Telugu poet and writer P Varavara Rao’s wife, Hemlatha Rao has moved the Supreme Court seeking an immediate release of her husband on medical grounds. The petition contends that “Varavara Rao’s continued custody amounts to cruelty and inhuman treatment, violating Article 21 of the Constitution of India and his dignity in custody.”
Mr. Rao (82) was arrested by Pune police on 28 August 2018 and has been imprisoned since then over his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad- Bhima Koregaon violence that took place on 1st January 2018, in which one person died and 30 policemen were injured.
In July 2020, Rao was tested positive for COVID-19. Between July 16 and August 28, he received treatment for the infection at various hospitals. During this time, Rao’s family alleged mistreatment, stating that he was being kept in pathetic and unhygienic conditions at St George Hospital, where he had initially been admitted. Also, while Rao was undergoing treatment at St George, he suffered a fall and after an intervention by the National Human Rights Commission, he was shifted to Nanavati Hospital. Later, on August 28, Rao was discharged and sent back to Taloja Jail.
The present petition filed by his wife states that Rao has been kept in inhumane conditions in jail and his health has worsened since he was discharged. A medical report dated July 30, from Nanavati Hospital, says he requires close monitoring due to comorbidities and mentions neurological problems.
“It is highly likely that COVID-19 and the fall that he had in St. George Hospital has led to neurological problems,” states the petition, adding that when Rao was arrested, he had no neurological issues.
The plea also adds that when Hemlatha (71), her two daughters and brother had arrived in Mumbai and met Mr. Rao while he was COVID positive, in JJ Hospital, he was found ‘in a pitiable condition, in a pool of urine, without any nurse or attendant’.
Further, Hemlatha included a letter dated 31st August from Rao, in which he wrote that Hemlatha was dead and her body was in a morgue. “This itself shows the mental status of the Petitioner’s husband,” states the petition. It also cites a letter from academic Vernon Gonsalves, another accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case and a fellow inmate of Rao’s, which says Rao is “basically bed-ridden” and has no bowel or urine control. Rao has a catheter urine bag, which has not been changed in 40 days, according to Gonsalves, and has caused a urinary infection. Gonsalves has been caring for Rao in Taloja Jail.
The petition preferred under Article 32 of the Constitution seeks that Rao’s immediate release is pertinent from Taloja Central Jail, Maharashtra as his health condition is very feeble and that he suffers from various co-morbidities and not every person with COVID19 has similar symptoms. “Besides COVID-19, he suffers from several ailments, he is hallucinating and is delirious,” submitted Hemlatha in the petition.