The Peoples Union of Democratic Rights on Thursday demanded the immediate release of Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao, who was arrested two years ago in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. The group said the Centre’s ongoing inquiry into the Elgar Parishad conclave of 2017 was a conspiracy that has sought to undermine the 80-year-old’s right to life and was “taking away his human right to dignity”.
The rights group noted that Rao was taken into custody for his alleged role in the case on November 17, 2018, after spending days under house arrest. He was 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.
So far, he has spent 732 days in jail. The trial has not yet started.
On Thursday, the Bombay High Court directed the authorities to shift the octogenarian poet from Taloja jail to Nanavati Hospital for 15 days, after observing that Rao was almost on his deathbed. It ordered that Rao should not be discharged without informing the court, and that his family should be allowed to meet him at the hospital.
The Peoples Union of Democratic Rights pointed out that Rao has still not been granted bail, but has only been allowed the right to proper medical care which is not available inside Taloja Jail.
“It is also clear that the state had submitted insufficient and hurriedly assembled medical documents in order to thwart the medical treatment of an undertrial prisoner who is 82 years old and who cannot stand on his feet,” the rights group said in a statement.
The PUDR said that the trial in the case has not commenced in two years, but the Centre has “spent significant energy in opposing bail pleas”.
It said the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, under which Rao has been charged, has made it nearly impossible for the activist to get bail. “Under UAPA, the punishment is doubly exacting as the process itself is a source of punishment and condemnation,” the statement added.
Rao’s five applications for bail have already been dismissed, the group noted. In the meantime, Rao had “fallen unconscious, was tested Covid positive and has suffered serious metabolic and mental imbalances”.
“When he first sought bail for participating in the death rituals of a family member, the Pune police challenged it on the grounds that Varavara Rao would abscond and that the Maoists would attack the police team. After taking over in January 2020, the NIA has consistently challenged his bail applications by stating a) that he has been accused of serious offences; b) by citing past examples of rejection of bail; c) by arguing that he was taking undue advantage of his age and of the prevailing Covid situation; d) and by insisting that he was stable and was under the best medical care.”— Peoples Union of Democratic Rights
As for latest bail plea, the group said that Rao’s sixth application “has had a strange journey”.
It was listed before the High Court in mid-September, but nothing happened, the statement noted. When his wife Pendyala Hemalatha approached the Supreme Court in October, the top court chose to not deliberate but directed the Bombay High Court to do so.
On November 12, the High Court ordered a virtual medical examination by doctors from Nanavati Hospital. During the hearing, Indira Jaising, Rao’s counsel, told the court that he had neither been examined by a neurologist for his dementia, nor by an urologist for his urinary tract infection.
But on November 17, the Centre submitted a report in which it stated that Rao was “fully conscious, alert and oriented”, noted the rights group. The doctors, however, stated that his catheter had not been changed for three months, it said.
On November 18, the High Court directed a two-week medical examination in Nanavati Hospital, but still did not grant Rao bail, the group said.
The statement said that Rao is “the foremost revolutionary intellectual, poet and writer” who has “paid for his dissenting views” from 1973 when he was first arrested for his revolutionary writings, and soon made an accused in the Secunderabad Conspiracy Case.
“Varavara Rao’s tryst with prison has been an unending saga as he has spent considerable time behind bars,” the group added. “However, the Elgar Parishad Conspiracy has sought to undermine Varavara Rao’s constitutional right to life and is taking away his human right to dignity. PUDR demands the immediate release of Varavara Rao.”