The People’s Union for Democratic Rights on Monday expressed shock at the deteriorating health condition of poet Varavara Rao, and called for him to immediately be released. Rao, an accused in the Elgar Parishad case, is lodged in Taloja jail in Mumbai and his family has accused the authorities of neglecting his condition.

“PUDR is shocked to learn of the deteriorating condition of P Varavara Rao in Taloja Jail,” the statement read. “His family has held a press conference on July 12, 2020 drawing attention to his almost delirious and incoherent speech evident in his recent phone calls. His co-accused attendant has informed that Varavara Rao is unable to walk or look after himself.”

Rao’s counsel and family said they had received a phone call from the poet on Saturday. During the conversation, which lasted for one-and-a-half minutes, Rao was unable to speak coherently. A co-inmate, who spoke to the family, informed them that he has been dependent on others for daily chores as his condition has worsened in the last week.

In its statement, the PUDR said that it had become a standard procedure for the National Investigation Agency, which is inquiring into the case in which Rao has been detained, to contend that the poet is not suffering from a life-threatening disease and is therefore not eligible for bail. “Most recently, despite being hospitalized in a city hospital after falling unconscious on May 28, 2020, his bail application was turned down primarily because he was shown as stable as per the Taloja Jail medical report,” the organisation said.

The organisation further accused the jail administration of not taking care of those in custody. “Further, in this context, the attempts to block the bail applications of an ailing 81-year-old tantamount to risking his life,” the statement added. “PUDR demands that Varavara Rao be released immediately and that no restrictions be placed on his access to proper medical care.”

On Sunday, a group comprised of four members of the civil society demanded that Rao 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, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, senior advisor at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Maja Daruwala and academic Satish Deshpande.

“This is a life-threatening situation for someone who is 81 years of age, and already suffers from high blood pressure and heart conditions,” their appeal read.

Last month, Rao was admitted to JJ Hospital after he fell unconscious. He was discharged within a few days. Fourteen MPs had also written a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray requesting urgent attention to Rao’s health and to transfer him from the jail to a hospital.

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.

In April, eminent 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.

Activists 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.

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‘Life-threatening for someone who is 81’: Civil society calls for hospitalisation of Varavara Rao