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Varavara Rao (born November 3, 1940) is a communist, activist, naxalite sympathizer, renowned poet, journalist, literary critic, and public speaker from Andhra Pradesh, India. He has been writing poetry for the last four decades. He is considered as one of the best Marxist critics in Telugu literature and taught Telugu literature to graduate and undergraduate students for about 40 years. He is known as an orator and had addressed hundreds of public gatherings. He founded Srjana (creation), a forum for modern literature in Telugu, in 1966 as quarterly and later turned it into a monthly and successfully brought it out till 1992. He was associated with many a progressive and revolutionary journal in Telugu.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Srujana
- 3 Thirugabatu Kavulu (Rebel Poets)
- 4 Virasam (Revolutionary Writer’s Association)
- 5 Poetry and literature
- 6 Life in prison
- 7 After release from jail
- 8 CPI (Maoist) emissary
- 9 Reimprisonment
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Pendyala Varavara Rao was born on 3 November 1940 in Chinna Pendyala, Warangal district into a middle class Telugu Brahmin family. He studied at Chinna Pendyala, Warangal and Hyderabad. He has been publishing his poetry since 1958. By 1960, he finished his masters in Telugu literature from Osmania University. Thus he was trained in traditional literary forms and criticism besides being himself a poet and literary critic in his own right.
After completing his M.A., Varavara Rao registered for Ph.D. to pursue research on poetry. But later he left research to join a private college at Siddipet, Medak district as a lecturer. From there he switched over to DAVP, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, New Delhi to work as a Publication Assistant. Again he left the job to join as a lecturer in another private college at Jadcherla, Mahabubnagar district. He could not feel content with all these short-spanned occupations as he was basically rooted in the soil of Warangal.He was principal to the government C.K.M. college in Warangal. He longed to be in Warangal and to work amidst the masses there.Vague humanism, ambiguous concern for the people, and illusions about Nehruite socialism marked his character of that period.
Transformation towards revolutionary ideas started in Varavara Rao's mind during his tenure in Mahabubnagar district. He thought of publishing a journal to be a forum of modern Telugu literature. He founded a group, by name ‘Saahithee Mithrulu’ (friends of literature) in Warangal and started bringing out the journal from November 1966. Srjana initially was totally devoted to modern literature without any outspoken commitment towards any particular philosophical outlook.
Thirugabatu Kavulu (Rebel Poets)
But that period was immediately followed by an age of clarity and polarization. Ambiguity was losing ground. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution on the international arena and Naxalbari on the national scene paved the path for ‘blossoming of hundred flowers’. Warangal was one of the earliest centers in Andhra Pradesh to have responded to the call of Naxalbari. By that time Varavara Rao returned to Warangal to join CKM College as a lecturer in 1968. In 1969 Warangal witnessed the sprouting of a literary group, ‘Thirugabadu Kavulu’ (Rebel Poets), who associated them with the armed struggle going on in Srikakulam then. Naturally Varavara Rao was the moving force behind this group.
Virasam (Revolutionary Writer’s Association)
At the same time, momentous changes were taking place in Telugu art and literature. A number of young writers and artists openly came out with their solidarity to the fighting masses. All the existing literary establishments were questioned. Rebellion shook the foundations of traditional, vague humanistic and romantic schools of literature. Some illustrious figures like Sri Sri and Kutumba Rao from older generation joined hands with the young blood in the cause of the people. Under the influence of the three-year old people’s armed struggle in Srikakulam, a yearlong effort in the literary field brought Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Revolutionary Writer’s Association) into existence. Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Virasam) declared that the martyred poet–revolutionary Subba Rao Panigrahi as its source of inspiration. Varavara Rao was one of the founder members of Virasam. Since its inception he has been on its executive committee.
As a spokesperson of Virasam, Varavara Rao toured whole of Andhra Pradesh and addressed several meetings. He had to convert Srjana into a monthly to enable it to carry the revolutionary message far and wide. He never relinquished writing poetry throughout this hectic period of teaching in a college, speaking at public meetings and editing a highly respected literary monthly.
