A group of 500 prominent persons, including film personality Aparna Sen, have sent an open letter to the central government demanding the immediate release on bail of activists such as Varavara Rao and Safoora Zargar at a time when ‘a pandemic is raging across the country’.
The left-leaning poet and writer Rao is among the 11 human rights activists who are in jail in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence that took place near Pune in January. "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 issued by the Indian Cultural Forum on June 16 said. Maharashtra has been most affected by the pandemic with over 1.2 lakh cases and nearly 5,900 deaths.
Other than Rao, those in jail in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case are Sudha Bhardwaj, Shoma Sen, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalvez, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale and Rona Wilson, the letter pointed out.
It also expressed dismay over the denial of bail to student activist Safoora Zargar of Jamia Millia University and human rights activist from Assam, Akhil Gogoi. Zargar, who is pregnant, was arrested under the anti-terror UAPA law in a case related to communal violence in northeast Delhi during the February riots in the aftermath of the centre introducing a new citizenship regime.
The signatories to the letters include film personalities Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Amol Palekar, and Anurag Kashyap.