Varavara Rao, 80-year old Telugu revolutionary poet, now incarcerated in Bhima Koregaon case and ailing in Nanavati Hospital, should not be left to die, as he is a symbol of people’s poetry, chronicler of people’s movements, upholder of popular democracy and rule of law, a teacher and a public speaker. One can gauge his popularity from the world-wide upsurge of expressions of protest against his imprisonment and solidarity with him, pouring in for the last ten days.
Rao was one of the founding members of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association, popularly known as Virasam
Born in 1940, Varavara Rao was a brilliant student throughout his education. He wrote his first poem when he was 17 and won the then prestigious Andhra Abhyudayotsavallu award for his poem in 1958. He was the convener of Mitra Mandali, a weekly literary meet in Warangal when he was a second-year degree student. He finished his post-graduation in Telugu language and literature and joined Ph.D. in 1962 but due to family’s financial conditions, left Ph.D. to take up a teaching job in 1964. After working as a lecturer in a degree college for one year, he got an appointment as a Publication Assistant in Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India in 1965. However, he loved teaching and came back to a college in Mahabubnagar in 1966 and worked for two years there. In 1968 when a philanthropist set up a degree college in his home town Warangal in 1968, he was one of the first faculty to join there. He retired from the same college in 1998, and during his career there he held many responsible positions including Principal, Controller of Examinations and Head, Board of Studies. In 1978, he again revived his Ph.D. study and submitted his thesis in 1982 and was awarded a doctorate.
His thesis on the relationship between society and literature is considered to be a path-breaking study in Telugu literary criticism.
He began writing poetry since 1957 and gradually evolved from vague Nehruvian socialist ideas of the first decade of independence to a sense of betrayal by the next decade and ultimately reaching a strong belief in people’s creativity and struggles to usher in change and a better India. Rao was one of the founding members of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association, popularly known as Virasam.
With about 15 volumes of poetry to his credit, he also contributed to social consciousness through socio-political, literary analysis, literary criticism, public speaking and in the last five decades, he became one of the social icons and a highly sought-after public speaker and commentator. He used all his popularity and prowess to help people’s causes, small and big and defied the powers that be. In this process, he earned the wrath of the rulers, of all hues.
Rao was first arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in Andhra Pradesh in 1973. He was then arrested during the Emergency and was kept under stringent scrutiny. He survived many attempts to his life post-Emergency. He was among the forty-six accused of conspiring to overthrow the Andhra Pradesh government in the Secunderabad conspiracy case and was sent to jail once again in 1985. Rao was also an accused in the Ramnagar conspiracy case where he was alleged to have attended a meeting where the plan to kill Andhra Pradesh Police constable Sambaiah and inspector Yadagiri Reddy was hatched. He was finally acquitted of the charges after seventeen years in 2003.
From the early 1970s to 2018, he was implicated in 25 cases and the prosecution could not prove a single charge in a single case in law courts and he was acquitted in all of them. He diligently followed the judicial proceedings in each of these 25 cases.
His popularity among people was so high that the erstwhile governments of Andhra Pradesh, both in 2002 and 2004, asked him to be a mediator between them and the Naxalites in their talks. Previous UPA government at the Centre and at least three state governments, Chattisgarh, Odisha, and West Bengal also sought his help in handling similar situations. His respect for rule of law also saw him filing a number of cases seeking judicial intervention in times of police and executive excesses with regard to fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. He got the courts come to the rescue of the victims or their families through all these cases.
He, along with 10 others, have been languishing in jails for the last two years as accused in a case, famously known as Bhima Koregaon case. During these two years, partly due to the lack of proper medical care and partly because of the negligence of police and prison administrations, coupled with the stress involved in imprisonment, his health deteriorated. Particularly he has been suffering from electrolyte imbalance and fall in Sodium and Potassium levels, leading to loss of memory, confusion, incoherence. A popular public speaker with eloquent oration and elephantine memory is now reduced to searching for words, incoherent delirium.
He being a person in judicial custody, it is the responsibility of the judicial administration to protect his life and maintain reasonably good health. As it is proved that the jail administration could not protect his health, even after treatment and discharge from JJ Hospital and he developed the same ailments within four weeks, it is imperative that he gets good medical care under the supervision of family, near and dear.