Varavara Rao: 81-year-old jailed Indian poet granted temporary bail

An 81-year-old jailed Indian poet-activist, Varavara Rao, was granted bail for six months on medical grounds.

Varavara Rao has been in poor health for several months and spent more than 150 days in hospital in the past year.

Mr Rao has been under arrest for his alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence that occurred on 1 January 2018.

Police claim speeches made at an event on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon triggered violence and death of two individuals. Police also allege that the event discussed a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Rao faces charges under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, or UAPA that deals with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India. Mr Rao has strongly denied all allegations against him.

The UAPA law was recently modified to allow the government to declare individuals ‘terrorists’ without a court trial. Over the past few year the right-wing Narendra Modi government has used UAPA to curb dissent and freedoms guaranteed under the Indian constitution.

Denied proper medical treatment in jail:

On Monday, the high court in Mumbai agreed with Mr Rao’s lawyers that Taloja jail had “inadequate facilities” and granted him bail on the condition that he remain in Mumbai city and be available for investigation.

Mr Rao’s lawyer had told the court in November last year that her client was “bed-ridden, has no medical attendant and has a catheter which has not been changed for three months”.

In July last year, Mr Rao contracted Covid-19 in jail and was admitted to the hospital only after his family held an emergency press conference alleging that he was being denied proper medical attention despite his rapidly deteriorating health.

Despite several attempts by his lawyers, Mr Rao has been consistently denied bail. And though he’s been in jail for more than two years, the trial in case he is charged with is yet to begin.

Bhima-Koregaon Battle:

On 1 January 1818, 800 troops of the British Army, with large number of Mahars (oppressed community) defeated a numerically superior force of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. A victory pillar was erected in Koregaon by the British, commemorating the dead soldiers.

In 1928, B R Ambedkar, an Indian social reformer led the first commemoration ceremony here. Since then every year hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate victory against the upper caste.