Poetry and literature
Varavara Rao has published nine poetry collections of his own besides editing a number of poetry anthologies. His poetry collections are: Chali Negallu (Camp Fires, 1968), Jeevanaadi (Pulse, 1970), Ooregimpu (Procession, 1973), Swechcha (Freedom, 1978), Samudram (Ocean, 1983), Bhavishyathu Chitrapatam (Portrait of the Future, 1986), Muktakantam (Free Throat, 1990), Aa Rojulu (Those Days, 1998), and Unnadedo Unnattu (As it is, 2000). His poetry has been translated into almost all Indian languages. His poetry collections appeared in Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi and a few Bengali and Hindi literary journals brought out special numbers of his poetry and writings. Besides a number of articles on particular occasions, his thesis on ‘Telangana Liberation Struggle and Telugu Novel – A Study into Interconnection between Society and Literature’ (1983) is considered to be landmark in Marxist literary criticism in Telugu. He published three volumes of literary criticism and a volume of his editorials in Srjana. During his prison days he translated Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o’s prison diary Detained and novel Devil on the Cross into Telugu, besides writing his own prison diary Sahacharulu (1990).
Life in prison
Varavara Rao’s political and literary activity enraged the government of Andhra Pradesh to arrest him under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in October 1973. The High Court of Andhra Pradesh struck down the order and released him after a month and a half. The High Court judgment asked the government not to resort to such actions against writers unless their writings have an immediate and direct bearing in a physical action. After a few months, the government charged a conspiracy case wherein all the actions of revolutionaries were shown as the direct consequences of a poem or a speech or a writing of revolutionary writers. Prominent Virasam leaders Cherabanda Raju, KV Ramana Reddy, T Madhusudana Rao, M T Khan, Varavara Rao and M Ranganatham were implicated in the case along with 41 revolutionary activists. This conspiracy case, known as Secunderabad Conspiracy Case, was filed in May 1974 and ended in acquittal in February 1989, after 15 years of prolonged and tiresome trial. In connection with the Conspiracy Case, Varavara Rao was arrested in May 1974. He was denied bail several times and finally released on conditional bail in April 1975.
1975-1977 (Indian Emergency)
Varavara Rao was arrested again on 26 June 1975, on the eve of proclamation of Indian Emergency. During Emergency, he was a detainee under the MISA. He was one of the few prisoners whose interviews with their relatives were restricted and their mail was subjected to stringent scrutiny. Though all the prisoners were released on the day when Emergency was lifted, Varavara Rao was arrested again at the entrance of the jail and was kept behind the bars for a week more on a fresh MISA warrant. He was released only when the new Janata Party government repealed the Act itself.
Varavara Rao was in the forefront in mobilizing popular and democratic support to the widespread mass movements in northern Telangana during post-emergency days. As a consequence, he had to face mental harassment and physical assaults. He survived several attempts on his life by mercenaries of landlords as well as anti-social elements. A police official at Mandamarri, Adilabad district in April 1979, beat him on a public platform.
In 1983 elections, N T Rama Rao came to power defeating the Indian National Congress. He praised the Naxalites for their patriotism before the elections. After coming to power, he demonstrated no significant change in government policy towards the revolutionary movement. Particularly after he was elected for a second time in 1985, his government put all it’s efforts to suppress the naxalite movement in the state. Varavara Rao too was subjected to severe repression during this time. Six cases were foisted against him in 1985 alone. In July that year, along with functionaries of other people’s organizations, he undertook an all India tour to make the people aware of the repression that was going on in Andhra Pradesh. After visiting Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, New Delhi and Tamil Nadu, Varavara Rao returned to Andhra Pradesh in September to attend court cases. Dr. Ramanatham was a close friend of Varavara Rao. While killing Dr. Ramanatham, and on several other occasions, police openly declared that killing Varavara Rao was their aim. With his life at risk, Varavara Rao could not discharge his duties as Secretary of Virasam and spokesperson of revolutionary literary movement. He was not able to move freely in Andhra Pradesh. Warangal has become a forbidden place for him. Armed and unarmed ruffians and police in civil clothes attacked his house on several occasions. Persecution against his friends in the movement was also mounted. Taking into consideration all these developments, Varavara Rao chose to cancel his bail in Secunderabad Conspiracy Case. On his request, his bail was cancelled and he was sent to jail on 26 December 1985.
