‘Terrible Injustice’: Twitter Cries Foul as Jailed Poet Varavara Rao Tests Positive For COVID-19 After Being Found on Urine-Soaked Bed
80-year-old poet-activist Varavara Rao had been experiencing deteriorating health conditions in prison but was denied bail. Twitter left outraged as news of him testing positive for COVID-19 surfaces after being found lying on a urine-soaked bed
Accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, 80-year-old poet-activist Varavara Rao was arrested for alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017. In prison for 22 months, Rao’s family had released a press release outlining the poet’s ailing condition and asked authorities to not “kill Varvara Rao in jail” after he had been repeatedly denied bail
As two cases of coronavirus were reported earlier from Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai where Rao was with eight other activists arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case, concerns regarding his deteriorating health gained momentum. On July 13, Rao was finally moved to JJ Hospital but according to N Venugopal, Rao’s nephew, “either government or jail, police, hospital authorities did not provide any official information to the family.”
When Venugopal visited Rao in the hospital on July 15, along with the Telugu poet’s wife and three daughters, they found him lying on a urine-soaked bed. The worst came on Thursday when Rao tested positive for COVID-19.
While the family was inconsolable, National Working Secretary of Human Rights Defenders Alert – Henri Tiphagne demanded Rao’s transfer to a super speciality hospital. He wrote to the National Human Rights Commission, “On July 15, 2020, Mr. Rao’s wife, three daughters and nephew visited him in the JJ Hospital. They were shocked to see that he was lying in the transit ward “like an orphan”. There were no attendants or nurses attending to him and only policemen standing a few metres away. Mr. Rao was lying in a pool of urine on the bed and was still incoherent. He did not recognise his wife or daughters immediately but took some time to recognise them. The family was told by the nurses that there was no equipment or treatment given in the transit ward. When his nephew tried to change his urine-soaked bed sheets, the family was thrown out by the hospital nurses.”
The COVID-19 positive report was the last straw which jolted Twitter into a digital rebellion in support of the “rebel poet”. While one lashed, “Pragya Thakur got bail stating health reasons. But the repeated pleas of Varavara Rao went unheard, not just because of the unjustified charge on him, but because he’s a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary poet. But this is nothing short of institutional murder (sic)”, another tweeted, “After Akhil Gogoi, now Varavara Rao tests positive for COVID-19. Due to corona,in March Supreme Court asked states to release some prisoners. But govt didn’t release political prisoners. Do they have to pay with their lives for dissenting? #FreeVaravaraRao (sic)”
Another co-accused in Bhima Koregaon case, 61-year-old Vernon Gonsalves, is at a risk of contracting the virus as he constantly assisted Rao inside the prison since he was unable to walk, go to the toilet or brush his teeth on his own after he fell unconscious in jail on May 28 and was hallucinating, delirious and struggling to be coherent ever since. Anand Teltumbde, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao, Mahesh Raut, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Sudhir Dhawle and Rona Wilson are other activists in the same jail, booked under UAPA apart from Rao and Gonsalves.