Varavara Rao

Varavara Rao, a name you might have heard recently because of current ongoing pandemic, a name which most of us doesn’t care about is a famous Telegu poet who has faced over 25 cases in last 45 years. He started publishing his poetry at 17, during which time he got interested in politics and revolutionary theory.

VV has published 15 poems of his own, besides having edited a number of anthologies. His thesis ‘Telangana liberation struggle and Telugu Novel – a study into interconnection between society and literature’ published in 1983, is considered to be one of the finest works in Marxist studies done in Telugu.

He has been arrested on countless occasions for voicing his ideas, which government considers to be encouragement to the propaganda of armed liberals fighting for Telangana. The most laughable arrest came on the grounds of VV distributing bombs to ensure the strike against the custodial death of a radical student union activist in 1985. His story of arrests would seem similar to the stories of liberals and revolutionaries at the time of independence, only then we were fighting foreigners and are now fighting our own government, but bear in mind that the fight was always against oppression. So, what has brought the change that millions stood behind Gandhi to liberate themselves, but let VV be dragged through the dirt by our own government. Maybe it is because 3 generations have passed since we got our independence, maybe we cannot comprehend the propaganda being built by the government to supress us not only physically, but also render us mentally incapable of speaking our minds, or maybe we have just grown too comfortable in our own homes to care about those working to make a change.

Even in jail, VV did not forget the power of his pen. Not only did he write about government atrocities, but the lives of inmates inside. Here is an excerpt from his writings.

‘chained muse’

Though the number has been fluctuating with one or two under trial prisoners and lifers being shifted here, the number of inmates on the death row always remains more than 20. Among them, two are Muslim political prisoners of 45 and 50 years, implicated falsely in the 2008 Bombay train blast cases. Of the non-political prisoners also there are two Muslims. Most of the rest are Dalits, oppressed castes, poor, utterly poor with only one or two exceptions. Some of them might have committed heinous crimes like child rape, but most of them are innocent – implicated in place of people who could influence the system. For example, a young Maratha woman was raped by Dalits, leading to outrage among the Maratha community in Maharashtra. But the Dalits arrested and convicted with capital punishment are innocent young people. All of them, except one or two, are in the age group of 25 to 35 years.

In this block, now officially called Suraksha Block 1, my great strength are these young men who are learning English, playing volley ball, carom, chess and exhibiting wonderful skills of craft, art, songs and music. One’s capital punishment was struck down by the Supreme Court and he started writing poetry with his intense feelings to live and let live, with a hope that he can be reformed. But now it seems the attitude of the society, system and parliament, reflected even in the judiciary, is to make more stringent laws and seek resolution only in the death penalty.

As a writer and rights activist, I am against capital punishment, with abundant faith in the reform of human beings, particularly the oppressed youth. I find here all my prison mates very humane in their relations with others. For me, my relatively short 10 months incarceration becomes nothing as I see them – who cannot go out of our block for years together, living cheerfully, however they spend the solitary nights. That gives me great strength, imagining the hope they live for and the yearning for life, while the noose hangs around their necks, a ray of the hope at the end of dark tunnel. This is my daily oxygen, besides the literature and books… They are compassionate human beings in flesh and blood…

A poem VV wrote while being detained for allegedly distributing bombs, titled Reflection

I did not supply the explosives
Nor ideas for that matter
It was you who trod with iron heels
Upon the anthill
And from the trampled earth
Sprouted the ideas of vengeance
It was you who struck the beehive
With your lathi
The sound of the scattering bees
Exploded in your shaken facade
Blotched red with fear
When the victory drum started beating
In the heart of the masses
You mistook it for a person and trained your guns
Revolution echoed from all horizons.

By - Nabh Gupta