At a time, when a ‘pandemic is raging across the country’, about 500 prominent personalities have sent an open letter to the Central government, demanding the immediate release on bail of activists like Jamia scholar Safoora Zargar and left leaning poet and writer Varavara Rao.
Varavara Rao is among the 11 rights activists to have been jailed. “in the prisons of Maharashtra where they are being detained, some inmates have died and many others have tested positive for COVID-19”, the letter states. These 11 people were arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case. Stating concern over Mr. Rao’s condition, the letter said, “We have learnt that Mr. Varavara Rao who is 80 years old is already ill and has been removed to a police hospital.”
The letter also expressed discontent over the denial of bail to human rights activist of Assam, Akhil Gogoi, saying, “Gogoi has repeatedly raised his voice against human rights violation by the state.” And also, for Safoora Zargar, a Jamia Coordination Committee member, who is pregnant. The letter says, “she was arrested for protesting against the citizenship amendment act.” The signatories of the letter have said, “neither are convicted criminals nor planning to free the country. We demand that they all be granted bail immediately on humanitarian grounds, as their lives are at risk at a time when a pandemic is raging across the country.”
The statement was signed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Amol Palekar, Onir, Anurag Kashyap, apart from around 20 prominent Bengali personalities.
The letter said, “we are also worried that the COVID-19 situation in prisons will affect the health of the jailed activists. The Centre and the states concerned should not sit idle over the issue.” It further added, “the focus should not be on the suppression of dissent but on the containment of the pandemic for all, in prison and out of it”.
Veteran actor Dhritiman Chatterjee said, “several personalities from west Bengal including me, have signed the letter. We demand that the liberal space is not encroached and throttled in a democracy.”