Gurpreet Singh: Those praying for Amitabh Bachchan must not forget persecuted Indian people's poet with COVID-19

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      Ever since a Bollywood star tested positive for COVID-19, Indians have been flooding social media with messages for his speedy recovery.

      Three generations of Amitabh Bachchan's family—including son Abhishek, daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, and their eight-year-old daughter—have tested positive. This has obviously alarmed their fan following as the husband and wife too, like the family patriarch, have acted in the film industry.

      The development has been widely reported in the international media, including on CBC and Global, while his admirers are publicly praying for his well-being. 

      Though all of this is understandable, considering the stature of Bachchan clan, there is a complete silence and a lack of outrage over the inhumane treatment being meted out to an Indian people’s poet, Varavara Rao.

      The 81-year-old Rao is not only a revolutionary Telugu writer, but also a well-respected political activist.

      In spite of old age and poor health, he continued to be detained in Mumbai jail until recently.

      He was shifted to hospital only after his condition worsened. Like Bachchan, he too has tested positive for COVID-19.

      Abhishek Bachchan and his wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan have also been hospitalized due to COVID-19.
      Andrew Chin

      Rao was arrested in August 2018 and thrown into prison on trumped-up charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This came after he was branded a Maoist ideologue and accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a right-wing Hindu nationalist.

      These allegations have been strongly refuted by his relatives and supporters, who believe that all of this is being done to stifle voices of dissent.  

      After all, Rao is among several known scholars and human rights defenders who are being detained for merely standing up for the poor and marginalized, especially Adivasis (Indigenous peoples). They continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state.

      Maoist insurgents fighting a class war have been active in tribal areas, where Adivasis often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. Many Adivasis see the Maoists as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state.

      Rao’s health has worsened over the last several days. Even as the threat of COVID-19 was hovering over overcrowded Indian jails, the government remained indifferent to many petitions and protests seeking the release of all political prisoners under these extraordinary circumstances. 

      Those who are really concerned about the health of Bachchan and his privileged family must not overlook the struggle of Rao, who is being persecuted for his advocacy of the underdog.

      Unlike Bachchan, who has largely remained indifferent to the ongoing repression of religious minorities in India, people like Rao haven been putting their lives at risk for the rights of ordinary people.

      That is one reason why the tyrannical prime minister also tweeted for Bachchan.

      Actor Amitabh Bachchan has often played a hero on-screen, but in real life he's been reluctant to criticize the excesses of the Indian state.
      Bollywood Hungama

      Notably, Bachchan has been brand ambassador for the western state of Gujarat at the request of Modi, ignoring his government's complicity in a 2002 anti-Muslim massacre.

      Modi was chief minister of Gujarat back then. Thousands of Muslims were murdered by Hindu fanatics across Gujarat after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire leaving, more than 50 passengers dead.

      Modi blamed the incident on Muslims and allegedly allowed the killings of Muslims by Hindu mobs.

      Even though he's never been charged, Modi was denied a U.S. visa to travel to America because of the Gujarat massacre until he became prime minister in 2014.

      In the past, Bachchan managed to get elected as a member of Parliament with the Congress party, which claimed to be secular in 1984, despite its involvement in the Sikh Genocide.

      Innocent Sikhs were slaughtered all over India in the first week of November 1984 following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

      Bachchan remained loyal to the slain leader’s family and ran for the office riding, on an anti -Sikh wave. He had never raised his voice against such brutality in spite of being born to a Sikh mother.

      It’s time to stand up for real heroes, like Rao, rather than the fake celluloid versions.