Varavara Rao Image Credit: AP

Varavara Rao, an 80-year-old poet is suffering from COVID-19. He is in jail. His crime - sedition; more baldly described as an armed insurrection against the state.

Rao is nearly blind and his horrified family found him lying in a hospital bed in a pool of urine. The hospital was the one mandated by the jail authorities to tend to the poet and the shocked family was not allowed to even change the sheets.

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Incredibly, yesterday the state, speaking for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) argued against bail for Rao, claiming he was “trying to take advantage of COVID-19, which he contracted while in custody”.

Every senior official I spoke to in the NIA for Gulf News said the charges against Varavara Rao were based on the “flimsiest of evidence” and keeping him in jail was “unimaginable cruelty”.

Rao suffers from a neurological disorder and has been in hospital since May where his condition is rapidly deteriorating.

The NIA has filed a 172-page affidavit before the Bombay high court where it argues the 80-year-old is taking advantage of his situation in seeking bail from the court.

Rao has been in jail since his arrest in 2018 for his alleged role in the Elgar Parishad - Bhima Koregoan case.

Rao along with ten others had been originally booked by Pune police and called “urban naxals” (though no such term exists in jurisprudence) and accused of being involved in banned activities that were meant to destabilise the country.

The allegation against Rao is that he is a senior member of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and had conspired with co-accused Rona Wilson and one Prashanto Bose to purchase ammunition from Nepal.

Rao’s family denies the allegations saying that most of the time Rao has severe memory lapses and is not sentient. His wife Hemlata weeps and says his condition is so fragile that she fears for his life. The last time his family met Rao in hospital he had a wound on his head that the hospital claims happened when he slipped.

The Telugu poet had in November 2019 written perhaps his last piece “Chained Muse” while he was in Yerawada jail. “I was produced in court again and sent to judicial custody on November 27 night. Kept in what is called “after” a place of nightmare in winter and shifted to the “phansi” (hanging) ward. The tip of the gallows is always visible.”

Is this really the way the state should treat its poets?

A senior opposition leader says: “This is simply a murder”.

Rao’s crime: dissent in a democracy.

Swati Chaturvedi, Special to Gulf News-1592296808900