146 Academics From Across the World Demand Varavara Rao's Release

Rao, who has tested positive for COVID-19, is currently at Mumbai's Nanavati Hospital.

New Delhi: A group of 146 scholars from across the world have come together to ask the Indian government to release 80-year-old Telugu poet Varavara Rao from prison. Rao is currently in Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital for neurological and urological treatment. He has also tested positive for COVID-19.

Rao has been seriously unwell in prison over the last month, and his family has alleged that his medical condition was ignored and allowed to worsen by the authorities. It was only after several appeals from his family, rights activists and lawyers that Rao was moved to a hospital.

Signatories of the statement include Naom Chomsky, Barbara Harris-White, Jan Breman, Alpa Shah, Gyanendra Pandey, Christophe Jaffrelot, Ania Loomba and others.

Several appeals have been made for the poet’s release, arguing that it is unethical to keep the undertrial octogenarian in jail in the midst of a global pandemic, especially given his frail health.

Rao, who has been in jail since June 2018, is one of 11 human rights activists and lawyers who have been arrested in the Elgar Parishad case and accused of inciting violence against Dalits at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018. The police also claims that they have “Maoist links”.

As The Wire has reported before, in 2018, under the BJP-ruled government, the local Pune police was assigned the investigation in the case. The police had then claimed different theories and had branded arrested persons as “urban Naxals”. Among several theories floated by the Pune police, those arrested were also accused of plotting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assassination. This claim was made in a press conference, but strangely never investigated or made a part of the two bulky chargesheets filed in the case.

In December last year, as soon as the coalition government of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress took over, the case was swiftly taken away from the local police and handed over to the central agency, NIA.

The full statement and list of signatories is below.


Varavara Rao, poet, writer, activist and long-time speaker of truth to power has been imprisoned for two years now, along with ten other scholar-activists. They have been charged with inciting violence in Bhima Koregaon, a charge widely regarded as false, and over the past two years the government has failed to bring the charges to court and start the trial. Conditions in the jails in which these prisoners of conscience have been kept are said to be unhealthy and the threat of spread of infection has grown. Mr Rao, who is 80 years old, has now tested positive for COVID-19 and is seriously ill with several co-morbidities. His condition suggests clear neglect of his health by the authorities. We join other international scholars in appealing for the immediate release of Varavara Rao and the other Elgar Parishad activists.


