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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 25, New Delhi, June 6, 2020

India: release poet P Varavara Rao on medical grounds - Statement by PEN International

Saturday 6 June 2020



PEN International

1 June 2020

PEN International is deeply concerned for the welfare of Indian poet P. Varavara Rao who has been in detention since November 2018. Aged 81 and in poor health, a bail hearing for Rao is due 2 June 2020. Given his fragile state of health and questions surrounding the validity of the charges under which he is held, PEN is calling for him to be released on medical grounds.

A Marxist poet and activist, Rao is considered an important figure in Telugu literature, and has since the late 1960s published numerous poetry collections. He is a founder of the Virasam – the Revolutionary Writers Association. From 1966 to 1992 he ran Srujana (Creation), a monthly journal focusing on modern Telugu literature.

Rao served several stints in prison through the 1970s to the late 1980s for his writing and activism. His latest arrest took place in November 2018, and he has been detained ever since. Rao is accused of his purported connection with an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, commentators believe that he is being held for his views and that he is being penalized for his continued radical left activities and advocacy for the underprivileged communities in India, including indigenous tribal groups. Several appeals that he be freed on bail in the past year have been rejected.

’For a country that claims to venerate its poets and writers, reveres its elders, and says it is compassionate towards those vulnerable to illness, India’s stubborn refusal to consider appeals of Varavara Rao, the 81-year-old poet currently in custody, is profoundly wrong. The way to address questions raised by writers who challenge the state is of dialogue and counter-arguments, not detention. Varavara Rao is not well and ailing; his family, his readers, and writers around the world are concerned about his health. We join the appeal for his release on medical grounds.’

- Salil Tripathi, Chair, PEN International Writers in Prison Committee

For more information, please contact Sara Whyatt, Asia Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: sara.whyatt at

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