A group comprised of four members of the civil society on Sunday demanded that 81-year-old poet Varavara Rao, who has been jailed in Mumbai in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, be immediately moved to a hospital amid reports of his deteriorating health.
The appeal to provide urgent medical attention to Rao was issued by historian Romila Thapar, economist Prabhat Patnaik, economist Devaki Jain, senior advisor at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Maja Daruwala and academic Satish Deshpande.
“He [Rao] is suffering from low levels of sodium and potassium as diagnosed by the JJ Hospital, Mumbai, where his treatment was abruptly terminated and he was taken back to Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai,” the group said in its appeal. “This is a life-threatening situation for someone who is 81 years of age, and already suffers from high blood pressure and heart conditions.”
The group said Rao had cooperated with the authorities in the investigation and there was no reason to keep him in conditions that would endanger his health. “We appeal to the Government of Maharashtra and the National Investigation Agency to facilitate the immediate transfer of Mr. Varavara Rao to JJ Hospital where he can receive proper treatment,” they said. “Mr Rao poses no flight risk and has voluntarily submitted to all investigations for the past 22 months.”
The signatories said that they had been advocating for an investigation that is “impartial, speedy and supervised by the judiciary” even before Rao’s arrest. “We have now reached a stage where his life is at stake,” the statement read. “To knowingly risk the life of a person in state custody by refusing proper medical treatment would amount to a form of the “encounter”, an extra-legal punishment which the State institutions are duty-bound to forego.”
In April, 40 personalities from across the country had called for Rao’s immediate release. The letter, submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was signed by several artistes, including poet and lyricist Gulzar. “Sri Varavara Rao, renowned poet, writer and harbinger of change in modern Telugu poetry, eighty years of age, runs very high risk of ailment considering his age, deteriorating health and the crowding situation in jail,” their statement said, according to counter currents.org. “Sri Vernon Gonsalves, a fellow prisoner, had sent a message to the advocate drawing attention to the worrisome health condition of Sri Rao. In this context, we see the plea for help with utmost concern.”
Rao’s family and lawyer have accused the Taloja Jail authorities of negligence. They said that a co-inmate informed them that Rao has been dependent on others for daily chores as his condition has worsened in the last week. His family also said that he sounded incoherent over the phone.
Rao’s daughter said that he suffers from a neurological condition. “When he was admitted to JJ Hospital, his medical reports said that he had atrophy,” she told The Indian Express on Sunday. “We consulted a doctor here and fear that the lack of medical attention is causing damage to his cells and any further delay will only worsen his condition. We were told he’s not being given any medical treatment in the jail.”
On July 3, a special court in Mumbai had rejected Rao’s application for interim bail. His appeal is pending before the Bombay High Court. Rao had filed a plea for interim bail along with activist Shoma Sen, based on the recommendations of a high-powered committee constituted on orders of the Supreme Court to decongest jails. The activists had said they fall in the high-risk group of contracting the virus because of their underlying medical conditions.
Activist Gautam Navlakha, Sen and Rao are among the people who are accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day.