While India is reeling with Covid-19, the country’s central and state governments have refused to release an old man from prison. Varavara Rao, a 81 year old revolutionary poet, is in jail on the Bhima Koregaon case. Meanwhile, some inmates of that jail have died due to Covid-19. Prominent personalities of the country and abroad have become vocal in demanding the release of this revolutionary poet. As revolutionary student and youth organisations, we demand the release of Varavara Rao and all political prisoners around the world.
On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the victory of the Dalits in the war against the upper caste Peshwas at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra, Hindutva forces yet again attacked the people and on 28 September 2018 Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha were arrested from Delhi, Pune, Faridabad, Mumbai, and Hyderabad on multiple charges. Later Shoma Sen, Anand Teltumbde, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and many other social workers, lawyers, poets and professors were arrested as well. They were charged under various unconstitutional laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), sedition and so on.
Also arrested was the 90 percent physically disabled Professor G N Saibaba, who is being held in the small ‘Anda Cell’ of the Nagpur Jail. The jail crucially does not have the infrastructure to keep someone in Saibaba’s condition. As a result, his physical condition is deteriorating day by day. The Indian state is also continuing to target the veteran Maoist theoretical leader Kobad Ghandy by conspiring to block his release from jail on new false charges despite him suffering from cancer.
On 28 May, poet Varavara Rao fell unconscious in jail. He was admitted to J J Hospital in Mumbai. Although his condition was just slightly stable, he was brought back to jail on 1 June. Varavara Rao’s family was not allowed to visit the hospital. They didn’t even get a chance to talk to the poet on the phone. In this situation, Varavara Rao’s wife applied for bail in the NIA court but that application was rejected. Although article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life even if a citizen is imprisoned. On June 26, the NIA court again rejected the bail plea of Varavara Rao regarding illness. Varavara Rao has since contracted Covid-19 which in his current condition could prove to be fatal.
We have seen that in India different national and local parties make different promises during elections, but there is little difference between them in terms of anti-people policies and anti-people laws like UAPA, sedition etc. Almost all parties have been using these laws to suppress dissent. However, in spite of this repressive policy of the state, the protests and movements of workers, peasants, students and social workers in different parts of India have not stopped. And this is why the ruling class fears even the elderly Varavara Rao, or the physically challenged Professor Saibaba. That is why they have to be kept in jail even during the coronavirus crisis.
In contrast to the increasingly fascistic old Indian state, at least 100 leading intellectuals in the world, such as Noam Chomsky, Homi K Bhabha, Partha Chatterjee and Gerald Horne have written letters to the President and Chief Justice of India demanding the release of Varavara Rao. 375 prominent personalities of India including Amol Palekar, Shabana Azmi, Shankha Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Kaushik Sen have written an open letter to the Central Government of India.
Meanwhile, recently 14 Indian MPs wrote a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray requesting that the revolutionary poet Varavara Rao be transferred from Taloja Jail in to a hospital. Several inmates have already died of coronavirus in that jail. Officially, the number of Covid-19 confirmed cases in India is about half a million, more than 16,000 died. Almost every day new records of infections and deaths are being set.
The Indian government is putting at risk the lives of Varavara Rao and others, who have been detained in attempts to demobilise and demoralise the people. The Government of India will be held responsible for the death of Varavara Rao or if any of the other political prisoners are infected with the virus during their detention during the coronavirus crisis. We once again demand the Government of India to immediately release the revolutionary poet Varavara Rao and all other political prisoners.
When it comes to the issue of political prisoners in Manipur, there is a large number of people behind bars under draconian acts such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA), and Sedition law. Anyone with a voice of dissent, raising his or her voice against the government, the state, people who are demanding their democratic right to self determination are put behind bars. To understand the gravity of the situation, we can cite some newspaper reports. A report published in 2015 in The Hindu, a reputed Indian newspaper, says “Manipur, which accounts to only 0.2 per cent of the country’s population, has registered nearly 65 per cent of cases under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, (UAPA). Out of the 975 cases of UAPA registered in the country in 2014, 630 are from the small north-eastern State of Manipur..” Another report in Times of India published this year indicates that the situation has slightly changed but the number of people charged under UAPA in Manipur still remains high. The report quoting Nation Crime Bureau Records tells us that in the year 2018, people charged under UAPA is 289 in Manipur, this number is higher than that of Kashmir for that year. Though Kashmir is known for state repression, Manipur has faced its own share.
In Manipur some of the Political Prisoners who are in prison, charged with the National Security Act (NSA) or under trial (not yet convicted):
- Moirangthem Ranapratap @ Paikhomba Meitei ,KCP, PWG (Marxist Centre). He is currently in Tihaar Central Jail, Delhi (still under trial)
- Khoirom Ranjit @ Rocky, Convenor, KCP, PWG (Marxist Centre). He is in Tihaar Central Jail, Delhi, right now. (still under trial)
- Sapamcha Kangleipal @ Chiranglen, Manipur Maoist. He is currently in Sajiwa Central Jail, Manipur.
- Moirangthem Inaocha @ Premananda, People’s Liberation Army. He is now incarcerated in Sajiwa Central Jail Manipur
In the last few years, hundreds of opposition leaders have gone missing in Bangladesh. Even under this Covid-19 crisis, the suppression of opposition views in Bangladesh has not been stopped. Political activists, including cartoonists, are being imprisoned for criticizing the government during the pandemic. Journalists are being thrown into jail for disclosing information about government irregularities and corruption. Journalist Kajal was abducted and later unjustly arrested and kept in jail.
The fascist Hasina-Awami government is strangling the masses of people with both the right steps not being taken to deal with Covid-19 and the continued repression of dissidents. In this case, the Hasina government is not at all different from the reactionary governments of other countries like the Modi government of India.
In Nepal, the repression of truly revolutionary forces has continued with comrade Uma Bhujel “Shilu” being re-arrested for the tenth time following a court release order. Uma Bhujel “Shilu” is a Central Committee member of the Biplab led Communist Party of Nepal.
The repression of dissident voices has also been seen among the imperialist nations. In Canada, the state’s genocidal policy against the Indigenous nations has intensified as resistance to capitalism and settler-colonialism has increased internally. Most recently this has been seen with the response and aftermath to the RCMP invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia. The state has been quick to attack and arrest those defending their lands or those active in the blockades called in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation in order to deal a blow to the Canadian state’s economy.
DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF REVOLUTIONARY POET VARAVARA RAO!
DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!
This is the list of participating groups:
- Revolutionary Student-Youth Movement/Bangladesh
- Revolutionary Student Movement/Canada
- Revolutionary Student Front/West Bengal (India)
- Socialist Students’ Union of Manipur
- All-Nepal National Independent Student Union (Revolutionary)
- All-Nepal National Independent Student Union (Revolutionary)
- Young Revolutionaries/France
- Jeunesse Debout/Canada