Statement of the ILPS Commission 3
We demand the immediate release of Indian poet Varavara Rao who is currently detained at the Taloja jail in Mumbai and has been incarcerated for 22 months now without trial. The 79-year-old Varavara is suffering from various ailments and now can not walk on his own and too weak to do the most basic self-care such as brushing his teeth or washing himself and had to be assisted. His age and the harsh conditions in prison are taking a heavy toll not only on his physical health but also on his mental health. Relatives in their most recent phone calls with Varavara had found him speaking in incomprehensible language and sounded hallucinating. Varavara’s failing mental health was confirmed by fellow inmates.
We deplore the way the Indian government treats its poets and intellectuals. It is plainly cowardice to be threatened by poets and intellectuals and resort to putting them in prison. This government should comprehend that it may deny them their freedom, but their poetry will continue to be spread and sown on fertile minds of people who in due course will act on realities their poetry stood up against.
We call on the Modi government to release Varavara Rao from prison without delay and provide emergency medical treatment for the ailing poet. We call on the government to heed the call of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet that political prisoners should be among first released in pandemic response, address the overcrowding in prisons to prevent catastrophic rates of COVID-19 infection and release “specific at-risk groups such as pregnant women, people with disabilities, elderly prisoners, and to those with underlying health conditions, minor and low risk offenders, people nearing the end of their sentences, and every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and those detained for critical, dissenting views.” ###