  1. Barbara Harriss-White, FAcSS, Emeritus Professor and Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford University, UK
  2. Dr Hugo Gorringe, Co-Director Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh, UK
  3. Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics emeritus, MIT, USA
  4. Jan Breman, Emeritus Professor University of Amsterdam, Honorary Fellow of the International Institute of Social History, Netherlands.
  5. Jens Lerche, Reader in Agrarian and Labour Studies, Dept of Development Studies, SOAS, London, UK
  6. Dr. Indrajit Roy, Senior Lecturer-Global Development Politics, Department of Politics, University of York, UK
  7. Patricia Jeffery, Professor Emerita, University of Edinburgh, UK
  8. Jonathan Spencer, Regius Professor of South Asian Language, Culture and Society, Edinburgh University, UK
  9. David Mosse, Professor of Social Anthropology, SOAS, London, UK
  10. Dr Shubranshu Mishra, Lecturer, Politics and International Relations, University of Exeter, UK
  11. Kalathmika Natarajan, Teaching Fellow in South Asian History, University of Edinburgh, UK
  12. Radhika Govinda, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Edinburgh, UK
  13. Dr. Deana Heath, Reader in Indian and Colonial History,  University of Liverpool, UK
  14. Anisha Palat, PhD Student, University of Edinburgh, UK
  15. Roger Jeffery, Professor of Sociology of South Asia, Associate Director, Edinburgh India Institute, University of Edinburgh, UK
  16. Colin Leys, Emeritus professor, Queen’s University, Canada
  17. Dr. Lotte Hoek, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh, UK
  18. Dr Kanchana Ruwanpura, Reader, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
  19. Dr Nandini Sen,  Researcher, Heriot Watt University, UK
  20. Arnab Bhattacharjee, Professor, Economics, Heriot Watt University, UK
  21. Meena Dhanda, Professor of Philosophy & Cultural Politics, University of Wolverhampton, UK.
  22. Dr Amogh Sharma, Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University, UK
  23. Sebastian Schwecke, Associate professor, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Kolkata and Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Göttingen University, Germany
  24. Dr Krithika Srinivasan, Lecturer, University of Edinburgh, UK
  25. Barbara Smith, Associate Professor in Agricultural Ecology and Public Science, Coventry University, UK
  26. Dr Maryam Aslany, Post-doctoral Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford, UK
  27. Dr Alessandra Mezzadri, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Department of Development Studies, SOAS, London, UK
  28. Ravi Ahuja, Professor of Modern Indian History, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany
  29. Dr Alfred Gathorne-Hardy, Lecturer in Sustainable Resource Use, University of Edinburgh, and Senior Research Fellow, Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Oxford, UK
  30. Ben Rogaly, Professor of Human Geography, University of Sussex, UK
  31. Dr Vasudha Chhotray, Associate Professor, School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK
  32. Dr Devanshi Chanchani, Global Challenges Research Fellow, Brunel University, UK
  33. Rashmi Varma, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Warwick University, UK
  34. Susan Newman, Professor and Head of Economics, Open University
  35. Dr. Mukulika Banerjee, Director, South Asia Centre, London School of Economics, UK
  36. Projit Bihari Mukharji, Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania, USA.
  37. Alberto Toscano Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Theory. Goldsmiths College, London, UK
  38. Dr Subir Sinha, Sr lecturer in Institutions and Development, SOAS, London, UK
  39. Dr Madhumita Dutta, Assistant Professor, Geography, Ohio State University, USA
  40. Dr Feyzi Ismail, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS University of London, UK,
  41. Balmurli Natrajan, Professor, Anthropology, William Paterson University of New Jersey, USA
  42. Suraj T. PhD student, Department of Development Studies, SOAS, London
  43. Jonathan Pattenden, Associate Professor, Politics and Development, University of East Anglia, UK
  44. Deepa Kurup, D Phil Student, Oxford University, UK
  45. Lalit Vachani, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, (CeMIS), University of Gottingen, Germany
  46. Dr Alice Clark, Principal, Clark Research Associates, El Cerrito, California, USA
  47. Alpa Shah, Associate Professor, London School of Economics, UK
  48. Adam Hanieh, Professor, SOAS, University of London, UK
  49. Dr Jacob Copeman, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Edinburgh University, UK
  50. Radhika Desai, Professor, Department of Political Studies, University of Manitoba, Canada
  51. Haroon Akram-Lodhi, Professor of Economics and International Development Studies, Trent University, Canada
  52. Ania Loomba, Catherine Byrson Professor of English, South Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
  53. John Harriss, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver and Adjunct Professor, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada
  54. Kalyani Monteiro Jayasankar, PhD Student, Princeton University, USA
  55. Durgesh Solanki, PhD Student, Johns Hopkins University, USA
  56. Dr Bashabi Fraser, Professor Emerita, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK
  57. Neil Fraser, Retired Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, UK.
  58. Christopher Cramer, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS),Professor of the Political Economy of Development, SOAS, University of London, UK
  59. Gilbert Achcar, Professor, SOAS, University of London, UK
  60. Jonathan Galton, Research assistant, SOAS, University of London, UK
  61. Sian Hawthorne, Senior Lecturer and Subject Head, Religions and Philosophies, School of History, Religions and Philosophies, SOAS, University of London. UK
  62. Brenna Bhandar, Reader in Law, SOAS, University of London, UK
  63. Tim Pringle, Senior Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK
  64. Vanja Hamzić, Senior Lecturer in Legal History and Legal Anthropology, Associate Director of Research, SOAS, University of London, UK
  65. Andrew Newsham, Senior Lecturer in International Development, SOAS, University of London, UK
  66. Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology and Coordinator of the Norwegian Network for Asian Studies, University of Oslo, Norway
  67. Michael Levien, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, USA
  68. Geir Heierstad, Director, Norwegian institute of urban and regional research, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
  69. Pamela Price, Professor Emerita, University of Oslo, Norway