After Varavara Rao went to jail, his interviews were restricted and under severe surveillance. His mail, including registered newspapers, was censored for months together. He was implicated in two more cases while he was in jail. One of them was another conspiracy case by name, Ramnagar Conspiracy Case. Foisted in 1986, this case went on to break records and after 17 years of trial, Varavara Rao was acquitted in 2003. In 1986, one of his poetry anthologies Bhavishyathu Chitrapatam (Portrait of the Future) was banned by the state government. Varavara Rao was released in 1988 when he was acquitted in Secunderabad Conspiracy Case and from 1990 onwards he started living in Hyderabad.
After release from jail
After a stifling repression period between 1985-89 under the Telugu Desam Party rule, the newly elected Indian National Congress government allowed a little relaxation for a short period after December 1989. Beginning from January 1990, when Virasam held its twentieth annual conference in Hyderabad to May 1990 when Andhra Pradesh Raithu Cooli Sangham held its annual conference in Warangal, millions of people attended the meetings and expressed their unity with the movement. The media reported that 12 lakh people attended the Warangal meeting; almost double the population of that city. Varavara Rao played a very important role in all these meetings as organizer and speaker. But within a short time from this massive gathering, repression on the revolutionary movement resumed with the killing of N Prabhakar Reddy, a lawyer and leader of APCLC. Varavara Rao had to shift to relatively safer Hyderabad, where he joined as a post-doctoral research scholar studying oral traditions in literature at University of Hyderabad.
Varavara Rao, along with a number of intellectuals and people’s organizations stood in the forefront in exposing and resisting the globalization policies of Chandrababu Naidu who came to power in 1994. During Chandrababu Naidu’s government, three Central Committee members of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Peoples War were arrested in Bangalore and killed. Some private criminal gangs killed T. Purushotham and Md Azam Ali, leaders of APCLC and life-threat to Varavara Rao turned imminent.
CPI (Maoist) emissary
In 2001, the Telugu Desam government accepted a proposal to have peace negotiations with Naxalites and the then Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Peoples War announced the names of Varavara Rao and Gaddar as its emissaries to work out modalities for the proposed talks. The Naxalite party was under ban at that time and these two writers were chosen as emissaries, keeping in view their yeomen services in people’s causes for over three decades then. The government had also named two ministers as its representatives and after three sittings held at a time of unabated encounter killings, Varavara Rao and Gaddar pulled out of the talks’ process, that went on between May and July 2002.
The then opposition Congress party criticized the stand of the Telugu Desam Party with regard to the talks and made a categorical promise in its Election Manifesto 2004 to hold talks to arrive at a meaningful peace. The Congress came to power in May 2004 and initiated the talks’ process in June. This time around the then Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Peoples War named Varavara Rao, Gaddar and novelist G Kalyana Rao as its emissaries. The emissaries assumed their position on 13 July 2004 and had involved themselves in several rounds of discussions on modalities with the government including the Home Minister and the government representatives. Finally, leaders of two Naxalite parties (by then Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Janashakti also joined the talks process and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Peoples War became CPI (Maoist)) came for the talks held between 15 October and 18 October 2004. After this first round of talks, the negotiating parties had to meet for subsequent rounds but after the encounter killings of some naxalites in January 2005, the Naxalite parties withdrew from the process on 16 January. After some failed attempts to revive the process, Varavara Rao and other emissaries withdrew from their positions on 4 April 2005. The peace process ended with the imposition of ban on CPI (Maoist), Virasam and some other people’s organizations on 18 August 2005.
Within 24 hours of imposition of ban on Virasam, Varavara Rao and Kalyana Rao, were arrested on 19 August 2005 under AP Public Security Act and sent to Chanchalguda Central Prison in Hyderabad. Since his arrest, 7 new cases were charged against him. Apart from an earlier case of 1999 (pertaining to a protest meeting against the killings of three top leaders of Peoples War), and the case regarding the ban on Virasam, the remaining six cases pertain to the period of talks between the government and the Naxalites. When the government revoked the AP Public Security Act against Virasam through GO Ms No. 503 of 11.11. 2005, the cases against Varavara Rao and Kalyana Rao should have become redundant. In the normal course, Public Prosecutor should have informed the court about the redundancy of the cases. However, that order has not reached the court and Varavara Rao and Kalyana Rao had to undergo a number of adjournments of the case after the lifting of the ban. Finally, the court struck down the case on Varavara Rao under Public Security Act on 31 March 2006 and he obtained bails for all other cases by the time. He was released from jail under bail on 31 March 2006 after a period of about 7 and half months.