Penguin Random House, one of the largest English-language publishers, have stalled the publishing of 81-year-old incarcerated Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao‘s collection of poems citing the “nature of charges” against him.
In a report by The Quint, the book titled Varavara Rao: The Revolutionary Poet with 65 poems was initially scheduled to be published between June and July 2021. Penguin decided to stall the publishing the book after the ongoing court case against Rao.
In January 2018, violence broke out during an annual celebration at Bhima Koregaon, a panchayat village in Maharashtra, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
Rao and 15 other activists and scholars, who backed the event, were accused of having Maoist links and arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. They have been awaiting trial for the last three years.
Rao was first arrested in August 2018, later kept under house arrest and was again arrested in November of the same year.
After testing positive for Covid-19 in July 2020, the poet was admitted to the State-run JJ Hospital and since then, his health had deteriorated rapidly. He has been suffering from dementia as well. On grounds of medical concern, his wife had filed a bail petition at the Bombay High Court and he was granted interim bail of six months in March. After this, he was supposed to either surrender or apply for an extension. His bail has been twice extended. Raoneed not surrender until November 18.
Since it is still unclear when the trial in the case would commence, Penguin Random House legal team’s recommendation suggested that Rao’s book should be stalled indefinitely, The Quint reported. The report also stated that prior to delaying the publication, the publishing house began selecting poems from the collection which were “less controversial”.
From a bulk of 100 poems, Penguin had decided to publish 65 of them. Three of the poems were written after Rao’s arrest. According the report, the publishing house first dropped the poems that Rao had written from the Yerwada Central Prison where he was initially kept.
Penguin’s commissioning editor Elizabeth Kuruvilla said to The Quint that “Varavara Rao’s book is very much in our publication schedule. It is not the only book in our list whose publication has been delayed in the past pandemic year, as it is undergoing the same rigorous processes we follow for all the books we publish.”
Recently in May, acclaimed Indian authors Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra slammed Penguin Random House India after it announced the reissuing and publishing of a “new and enhanced” edition of Exam Warriors written by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even “as smoke from mass funeral pyres rose across India” referring to the thousand of death during the second wave of Covid-19 in the country at the time.