Varavara Rao’s condition worsens in jail, family seeks medical care

The family members say the Prison Department is preventing information on his health condition from reaching them.

varavara rao
Varavara Rao has been in jail for two years since his arrest in 2018. Photo: PTI File

The health condition of octogenarian human rights activist and poet Varavara Rao, who has been in jail for close to two years, has worsened. His family members are anxious about his deteriorating condition and have demanded that he be shifted to hospital immediately.

Rao, a renowned poet-writer and founder of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association, has been in jail since his arrest in June 2018 for his alleged role in the Elgar Parishad- Koregaon Bhima case.

“He is seriously ill. He called up his wife, Hemalatha, on Saturday. He was hallucinating. We must put pressure on the state and central governments to ensure immediate medical care to him,” the activist’s nephew, N. Venugopal, said.

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The family members have alleged that the Prison Department has been preventing information on his condition from reaching them.

Rao was shifted from Pune’s Yerwada prison to Taloja Central Jail on the outskirts of Mumbai earlier this year. In May, he was rushed to the state-run JJ Hospital after he fell unconscious in jail but was discharged within a few days. His health has been steadily declining since then.

“We got a call from him on Saturday. It lasted less than two minutes. He was unable to speak coherently. When he was admitted to JJ Hospital, his medical reports said that he had atrophy. We consulted a doctor here and fear that the lack of medical attention is causing damage to his cells and any further delay will only worsen his condition. We were told he is not being given any medical treatment in the jail,” Rao’s daughter Pavana said.

On Saturday, his lawyer Nihalsing Rathod sent a mail to the prison superintendent, seeking his medical reports. The lawyer urged the prison authorities that Rao be given the video call facility so that his family members can see him.

Rao’s application for interim bail was rejected by a special court last month and his appeal is now pending before the Bombay High Court.

While rejecting the bail petition, the special court had directed the superintendent of prisons to take appropriate measures in such cases where medical attention is required.

Apart from Rao, ten others in the case have been lodged in city jails with two others, Shoma Sen and Sudha Bharadwaj, also being denied bail recently.

Last month, 14 MPs had written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to provide urgent medical attention and shifting him to a hospital.

Bhima Koregaon case

In the synchronised raids conducted in 2018 at eight locations across five states, VV, as the poet is known in political circles, was arrested along with other social activists including Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonzalves, Arun Farreira, and Sudha Bhardwaj.

VV’s name had surfaced in the investigation when the Pune police arrested Surendra Gadling from Nagpur in June that year in connection with the Elgaar Parishad rally on December 31, 2017 to commemorate 200 years of the Bhima Koregaon battle in 1818.

The letter, written by a person identified only as ‘R,’ reportedly mentions a plot to kill PM Modi on the lines of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The letter also mentions the requirement for Rs. 8 crore to procure an M-4 rifle – an American-made carbine rifle used by the US Army – and four lakh rounds of ammunition to execute the plot. The letter reportedly mentions Varavara Rao’s name.

In January this year, the Centre had transferred the Bhima Koregaon case from the Pune police to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The move has been criticised by human rights activists, saying it is an attempt to maintain control over the political narrative of the case. Nine civil rights activists, including VV, are under judicial custody facing sedition charges.

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