“Varavara Rao Almost on Deathbed”. The Only Humane Thing Here is to Let His Family See Him

Social Commentary

“Varavara Rao Almost on Deathbed”. The Only Humane Thing Here is to Let His Family See Him

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

There is massive public concern over the health of imprisoned activist and poet Varavara Rao after it was revealed that the 80-year-old had contracted Covid-19 while in jail. Rao was arrested in August 2018 for his connection to the Elgar Parishad conspiracy, itself connected to the violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon near Pune that year. Since then, Rao has been refused bail by the authorities on multiple occasions. When the coronavirus pandemic reached India, there were worries about Rao’s health in prison, given his advanced age. Those fears came to pass as it was announced that Rao had contracted Covid-19 in jail last week.

Now, with Rao’s health in jeopardy, he has been transferred to Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital. His lawyers have filed two petitions before the Bombay High Court, the first seeking the state to procure his medical records from JJ Hospital, where he was earlier admitted, and the second applying for bail.

Rao’s lawyer, Sandeep Pasbola, told the court that Rao was “almost on his deathbed”. Pasbola also sought to procure permission for the poet’s family to visit him, while maintaining reasonable distance given his diagnosis with coronavirus. “His condition is very serious,” Pasbola said. “He hit his head against the hospital bed while he was at the JJ Hospital and sustained severe injuries. Besides COVID-19, he suffers from several ailments, he is hallucinating and is delirious.”

Rao’s family, meanwhile alleged that they had no information on the head injury he suffered and that they are getting updates about his health only from secondary sources. “Not sharing health updates of a person in judicial custody with his family is illegal, unconstitutional and inhuman,” the statement released by Roa’s wife and daughter said.

The family has also requested the Maharashtra government to allow a family member to be by Rao’s side, to make all medical records accessible to them, and to remove legal hurdles for him to get interim bail on grounds of health.

The court has directed prison authorities and the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the organisation probing the Elgar Parishad case, to respond to the pleas by July 23. A few days before Pasbola made the declaration that Rao was “almost on his deathbed”, the NIA had filed an affidavit seeking to block Rao’s bail application, stating that Rao was “trying to take undue benefit” of the prevailing global pandemic and his old age by seeking bail. The affidavit also states that Rao has been provided “necessary medical aid”.

Varavara Rao will find out if his latest bail application is successful when the court examines the responses of the prison authorities and the NIA to his plea. But for the elderly activist and political prisoner, time may be running out.