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Urgently shift jailed poet-activist Varavara Rao to JJ Hospital: Romila Thapar, others

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Top academics led by historian Romila Thapar, all of them petitioners in the Supreme Court matter of the Bhima Koregaon arrests, have in a fresh appeal to the Maharashtra government and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to urgently facilitate hospitalisation and provide proper treatment to veteran Telugu poet and writer P Varavara Rao, currently languishing in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai. Rao is 81.
In a statement, Thapar and four other academics, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) executive director Maja Daruwala, and sociologist Satish Deshpande, who are petitions in the Romila Thapar & Ors vs Union of India & Ors, Writ Petition 32319 of 2018, have said in a statement, that Rao should be immediately shifted to the JJ Hospital in Mumbai.

Text:

According to press reports and the statement of his family, the renowned Telugu poet and writer, P. Varavara Rao is extremely ill in Taloja jail. He is suffering from low levels of sodium and potassium as diagnosed by the JJ Hospital, Mumbai, where his treatment was abruptly terminated and he was taken back to Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai. This is a life threatening situation for someone who is 81 years of age, and already suffers from high blood pressure and heart conditions.

Prof Romila Thapar
We appeal to the Government of Maharashtra and the National Investigation Agency to facilitate the immediate transfer of Varavara Rao to JJ Hospital where he can receive proper treatment. Mr Rao poses no flight risk and has voluntarily submitted to all investigations for the past 22 months. There is no reason in law or conscience to hold him in circumstances that increase risk to his fragile health.
Even before Varavara Rao was arrested, we had been arguing that the investigation should be impartial, speedy and supervised by the judiciary. We have now reached a stage where his life is at stake. To knowingly risk the life of a person in state custody by refusing proper medical treatment would amount to a form of the “encounter”, an extra-legal punishment which the State institutions are duty-bound to forego.
We appeal to the authorities to assure the nation that the Indian State respects the rule of law and the Constitution, by ensuring that Varavara Rao receives immediate and proper treatment and that his family is allowed to look after him during his illness.
***
Maja Daruwala, in separate email alert, has said that Varavara Rao is not being allowed proper treatment because of “pressure” from the National Investigative Agency and Union home minister Amit Shah, adding, “It is iniquitous to keep an 81 year old in horrible conditions when he is so ill. It is against all jurisprudence. They can’t refuse to let him out, so they are delaying.”
***
Background: Bhima Koregaon, a small village with historical significance, became the rallying point for Dalit rights activists in December 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818. The British Army comprised mostly of Dalits defeated the upper caste Peshwa army, led by Peshwa Bajirao II. Hundreds of people from the Dalit community gathered on December 31, 2017 to commemorate the anniversary of the battle.
The event was organised at Pune’s Shaniwarwada Fort, which was a seat of power of the Peshwas. The victory of the British forces over the Maratha Empire was an important one for Dalits as caste oppression under the Peshwas was severe, believe activists supporting Rao. 
Thus, they say, the organisation of the event on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the battle was an important symbol of Dalit assertion, regretting, however, violence erupted when there were clashes between some groups carrying saffron flags and the people gathered at the event, which led to the death of an individual as well as several people being injured.
Following the violence, the Maharashtra police, under the then state BJP rulers, arrested several eminent lawyers, human rights activists and academicians, including Rao, “under the pretext of creating communal disharmony and inciting violence”, to quote a senior activist.

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