Varvara Rao, a poet in prison: Why is the govt scared of him?
How dangerous can poets and writers be? Very dangerous even if the poet in this case is 80 years old and ailing, say prosecutors
He is 80 years old. Starting life as a lecturer, he has 15 anthologies of his poems published and translated into different languages. A literary critic and essayist, he never hid his sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden and believed it was just for victims of injustice to rebel. He engaged with Maoists, sometimes acted as an interlocutor between the rebels and the Government. He has always advocated that Governments engage with the rebels and listen to them and understand their points of view.
Not everyone agrees with what he says or writes. But is that any reason to keep him in jail without trial? TJS George, writing in the Indian Express, said, “It was neither common sense nor political sense in putting Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao in jail two years ago without trial and bail. He did support Naxalite excesses, but jailing a writer for that is equivalent to giving his writing more mileage. As it happened, authorities excelled themselves in foolishness…”
In prison for the past two years, Rao has been repeatedly denied bail. The state has no reason to believe that at his age and state of health, he can abscond. Nor can he tamper with evidence or influence witnesses. But the NIA has been opposing his bail applications on the ground that the pandemic could not be an excuse for seeking bail. It required the intervention of the NHRC before he could be moved to a hospital in Mumbai.
He was first arrested in 1973 for instigating violence with his writings. He spent the Emergency in jail. But even after the Emergency he would be repeatedly implicated in various cases and get arrested at regular intervals. He was arrested in 1985 and 1986 as well and in the following years. But he has been acquitted of all charges in dozens of cases though he is said to have spent eight years in all in prison.
He was arrested from his residence in Hyderabad for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018. An FIR filed in Pune alleged that on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, an evening programme, the Elgar Parishad, had been organised, in which noted leftist activists and underground Naxalite groups had participated. Police claimed that speeches delivered at the event on December 31, 2017, were partially responsible for inciting the violence the next day.
In 1983, his book Telangana Liberation Struggle and Telugu Novel – A Study into Interconnection between Society and Literature was published. It is considered to be a benchmark in critical studies.
During his periods of incarceration, Rao also wrote a prison diary, Sahacharulu (1990), which was later published in English as Captive Imagination (2010).
But he is being punished for his writings and for the company he keeps. Is that a good enough reason? Yes, say the courts.