New Delhi: A group of contemporary Indian poets have written a public statement urging the release of poet and activist Varavara Rao, who was recently shifted to a hospital from a Mumbai jail following a pitched campaign to ensure treatment for him.
“We…state categorically that as young poets of this nation, we see the attack on Rao as an attack on all of us, our minds, our pens and our views,” the statement reads.
In 2018, Varavara Rao was arrested for his alleged role in the Elgar Parishad case. The poets have alleged that first the Pune Police’s and then the NIA’s charges of him ‘trying to incite violence in Bhima Koregaon’ are false.
Rao, 81, had fallen ill in jail a few months ago and has reportedly not recovered. According to his family, his speech is slurred and he is hallucinating, and he is unable to take care of himself.
Stressing on how important Rao’s contributions to literature and especially Telangana’s literary landscape is, the poets highlighted the current situation in which he is in, drawing attention to the number of times he has been arrested under flimsy charges and then acquitted.
The full text of the statement, along with the names of the signatories, is below:
“We the undersigned express our solidarity with people’s poet Varavara Rao, condemn his arbitrary arrest under draconian charges like UAPA and urge the authorities to release him immediately.
“Varavara Rao is a world-renowned poet, journalist and literary critic from Telangana who founded the Revolutionary Writers Association popularly known as Virasam. Throughout history, he has been hounded and arrested in various false charges by various governments and later been acquitted in all the cases. This only goes on to suggest that his revolutionary writings have always made the ones in power uncomfortable and they have always been threatened by the power of his verses. Ideally, a poet names the nameless without actually taking their name and for the ones in power to arrest or implicate poets, they need to accept that they are the ones being talked about in those poems.
“In 2018, Varavara Rao was arrested for his alleged role in the ‘Elgar Parishad case’, on false charges of ‘trying to incite violence in Bhima Koregaon’. He has not been offered a fair trial in the last two years and has been imprisoned for an unjust length of time, along with other public-spirited activists, writers and advocates.
“He is 80 years old and according to the press note issued by his family under the title “Don’t kill Varavara Rao in jail”, he is seriously ill and has been in poor health ever since he was shifted to JJ Hospital in an unconscious state earlier in May. His co-prisoner also said he needed immediate help for his physical and neurological issues.
“It is clear that Rao is only being kept in jail by virtue of him being a poet who questions the powers-that-be. While we as young poets not only understand the value and importance of speaking for the people and questioning the ones in power, we take it as a responsibility, to uphold. It is because of public poets like Varavara Rao that we, the young poets are able to write and speak for the society and on other matters.
“We would also like to state categorically that as young poets of this nation, we see the attack on Rao as an attack on all of us, our minds, our pens and our views. If this suppression of our voices continues, all of us would be left with no voice at all, and there would be only two voices, the voice of the ‘King’ and the voice of the ‘poet employed in the court of the King’! That is the last thing we can afford in our democracy and we must keep alive the spirit of struggle for free thinking to bloom.
“While after enormous outrage by citizens, the news of Varavara Rao being moved to JJ hospital provides some succor, we demand that the appropriate government and judicial authorities immediately attend to all his medical needs, allow his family to be with him and enlarge him on bail. It is only then that we as young poets would rest assured that the current regime would not muzzle our voices when we speak out fearlessly.
“We call upon young fellow poets across the country to stand up for poet Varavara Rao because of who we are able to stretch the reach of our imagination and ideas and write poetry.”
Sabika Abbas Naqvi
Foram Ashish Shah