PEN International appeals to govt to free jailed poet Varavara Rao: 'Due process is meaningless without mercy'

Poet-activist Varavara Rao’s interim bail plea citing ill health and susceptibility to COVID-19 was rejected by a special court on 27 June.

FP Staff July 13, 2020 19:15:12 IST
PEN International appeals to govt to free jailed poet Varavara Rao: 'Due process is meaningless without mercy'

A day after the family of Telugu poet Varavara Rao held an online conference to voice their concern over his deteriorating health in jail, PEN International, the worldwide association of writers, released a statement demanding his release.

The 81-year-old activist, who is an accused in the Elgar Parishad case, is currently lodged at the Taloja jail in Maharashtra's Navi Mumbai township. His bail pleas, including those filed for relief on the ground of his age, ill-health and risk of COVID-19, have been rejected on multiple occasions.

The following is the full text of the press note released by PEN International and PEN Delhi in solidarity with Rao:

***

Poet Varavara Rao has been held in jail since 2018 and has been consistently denied bail. Varavara Rao is 81 years old. His health is deteriorating. He is old. He is frail. He is ill. When he speaks with his loved ones what he says does not make much sense. Those taking care of him are concerned. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is raging and the government has ordered the decongestion of jails to prevent the infection from spreading, there is an even greater risk to Varavara Rao’s health.

In a civilised society that respects the elderly, cares for the sick, honours its poets, and has room for those who dissent, Varavara Rao would have had the freedom to be with those who love him. But because the state has not yet examined what it calls evidence against him, and because, apparently, it fears he might disappear during the time of a pandemic and lockdown, it refuses to let him be free. It is for the judiciary to do the right thing and display humanity. Justice has to follow due process, and the process is meaningless without mercy.

It is clear that there is no danger of Varavara Rao jumping bail. His most ardent wish at this time is to be with his family: Why would he want to run away? At a moment when health and survival are uppermost in everyone’s minds, the state must rise to the occasion and save the life of this ailing poet.

***

Rao's family members claimed his health condition has been deteriorating ever since he was shifted to the state-run J J Hospital in Mumbai in an unconscious state on 28 May, 2020.

Three days later, he was discharged and sent back to the jail even as there was no improvement in his health condition, they said.

"We were very much disturbed as during his routine calls (to family members) allowed by police, his voice was weak, he was incoherent, mumbling and unable to speak," Rao's wife said. On Saturday, Rao did not answer straight questions on his health and went into a kind of "delirious and hallucinating state", she claimed, adding that he talked about the funeral of his father and mother, the events that happened decades ago.

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

Rao and 10 other activists were arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case, which was transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) by the Centre in January this year.

(With inputs from Press Trust of India)

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