‘He Won’t Survive Taloja Jail’: Varavara Rao’s Kin Plead For Bail Extension
Telugu poet Varavara Rao suffers from umbilical hernia and cataract. He is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Since he was relieved on bail from Taloja Central Prison in February 2021, Varavara Rao (82), Telugu poet and activist, has been living in a rented house in Malad East, Mumbai with his 72-year-old wife, P Hemalatha.
The octogenarian, who is an accused in Bhima Koregaon violence case, is allowed only soft food as he was detected with umbilical hernia, a condition in which a loop of the intestine pushes through the navel.
Also, Rao who used to be a voracious reader, is now partially blind due to cataract. His two daughters – P Pavana and P Anala – and other relatives, visit him whenever they can. Rao is also facing the onset of dementia, and keeping him engaged is important to prevent memory loss, his doctors have advised the family.
This precarious routine which, according to his family, keeps him alive, “will surely come to an end” if he goes back to Taloja prison. “It will be back to square one. He will not get the care that the family gives him and we fear the worst,” his daughter Pavana told The Quint.
Rao’s bail hearing is scheduled at the Bombay High Court on 24 September. He was granted bail on 22 February on a cash bond of Rs 50,000.
How Incarceration Can Harm Rao
Rao was charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act-1967 (UAPA) in 2018. He was first taken to Pune's Yerwada prison and later shifted to Taloja. At Yerwada, he was reportedly denied a blanket during winter. The jail authorities also refused to provide him a wheelchair, even though he was unable to walk. His family had to approach Bombay High Court to get him access to both.
When Rao was shifted to Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital in May 2020, he had lost 20 kilos, his family claims.
His family says, he was unable to recognise his kith and kin. It is after a year of medical care – at first in the hospital, and later at home in Mumbai – that he recovered from the impact of his latest stay in prison.
Will he survive another stay at Taloja, if the court does not extend his bail?
“In prison, the staple food is roti. He is not used to this and medically, it is not advised that he has it. He cannot have poha, which is another staple in the prison. He cannot eat anything including pulses and sour food that has tamarind in it,” Pavana explained.
Rao needs to have green vegetables and oil-free food. Besides, the hernia could induce sudden, acute pain for which medical treatment will have to be given immediately.
“Taloja does not have adequate medical facilities to deal with such an eventuality. The prison does not have a medical officer to attend patients in case of emergencies,” Pavana alleged.
Rao needs two surgeries to remain healthy. One, he needs a hernia surgery that cannot be put off. He also needs a cataract operation, which will restore his eyesight. Both will need some amount of recovery time for which he needs to be out on bail. “In prison he spends about 15 hours in the cell. During this time he has to be engaged and reading or writing. For this, he needs his eyesight restored,” said Pavana, who had seen her father delirious and weak a year ago.
Stan Swamy’s End - A Warning
Rao has also been deeply disturbed after the demise of Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Fr Stan Swamy. Swamy, who was denied medical bail despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease, died in Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai on 3 July 2021, following a cardiac arrest. Activists across the country claimed that lack of medical aid in prison cost Swamy his life.
Both Rao and Swamy had contracted COVID-19 in Taloja prison. But when Swamy was first brought to prison he was in better health than Rao, Pavana says.
“Stan Swamy walked into the prison, whereas my father was wheelchair bound. Varavara Rao survived because he was given medical aid on time,” Pavana said. In fact, Rao has been mentioning this twist of fate ever since Swamy died, she added. “Swamy was worried that my father will not make it. The latter made it, so far, and the former is no more.”
The family fears that Rao may suffer Swamy’s fate. “Despite Stan Swamy’s death, we have not seen any change in the National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) approach. They remain against granting bail,” Pavana said. NIA is the agency investigating the Bhima Koregaon case. The NIA court has so far denied bail to Hany Babu, Anand Teltumbde and Vernon Gonsalves, all of whom were arrested in connection with the Koregaon case.
Rao’s family has asked not just for the extension of his bail but also a change in the bail conditions. Currently, Rao cannot leave Mumbai although he is a native of Hyderabad.
“My mother cannot stay without the help of us relatives in Mumbai. She suffers from diabetes and is weak. We need them to be shifted to Hyderabad,” Pavana said. The family has been incurring an expenditure of Rs 90,000 per month on Rao’s stay in Mumbai.
For the family, due to the long-drawn case, their lives revolve around Rao’s bail hearings. “We have had no time in the recent past to think beyond the case. Life has come to a stand still,” Pavana said. If Rao is granted bail on 24 September, the family hopes that he gets to move to Hyderabad, where he has familial support.
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