Human Rights

‘Attack on Varavara Rao is an attack on all of us’: Young Poets call for release of jailed poet

“Jo cheen le humare qalam ki syahi,
Humein ye nizaam qubool nahin,
Jiski subah na ho,
Hume who sham qubool nahin.”

Nabiya Khan recites these powerful verses over a telephonic conversation when speaking about poetry that questions the parameters of establishment in present times.

Nabiya is one among the collective of 50 young poets who have issued a public statement condemning the arrest and urging the release of Varavara Rao, a Telegu poet, activist, journalist and literary critic from Telangana.

Terming his arrest as an ‘attack on all of us, our minds, our pens and our views and on freedom of speech’, the statement read: “tt is clear that Rao is only being kept in jail by virtue of him being a poet who questions the powers-that-be. While we as young poets not only understand the value and importance of speaking for the people and questioning the ones in power, we take it as a responsibility, to uphold. It is because of public poets like Varavara Rao that we, the young poets are able to write and speak for the society and on other matters.”

Rao has been in prison for his alleged role in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case, since August 28, 2018 under Unlawful Activites Prevention Act.

The statement by the young poets has alleged that first the Pune Police’s and then the NIA’s charges of him ‘trying to incite violence in Bhima Koregaon’ are false.

Rao, the founder of the Revolutionary Writers Association popularly known as Virasam, was recently shifted to JJ hospital from Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai, following a pitched campaign to ensure treatment for him during a spell of poor health in the jail,

Reportedly not receiving adequate health care in the prison as his condition became worse, his family alleged his speech is ‘slurred and he is hallucinating, and he is unable to take care of himself’.

Rao has also tested positive for Covid-19 while in prison.

These Young poets have come together in a collective to ‘condemn what Rao is being put through’. The statement emphasising the significance of Rao’s literary contributions and particularly Telangana’s literary landscape, condemned the situation poet is currently in and pointed to the various times he was arrested, but eventually acquitted becuase the charges could not be proved.

“He has been hounded and arrested in various false charges by various governments and later been acquitted in all the cases. This only goes on to suggest that his revolutionary writings have always made the ones in power uncomfortable and they have always been threatened by the power of his verses. Ideally, a poet names the nameless without actually taking their name and for the ones in power to arrest or implicate poets, they need to accept that they are the ones being talked about in those poems,” the collective statement reads.

Next month would mark two years of arrest, and a year post the amendment of UAPA. Critics say that the act has priorly been used in the garb of national security to curtail voices of dissent.

“Only a maliciously cruel government can do such things to curb the voices of dissent and take revenge from those who actively speak the truth”, added Nabiya. “We can write protest poems because of the freedom which revolutionary poets like VV Rao uphold despite facing state torture.”

Stressing on the importance of power check and speaking truth to power, the statement further read:

“If this suppression of our voices continues, all of us would be left with no voice at all, and there would be only two voices, the voice of the ‘King’ and the voice of the ‘poet employed in the court of the King’! That is the last thing we can afford in our democracy and we must keep alive the spirit of struggle for free thinking to bloom.”

The full list of signatories include poets like Aseem Sundan, Aamir Aziz Nabiya Khan, Hussain Haidry, Kaushik Raj, Iqra Khilji, Taikhum Sadiq Abhijit Khandkar, Rachneet Kaur, Naveen Chourey, Daaniyal, Poojan Sahil, Meghna Prakash, Nandini Gautam, Mandvi Mishra, Yashi Verma, Simran Banga, Sabika Abbas Naqvi, Ankur Sharma, Ridhi Bhutani, Pallavi Mahajan, Nausheen Khan, Ghazal Khanna, Megha Rao, Bikram Bumrah, Faisal Khan, Amina Arif, Amy Singh, Smriti Bhoker, Foram Ashish Shah, Kavya Sharma, Sahila, Priya Malik, Puneet Sharma, Nosheen Kapoor, Roshan Abbas Rajat Thakur, Bappadittya Sarkar, Ramneek Singh, Simar Singh, Soumya Thakur, Nidhie Saini, Ajmal Khan, Vasvi Kejriwal, Devanshi Khetarpal, Suhit Kelkar, Aswin Vijayan, Prashant Parvataneni, Arjun Rajendran, Smita Sahay and Arathy Asok.

“The least we can do is speak up and demand his release when he is seriously ill,” says Nabiya.

“Now that he’s been tested positive, it’s nothing less than an institutional murder if anything happens to him. The Government is responsible for the under-trial’s health. He must be released unconditionally,” she adds.


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