“My family members are waiting outside at the gate to receive me,” a delirious Varavara Rao told co-prisoner Vernon Gonsalves on Saturday. Recalling the phone conversation with the poet and his co-prisoner, journalist and Varavara Rao’s nephew, N Venugopal said on Sunday, “We received a scary call yesterday. When Hemalatha asked how he was, he (Varavara Rao) started talking about the funeral of his father.”
“His father died 73 years ago,” a teary-eyed Venugopal said, while addressing the press conference on Sunday to highlight the health condition of the senior activist and revolutionary poet who has been imprisoned in Maharashtra’s Taloja jail. Hemalatha is the wife of Varavara Rao.
Varavara Rao’s family have demanded that the Maharashtra government immediately shift him to a super speciality hospital, as his health is failing rapidly. The family is worried as he has been talking disjointedly due to electrolyte imbalance in his body. They fear that the ailing poet would suffer brain damage if immediate medical care is not provided to him.
“He did not answer straight questions on his health and went into a kind of delirious and hallucinated talk about the funeral of his father and mother, events that happened seven decades and four decades ago respectively. Then Vernon Gonsalves took the phone from him and informed us that he is not able to walk, go to the toilet and brush his teeth on his own,” Venugopal said, recalling the phone conversation on Saturday.
Both Varavara Rao and Vernon Gonsalves are facing imprisonment for allegedly plotting the assasination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and for the Bhima Koregaon violence that took place in 2018.
Speaking to the media, Hemalatha said, “We have been worried about him for the past one month. When I enquired about his health, he asked me If I attended his mother’s and father’s funeral. I don’t even know if he recognised me,” she said breaking down.
“Our immediate demand is to provide better treatment to Varavara Rao or hand him over to us so that we can take care of him. We don’t want to talk about politics or the bail, our only immediate demand is to shift him to a super speciality hospital for treatment,” said N Venugopal. Breaking into tears, he added, “The state is trying to kill him.”
In a media statement, the family said, “At the present juncture we are leaving aside all the pertinent facts, like the case against him is fabricated; he had to spend 22 months in jail as an undertrial with the process turned into punishment; his bail petitions got rejected at least five times now and even the bail petitions with his age, ill-health and coronavirus vulnerability as grounds were ignored. His life is the top most concern for us right now. Our present demand is to save his life”
It must be recalled that Rao was admitted in JJ Hospital on May 28, after his health deteriorated. “Though the earlier two calls on June 24 and July 2 were also worrying with his weak and muffled voice, incoherent speech and abruptly jumping into Hindi. As an eloquent and articulate public speaker and writer in Telugu for over five decades, a Telugu teacher for four decades and known for his meticulous memory, this fumbling, incoherence and loss of memory were in themselves strange and frightening,” the family expressed.
The family accused the Maharashtra government and the National Investigation Agency of criminal negligence, for not providing proper medical care to the undertrial political prisoner.
They said that Rao was falsely implicated and although he was eligible for bail, they were denied five times. “There is no evidence, no investigation. The process of investigation has become a punishment,” Venugopal said.
Recently, several intellectuals from across the world including the likes of Noam Chomsky and dozens of Indian parliamentarians like DMK’s Kanimozhi wrote a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealing for the release of the ailing poet.
As Rao’s health was deteriorating, Hemalatha wrote multiple pleas to the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Maharashtra CM, Telangana CM and the Governors, seeking his release from jail in view of the COVID-19 crisis. However, except for Maharashtra Governor, none responded to her appeal, she said.
Meanwhile, since Saturday evening, the demand to free Varavara Rao has been rising on social media.