Pratap Bhanu Mehta: The loneliness of Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde, Sudha Bharadwaj tells a disquieting tale

Anand Teltumbde, one of India’s important and courageous thinkers, just turned 70 in prison. He, along with Sudha Bharadwaj and others, is being held in the Bhima Koregaon case. They are being repeatedly denied bail. Varavara Rao, poet and Maoist intellectual, contracted COVID and has been subject to degrading and humiliating conditions at the age of 80. The overwhelming power that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act gives to the state, the sheer impunity with which government can treat this group of accused, the Kafkaesque role of the judiciary in denying bail and making procedural safeguards ineffective, and the deafening political silence on their detention, all warrant deeper reflection.

The accused in the Bhima Koregaon case are not the first to be victimised in this way; and they will not be the last. The UAPA is being used to target protest from Assam to Delhi. Anand Teltumbde’s work, particularly “Republic of Caste”, presciently forecast his own condition. He, like the others, has drawn support from the usual petition-writing crowd of intellectuals. But his case provides a disturbing window on the political loneliness of a genuine intellectual in Indian conditions.

Here is a well-known Dalit intellectual being put in prison and yet no serious political protest, even from Dalit politicians. Teltumbde had, in another context written, “When Sudhir Dhawale, a Dalit activist, was arrested in 2011 on the trumped up charge of being a Naxalite and incarcerated for nearly four years, there was hardly any protest from the community.” This phenomenon of figures like Teltumbde not drawing broader political support requires some reflection. Teltumbde himself, in part, attributed this to divisions amongst Dalits, and their greater faith in the state. But his work points towards a subtler reason....

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