Published: 22nd July 2020
Noam Chomsky, Barbara Harriss-White and other academics issue a statement seeking Varavara Rao's release
Prior to this, a group of young poets had also issued a statement, seeking the release of the 79-year-old poet, who tested positive for COVID
After 80-year-old Telugu poet Varavara Rao tested positive for COVID, a group of 146 academics from around the world have signed a petition, seeking his immediate release. The signatories include Noam Chomsky and Barbara Harriss-White.
Rao, along with a group of academics and activists including Vernon Gonsalves and Sudhar Bhardwaj, was arrested two years back in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence in January 2018. There were allegations that their speeches had incited violence. "Varavara Rao, poet, writer, activist and long-time speaker of truth to power has been imprisoned for two years now, along with ten other scholar-activists. They have been charged with inciting violence in Bhima Koregaon, a charge widely regarded as false, and over the past two years the government has failed to bring the charges to court and start the trial," reads the letter.
"Conditions in the jails in which these prisoners of conscience have been kept are said to be unhealthy and the threat of the spread of infection has grown. Mr Rao, who is 80 years old, has now tested positive for COVID-19 and is seriously ill with several co-morbidities. His condition suggests clear neglect of his health by the authorities," it reads.
Earlier this week, a group of young poets had also issued a statement, seeking Rao's release. "We would also like to state categorically that as young poets of this nation, we see the attack on Rao as an attack on all of us, our minds, our pens and our views. If this suppression of our voices continues, all of us would be left with no voice at all, and there would be only two voices, the voice of the ‘King’ and the voice of the ‘poet employed in the court of the King’!" their statement read.
Meanwhile, the NIA has rejected Rao's bail plea stating that he was trying to take undue benefit under the garb of COVID-19 and his old age to seek bail.