  70. Adrija Dey Postdoctoral Research Fellow, SOAS, University of London, UK
  71. Hashim Rashid PhD, SOAS, University of London, UK
  72. Sara Kazmi, PhD, SOAS, University of London, UK
  73. Shailza Sharma, PhD, University of Essex, UK
  74. Shailaja Paik, Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati, USA
  75. Pranav Jani, Associate Professor of English, Director of South Asian Studies Initiative, The Ohio State University, USA
  76. Rachel Sturman, Associate Professor, Department of History  & Asian Studies Program, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, USA
  77. Ashwini Deo, Associate Professor, Linguistics, The Ohio State University, USA
  78. Dr Shalini Grover,  Research Officer, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics, London, UK
  79. Ashwin Subramanian, Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), Göttingen, Germany
  80. Nikita Sud, Associate Professor, University of Oxford
  81. Dr Satoshi Miyamura, Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, SOAS, London, UK
  82. Rochisha Narayan, Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida, USA
  83. David Hardiman, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Warwick, UK
  84. Dr Mayur Suresh, Lecturer,, School of Law, SOAS, London, UK
  85. Dr Eleanor Newbigin,  Senior lecturer, Department of History, Religions and Philosophies, SOAS, London, UK
  86. Malvika Gupta, DPhil candidate, International Development, Oxford University, UK
  87. Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and of South Asian Studies, Harvard University, USA
  88. Debjani Bhattacharyya, Associate Professor, Department of History, Drexel University, Philadelphiia, USA
  89. Jonathan Parry, Emeritus Professor, LSE, UK
  90. Jayant Lele, Professor Emeritus, Global Development Studies , Queen’s University, Canada
  91. Raju Das, Professor, Department of Geography, York University, Canada
  92. Mihika Chatterjee, Departmental Lecturer, University of Oxford, UK
  93. Jan Toporowski, Professor of Economics and Finance, SOAS University of London, UK
  94. Anupama Rao, History, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA
  95. Hira Singh, Associate Professor of Sociology,  York University, Canada
  96. Sejuti Das Gupta, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, USA
  97. Geoff Goodwin, Departmental Lecturer in Development Studies, University of Oxford, UK
  98. Ajay Skaria, Department of History/Institute for Global Studies, University of Minnesota, USA
  99. Gyanendra Pandey, Professor of History, Emory University, Atlanta, USA
  100. Professor Leslie Elliott Armijo, International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Canada
  101. Tapas Bandopadhyay
  102. Meenal Shrivastava, Professor, Political Economy & Global Studies, Centre for Social Sciences, Athabasca University, Canada
  103. Radhakrishna Sanka, Ph.D. Candidate, College of Engineering, Boston University, USA
  104. Isabelle Guerin, Senior Research Fellow, French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), France / Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, USA
  105. Deepak Kapur, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science. The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, US
  106. Roli Varma, Carl Hatch Endowed Professor, School of Public Administration, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, USA
  107. Raja Swamy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, USA
  108. Dr Dolores Chew, Faculty, History and Humanities, Marianopolis College, Montreal, Canada
  109. Rochisha Narayan, Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida, USA
  110. S. Charusheela, Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell, USA
  111. Christophe Jaffrelot, Professor of Politics, KCL, London UK, and Research Director, CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, France
  112. Nitya Rao, Professor Gender and Development, School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK
  113. Ratik Asokan, Writer, The Baffler Magazine, UK
  114. Ilan Kapoor, Professor, York University, Toronto, Canada
  115. Gyan Prakash, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History
  116. Princeton University, USA
  117. Michael Nijhawan,  Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University, Canada
  118. Sanjeev Routray, Department of Sociology, UBC, Canada
  119. Shyam Ranganathan, Department of Philosophy,,York Center for Asian Research, York University, Toronto, Canada
  120. Aminah Mohammad-Arif, CNRS-CEIAS research fellow, Paris, France
  121. Sugata Ghosh, Professor of Economics, Brunel University London, UK
  122. Nalini Iyer, Professor of English, Seattle University, USA
  123. Himani Bannerji, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Department of Sociology, York University, Canada
  124. Nathaniel Roberts, Dozent, University of Göttingen, Germany
  125. Rupa Viswanath, Professor, University of Göttingen, Germany
  126. Michael Reinsborough, Lecturer, SOAS University of London, UK
  127. Jostein Jakobsen, Researcher, Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo, Norway
  128. Stephen Watts, Poet, London
  129. Alf Gunvald Nilsen, Professor, University of Pretoria, South Africa
  130. Urs Geiser, Associate Senior Researcher, Dept. of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  131. Shreya Sinha, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Cambridge, UK
  132. Dan Hirslund, Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  133. Pallavi Roy, Lecturer, Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London, UK
  134. Anne Waldrop, Professor in Development Studies, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
  135. Joel Lee, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Williams College, USA
  136. Sarmistha Pal, Professor of Financial Economics, University of Surrey, UK
  137. Sheetal Chhabria, Associate Professor of History, Connecticut College, USA
  138. Judith Heyer, Fellow Emeritus, Somerville College, Oxford University, UK
  139. Santiago Izquierdo-Tort, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Temperate Forest Sciences, Université du Québec en Outaouais, Canada.
  140. Dr Aparna Sundar, Contemporary Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada
  141. David Gellner, Professor of Social Anthropology and Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford University, UK
  142. Dr Nicolas Jaoul, CNRS /IRIS , Paris, France
  143. Aman Bardia, Platform Cooperativism Consortium, The New School, New York, USA
  144. Chinmoy Banerjee, Emeritus  Professor of English, Simon Fraser University, Canada
  145. Srujana Katta, Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK.
  146. Dr. Priyanka Basu Curator, The British Library, London, UK