Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao, who has been imprisoned in Mumbai’s Taloja jail in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, his lawyer Sudeep Pasbola told Scroll.in.
On Monday, Rao was moved to Mumbai’s JJ Hospital. Thousands of people had urged the authorities to ensure he got medical care, amid reports of his deteriorating health, especially given the coronavirus crisis.
A routine swab check was done on July 14, after he was admitted to JJ Hospital, people familiar with the situation said.
Vernon Gonsalves, another activist jailed in connection with the case, was also at risk of having contracted the infection as he was made to look after Rao in prison following protests from civil society members, said Gonsalves’ wife, Susan Abraham.
Rao’s wife Hemalatha, his daughters and nephew Venugopal met the 81-year-old activist in hospital on Wednesday.
“It appears the JJ hospital authorities are considering shifting VV Rao to St George’s Hospital, a state-run unit with Covid facilities,” said a person familiar with the situation. “This is again bad news as St George’s, with its poor health care record, may hardly be the place where VV Rao has a chance to recover. The only way VV stands a good chance is if the Bombay High Court, hearing the matter tomorrow [Friday], gives him medical bail, and is shifted to decent private speciality hospital.”
Rao has been lodged at the Taloja jail since his arrest on August 31, 2018, and is still awaiting trial. On Sunday, Rao’s family held a press conference at which they expressed grave concern about his failing health.
Rao’s family had said the poet’s health has been a cause of worry for over a month now. They said that their last telephone conversation with Rao, on July 11, had only increased their fears. A fellow inmate had informed the family that Rao was not in a position to even walk by himself. He needed assistance in carrying out daily chores such as brushing his teeth and going to the toilet. He was hallucinating and spoke about his father’s funeral, an event that took place 75 years ago, the family said.
Rao’s daughter Pavana said her father suffered from electrolyte imbalance as per medical reports, which could be fatal if not treated.
Activists Gautam Navlakha, Shoma 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 the authorities claim triggered violence at the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day.