'For Varavara Rao, hospital has proved as hellish as jail': Writers, politicians seek poet's release from custody

Writers, activists as well as politicians took to Twitter to express their dismay over the conditions in which jailed poet and activist Varavara Rao is kept at a government hospital in Mumbai

FP Staff July 17, 2020 00:11:08 IST
'For Varavara Rao, hospital has proved as hellish as jail': Writers, politicians seek poet's release from custody

Writers, activists as well as Opposition leaders took to Twitter to express their dismay over the conditions in which jailed poet and activist Varavara Rao is being held at a government hospital in Mumbai and the treatment meted out to him despite his old age.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was among the Congress leaders who questioned the State, prison authorities and the police over Rao's condition.

"The condition of Rao as described by his family is a matter of grave concern. It is beyond belief that the State, the police and the prison authorities can behave in such an inhuman manner under the watch of the NHRC," the former finance minister said in a series of tweets.

Reiterating the demand to release the poet, that echoed on social media since reports of Rao's conditions and him testing positive for COVID-19 spread, the senior Congress leader too sought the poet's immediate release and urged the authorities to immediately admit him at a super specialty hospital "that will treat him properly".

Eighty-year-old Rao, who is an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, was lodged in the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai under judicial custody. He was admitted to the state-run JJ Hospital here earlier this week. News reports of the poet testing positive for COVID-19 was circulated widely along with reports quoting the poet's family as saying that they found him "lying in a urine-soaked bed".

Lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan tweeted:

Referring to Rao as a "revolutionary poet", filmmaker Avinash Das of Anaarkali Of Aarah fame urged people to raise their voice for the freed om and better medical care for the poet-activists.

A loosely translated version of Das's tweet reads: "Revolutionary poet Varvara Rao is in jail. Governments are afraid of his words, be they from the BJP or Congress. Varvara Rao is a symbol of the burning creative tradition of India. We must all raise our voice for his freedom and better medical care."

Rao, who hails from Telangana, was shifted to the JJ Hospital in south Mumbai on Monday night after he complained of giddiness and was later admitted to its neurology department.

He has tested positive for COVID-19, a hospital official said on Thursday.

Rao's family members along with several writers and activists had asked the Maharashtra government to immediately shift him to hospital for treatment, citing his deteriorating health condition.
The poet's family members had on Sunday sought the jail authorities to provide him immediate medical care and claimed that when the veteran activist contacted them last week, he was in a "delirious state and hallucinating".

Rao has been in jail for about 22 months and had earlier approached the special NIA court, seeking bail on medical grounds and the prevailing COVID-19 situation.

On Monday, Rao filed two petitions in the Bombay High Court, seeking temporary bail owing to his ill health and a direction to the jail authorities to produce his medical records and admit him to a state-run or private hospital.

A group of about 2,000 citizens had issued a statement on Monday urging that Rao be immediately released on bail due to his deteriorating health condition.

"The health of poet, litterateur and political rights activist Rao, incarcerated for nearly two years in the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case, has significantly been deteriorating since he had a fall on 28 May in the Taloja jail," a statement issued by them said.

Rao and nine other activists have been arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, which was initially probed by the Pune Police and later transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The case related to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on 31 December, 2017, which the police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial.

The police have also claimed the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.

His condition is stable, say doctors at JJ

Rao is asymptomatic and has general weakness, said Dr Ranjeet Mankeshwar, dean of the JJ Hospital.

The poet-activist's medical report came on Thursday and he was found to be coronavirus positive, he aid.

"He has been found positive for COVID-19, but his condition is stable, no symptoms of COVID-19 have been found, he is having general weakness," said Mankeshwar.

"His treatment is going on," he said.

The official, however, termed the claims made Rao's family members that he is not getting proper medical care as not true.

"We are providing best health facilities to him and by late (Thursday) night he may be shifted to St George Hospital (another state-run hospital) for further treatment," said Mankeshwar.

With inputs from PTI

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