say that it’s the abysmal prison conditions that caused Rao to get infected.

On Friday, a group of noted writers and poets from Odisha wrote an open letter to the President of India to intervene and save the noted poet’s life. They wrote, “We express our deep concern on the apathetic attitude of the State towards proper and super special treatment and care of the jailed people’s poet Varavara Rao (81), presently at JJ Hospital, Mumbai. His condition is deteriorating rapidly. Further he has been tested positive for #COVID 19. 

“His earlier pleas for interim bail concerning medical grounds citing his susceptibility to the virus due to age and various ailments have been twice rejected by the special NIA Court.

“We the writers and poets of Odisha solemnly request President of India for immediate intervention to save his life and release him along with other political prisoners presently behind the bar.” 

The letter has been signed by scores of writers including: Kumar Hassan, Lenin Kumar, Akhil Naik, Jyoti Nanda, Bhima Prusti, Biswapriya Kanoongo, Ramakrishna Sahu, Pitambar Tarai, Bharat Majhi, Kedar Misha, Biraja Bal, Hussain Rabi Gandhi, Sameer Ranjan, Durga Panda, Prahallad Satapathy, Damodar Panda, Prashant Kar, Manoj Mahanty, Aditeswar Mishra, Deepak Mishra, Ashish Gadanayak, Amiya Mahapatra, Hemanta Dalpati, Subrat Jena, Sujata Sahani, Narendra Bhoi, Bichitra Biswal, Jayanti Beuria Biswal, Bhawani Bhuiyan, Ajit Meher, Subrat Barik, Chandan Nag, Anand Chandra Sahu, Ravindra Gadatia, Akshay Samal, Sudhir Dhangdamajhi, Pramod Panda, Trinath Singh, Saroj Bal, Pratikshya Jena, Manini Misha, Gajanan Mishra, Parame Naik, Prajnaprabha Kuanar, Rabi Pradhan, Srimant Mahanty, Suresh Tripathy, Subrat Sahu, SanjayTripathy and R. Puspanjali.

Earlier a group of young poets too had issued a public statement in support of the vetrean poet and activist Varavara Rao. They had sought his release from prison. The statement as quoted by The Wire reads, “We the undersigned express our solidarity with people’s poet Varavara Rao, condemn his arbitrary arrest under draconian charges like UAPA and urge the authorities to release him immediately.

“Varavara Rao is a world-renowned poet, journalist and literary critic from Telangana who founded the Revolutionary Writers Association popularly known as Virasam. Throughout history, he has been hounded and arrested in various false charges by various governments and later been acquitted in all the cases. This only goes on to suggest that his revolutionary writings have always made the ones in power uncomfortable and they have always been threatened by the power of his verses. Ideally, a poet names the nameless without actually taking their name and for the ones in power to arrest or implicate poets, they need to accept that they are the ones being talked about in those poems.

“In 2018, Varavara Rao was arrested for his alleged role in the ‘Elgar Parishad case’, on false charges of ‘trying to incite violence in Bhima Koregaon’. He has not been offered a fair trial in the last two years and has been imprisoned for an unjust length of time, along with other public-spirited activists, writers and advocates.

“He is 80 years old and according to the press note issued by his family under the title “Don’t kill Varavara Rao in jail”, he is seriously ill and has been in poor health ever since he was shifted to JJ Hospital in an unconscious state earlier in May. His co-prisoner also said he needed immediate help for his physical and neurological issues.

“It is clear that Rao is only being kept in jail by virtue of him being a poet who questions the powers-that-be. While we as young poets not only understand the value and importance of speaking for the people and questioning the ones in power, we take it as a responsibility, to uphold. It is because of public poets like Varavara Rao that we, the young poets are able to write and speak for the society and on other matters.

“We would also like to state categorically that as young poets of this nation, we see the attack on Rao as an attack on all of us, our minds, our pens and our views. If this suppression of our voices continues, all of us would be left with no voice at all, and there would be only two voices, the voice of the ‘King’ and the voice of the ‘poet employed in the court of the King’! That is the last thing we can afford in our democracy and we must keep alive the spirit of struggle for free thinking to bloom.

“While after enormous outrage by citizens, the news of Varavara Rao being moved to JJ hospital provides some succor, we demand that the appropriate government and judicial authorities immediately attend to all his medical needs, allow his family to be with him and enlarge him on bail. It is only then that we as young poets would rest assured that the current regime would not muzzle our voices when we speak out fearlessly.

“We call upon young fellow poets across the country to stand up for poet Varavara Rao because of who we are able to stretch the reach of our imagination and ideas and write poetry.”

It has been signed by: Aseem Sundan, Aamir Aziz, Nabiya Khan, Hussain Haidry, Kaushik Raj, Iqra Khilji, Taikhum Sadiq, Abhijit Khandkar Rachneet Kaur, Naveen Chourey, Daaniyal, Poojan Sahil, Meghna Prakash, Nandini Gautam, Mandvi Mishra, Yashi Verma,Simran Banga, Sabika Abbas Naqvi, Ankur Sharma, Ridhi Bhutani, Pallavi Mahajan, Nausheen Khan, Ghazal Khanna, Megha Rao, Bikram Bumrah, Faisal Khan, Amina Arif, Amy Singh, Smriti Bhoker, Foram Ashish Shah, Kavya Sharma, Sahila, Priya Malik, Puneet Sharma, Nosheen Kapoor, Roshan Abbas, Rajat Thakur

Bappadittya Sarkar, Ramneek Singh, Simar Singh, Soumya Thakur, Nidhie Saini, Ajmal Khan, Vasvi Kejriwal, Devanshi Khetarpal, Suhit Kelkar, Aswin Vijayan, Prashant Parvataneni Arjun Rajendran, Smita Sahay and Arathy Asok.

Writers and activists have also maintained pressure on the authorities and have continued to seek humanitarian action from the authorities. Journalist and activist Teesta Setalvad wrote; “A simple, long overdue humanitarian act could be proven to have been too late! Varavara Rao needs dignified handling, imm release on bail !Now !”



Rao’s niece VarshaGandikota, also wrote a moving piece on the noted telugu poet in the Boston Review, titled ‘When the State Fears a Poet’.





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