Legal advice ‘stalls’ book of poems by P. Varavara Rao

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The publication of the English translation of a collection of Telugu poems by P. Varavara Rao, the Hyderabad activist on trial in the Elgar Parishad “terrorism” case, has been delayed due to a legal opinion unfavorable that the publisher would have received.

Rao, 81, and 15 others were arrested in 2018 and 2020 for alleged links to Maoists accused of participating in the Ambedkarite event in Pune on December 31, 2017, followed by caste clashes the next day during from which one person died.

In a statement, the editors of Varavara Rao: India’s Revolutionary Poet – the Telugu journalist and nephew of Rao N. Venugopal, and London-based author Meena Kandasamy – said they were awaiting a “second favorable legal opinion”.

Back in October, Penguin Random House India announced that the book, an anthology of poems on a wide range of topics including law enforcement and incarceration, would be released under its Vintage imprint this year.

Venugopal and Kandasamy said in their statement Tuesday evening that they “reiterate our confidence in Penguin Random House India and await a second favorable legal opinion …. We hope this book will be published in the near future.

Their statement followed an article published Tuesday on The Quint’s web portal that “Penguin Random House has blocked the publication of a collection of his (Rao’s) poems, citing his concerns about the” nature of the charges “made. against him “.

Neither Penguin Random House India nor its subsidiaries Ebury Publishing and Vintage responded to questions emailed by The Telegraph.

Elizabeth Kuruvilla, editor-in-chief of Ebury and Vintage, retweeted the tweet of Kandasamy’s statement.

Kuruvilla had been quoted by The Quint as saying the book was still on the “release schedule”.

“This is not the only book on our list whose publication has been delayed in the last pandemic year, as it undergoes the same rigorous processes that we follow for all the books we publish,” Kuruvilla reportedly said.

Venugopal told this newspaper that the publisher’s contract requires the book to be published before October of next year.

“We (initially) submitted 65 poems. Three of these poems were written after this affair (Bhima Koregaon)…. They were all published in Telugu magazines and one of them was translated into Hindi and published in Dastak (a magazine). We have dropped the three poems as a precaution to avoid any legal hassle although there is no legal prohibition against doing them. Our deadline was last December, when we submitted the work which contains 62 poems that are currently under review, ”said Venugopal.

He added: “It seems that the legal opinion of this publisher (Penguin Random House India) indicates that there might be problems with some poems…. They did not indicate what these (problems) are. What they have indicated is that some of the poems need to be deleted because of this legal opinion, but anyway we will go for a second opinion. “

Venugopal, also editor of the monthly Telugu Veekshanam, said he was made aware of the adverse legal opinion from Penguin Random House India between March and April of this year and that the legal verification process was still ongoing.

In 2010, Penguin published Captive Imagination, an English translation of Rao’s letters from solitary confinement in Secunderabad prison between 1985 and 1989.

The 62 poems in the next book include some from his collection of poems from 1979 to 1985, Bhavishyatthu Chitrapatam (Portrait of the Future). Poems about the crackdown and his time in police custody were published by Samudram Mudranalu in 1986 and banned by the government of undivided Andhra Pradesh from 1987 to 1990 while Rao was in prison in two Maoist cases. The first case was withdrawn and he was acquitted in the second.

In the Elgar case, Rao and the others were convicted under the Prevention of Illegal Activities Act (UAPA), a law used to fight terrorism. The oldest defendant, Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist from Ranchi, died four months ago pending his release on bail.

Rao, who suffers from several ailments and was hospitalized with Covid during his last incarceration, is on medical bail but his travel has been limited to Mumbai. He is due to undergo surgery for appendicitis and hernia.

Despite requests from internationally renowned human rights activists every few weeks for the past three years, the National Investigation Agency and the government of Maharashtra have consistently opposed requests for bail in the Elgar Parishad case. The forensic analysis of the devices of the accused by an American firm indicated the implantation of evidence on the computers of two of them.


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