We have watched with growing horror the treatment meted out to the 81 years
old revolutionary poet, Varavara Rao by the Indian state. Varavara Rao has been
incarcerated in Taloja jail in Mumbai for almost two years. According to the
latest media reports and press conferences held by his family, Varavara Rao was
exhibiting signs of serious illness, with the inability to walk and
deliriousness since early July. It is shocking to learn that it took multiple
pleas by his family members and an international campaign for the Taloja jail
authorities to even take him to the hospital for treatment where he was
diagnosed with COVID19. Family members who finally managed to see him found him
lying on urine-soaked sheets on a hospital bed, alone with no one to take care
of him. Even his family members were not permitted to help him.
What happened to Varavara Rao, or VV as he is popularly known, was foretold in
multiple petitions that were filed before the court pleading that he is granted
bail due to the dire situation in the jail, his age and his underlying
comorbidities. Yet time and again these pleas have been rejected.
India has already released thousands of undertrials on bail in order to prevent
prisons from becoming COVID19 hotspots. The Bhima Koregaon undertrials, of whom
VV is one, have been accused of political crimes. The cases against them are
widely believed to be false. Given that the judicial process in India is
grindingly slow, one cannot but conclude that the only reason for their
incarceration in these conditions is to ensure that the process itself is their
punishment. This callousness of the judiciary and the investigative agencies
(the NIA) amount to state-sanctioned custodial torture.
This is the second time in the last few months that VV has been hospitalized,
pointing to the increasing precariousness of his health. On May 28th of this
year, VV was taken to JJ Hospital, in an unconscious state according to his
family members. However, he was returned to jail before he made a full recovery.
In only about a month his condition started deteriorating sharply. After
pressure from his family and an international campaign by intellectuals and
human rights activists, he was again taken to hospital on July 13th when he
tested positive for Covid19.
As is well known by now, COVID19 carries very serious risks for people above 80.
We fear for VV’s life and we call upon the jail authorities, the judiciary, and
the police to release him so that his family can provide adequate medical care.
The next few days are critical. We call upon the justice and freedom-loving
people the world over to stay vigilant and continue to pressure the Indian
government to act with humanity.
The lengthening shadows
Have reached the plinth.
Who will answer then
For these lives battered and lost?
-- Varvara Rao, from “The Captive Imagination”
Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia