If the insensitivity being shown towards a senior revolutionary poet by the Indian state is any indication, the government of the world’s so-called largest democracy lacks compassion.

81-year-old Varavara Rao, a well-respected political activist and poet, has been recently tested positive for COVID 19, leaving his family and admirers deeply worried.

In spite of old age and poor health, he was being held in Mumbai jail, but shifted to a hospital only recently, after his condition deteriorated.

Arrested in August 2018, he was thrown into prison on trumped up charges after being branded as a Maoist ideologue and accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate right wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These allegations have been strongly refuted by his relatives and supporters, who believe that all this is being done to stifle voices of dissent.

Rao is among several known scholars and human rights defenders who are being detained for merely standing up for the poor and marginalized, especially Adivasis (Indigenous peoples), who continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state.

Maoist insurgents, fighting a class war, have been active in tribal areas, where Adivasis often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. Many Adivasis see them as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state.

Rao’s health condition had worsened over the last several days, as the threat of COVID 19 was hovering over badly crammed Indian jails. Despite many petitions and protests seeking the release of political prisoners under these extraordinary circumstances, the authorities have refused to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. There is a feeling among his supporters that the Indian state wants to finish him legally and send a message to the opposition.

If this was not enough, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) opposed the bail application for Rao, claiming that he was trying to take “undue benefit of his situation”. All this is in sharp contrast to what Indian Prime Minister stated at the beginning of the campaign against COVID 19. Narendra Modi had called for battling Corona (COVID 19) with Karuna (compassion), but seeing what Rao is being forced to go through, his actions do not certainly match his words. If Rao’s condition does not evoke Karuna then what does?

In the meantime, the Indian government remains adamant not to release a disabled scholar and former Delhi University Prof. GN. Saibaba either.

Ninety percent disabled below the waist, wheelchair bound Saibaba is being incarcerated after being convicted for life, after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. His only crime was that he has been raising his voice for the Adivasis and religious minorities. Although the UN had urged for his immediate release on compassionate grounds, the Indian authorities continue to oppose any attempt to bail him out.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist


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