Varavara Rao is a Telugu poet who started writing poems as a teenager. Due to his activism in Telugu literature, his life is predominantly filled with numerous episodes of imprisonment, every one of them concerning public welfare.
Life and Activism
Mainly contributing to Telugu literature, Varavara Rao has written extensively regarding Dalit politics. He was arrested twice under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in 1973 and 1975. Most of his arrests were followed by subsequent release. He was incarcerated by the state on various occasions such as during the movement against pro-globalization liberalisation policies and in 2010 based on his speech about the Kashmir issue. It was the publication of Varavara Rao’s six decades of his life’s work, a collection of his poetry titled ‘Varavara Rao: The Revolutionary Poet‘ that invited the latest government scrutiny.
Circumstances of Arrest
On August 28, 2018, Varavara Rao was arrested in his Hyderabad home for his alleged role in the Bhima Koregaon violence in Maharashtra. Along with other activists, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira, he was also slapped with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Police claimed that speeches made at the gathering on December 31, 2017, were partially to blame for the escalation of violence.
Since then, he has been lodged in Taloja jail in Maharashtra. In June 2020, Rao’s lawyer cited his vulnerability to Covid-19 due to old age in securing bail, but the Court denied his request. In July 2020, he was admitted to the hospital after testing positive for Covid-19.
Post arrest, his anthology of poems dealing with a wide range of subjects, including repression and incarceration, was put on hold for publication by Penguin Random House India due to the “nature of charges” levelled against him.
Charges & Allegations
He was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for spreading controversial pamphlets and delivering “hate speeches” in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence that broke out in January 2018.
Varavara Rao’s bail plea was rejected several times until his condition worsened. Finally, after many attempts, Bombay HC granted him six months’ bail on medical grounds in February 2021. The HC had mandated Rao to report back on December 6, 2021. Rao sought an extension of the medical bail given to him for six months, and on December 3, 2021, the Court subsequently extended his date of surrender back to the jail. Rao’s lawyer claims that he has asymptomatic Parkinson’s ailments, among other severe medical conditions needing medical care.
The leading publisher, Penguin Random House India, has prescribed censorship of Varavara Rao’s poems in the fear of being slapped with sedition and defamation charges. A copy of the latest edited draft of the book, accessed by The Quint dated May 7, 2022 shows that the legal team of the publisher wants to remove the words’ Hindutva,’ ‘Sangh Parivar,’ and ‘saffronisation’ from his book Varavara Rao: A Revolutionary Poet.
He has also moved to the apex court seeking permanent bail.