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Swami Agnivesh, saffron-clad social justice activist, dies at 80 of multiple organ failure

Swami Agnivesh, who tackled bonded labour and other social issues and was a leading light of the Arya Samaj, was suffering from liver cirrhosis.

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New Delhi: Renowned social activist Swami Agnivesh died at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences in New Delhi Friday evening, after a multiple-organ failure and a cardiac arrest brought on by liver cirrhosis. He was 80 years old.

“His condition deteriorated today and he went into cardiac arrest at 6:00 pm. Resuscitation was attempted but the stalwart passed away at 6:30 pm,” a statement by the ILBS noted.

Swami Agnivesh came to be known, across India and the world, for his relentless efforts against bonded labour. He was founder-chairperson of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labour Liberation Front), and was elected president of the World Council of Arya Samaj (Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha) in 2004.

He briefly dabbled in politics too, when he was elected to the Haryana assembly in 1977 and became the state education minister two years later. He stepped down from the post to protest the Haryana government’s inaction against the police who had opened fire at workers protesting bonded labour.

A saffron-clad social justice warrior

Born to a Brahmin family in Andhra Pradesh, Swami Agnivesh gave up his career as a professor of law and management in Kolkata, as well as his name, caste, religion, family and all his belongings to lead a life of activism for social justice and compassion.

Always seen clad in saffron from head to toe, he believed it to be his “uniform for socio-spiritual action, a call to battle on behalf of the oppressed.”

His official website described the colour as a symbol of “sacrifice, commitment and purity”, which he believed helped “him in his work of love, truth, compassion and justice”.

Swami Agnivesh’s fight for justice went beyond bonded labour — tackling alcoholism, female foeticide, child labour, injustice to tribals, the practice of sati (cremating a live woman on her husband’s funeral pyre) and fighting for women’s rights. He was also vocal about his desire for peace in conflict-struck areas such as Kashmir, at a time when militancy was at its peak, his website noted.

Owing to his work, he was also appointed as the “mediator to foster dialogue between the government and the Maoist leadership” by the Indian government in 2010.

Also read: Swami Agnivesh: First they came for Muslims. Now, they’re going after Hindu Arya Samajis

Sorrow at his passing

The news of his demise was followed by many politicians and other personalities expressing shock and sorrow.

“I am shocked and saddened by his passing. A man of vigour and conviction, he never looked, sounded or behaved his age! The country is diminished by his passing & I mourn with the millions whose rights he fought to uphold. Om Shanti,” Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted.

Historian Ramachandra Guha said: “Very sorry to hear of the passing of Swami Agnivesh. He was an incredibly courageous human being, a heroic (and always non-violent) fighter for the underprivileged. And he had a wonderful sense of fun. Every meeting with him was both educative and joyous.”

Kerala and Rajasthan CMs Pinarayi Vijayan and Ashok Gehlot also tweeted their condolences.


2018 mob attack

Senior advocate and social activist Prashant Bhushan also tweeted about Swami Agnivesh’s demise, alleging that his liver had got damaged in an attack by a mob in Jharkhand in 2018.

The incident he was referring to took place in Jharkhand’s Pakur, where Swami Agnivesh was participating in the tribal communities’ protest against land acquisition by the state when he was allegedly assaulted by BJP Yuva Morcha workers chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. A month later, he was attacked yet again when he was on his way to pay his respects at the funeral of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

(With inputs from PTI)

Also read: The mob that attacked me has a very distinct face — it’s a BJP-RSS face: Swami Agnivesh


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