Skip to main content

A Swami who fought for Haryana bonded workers, Dalit entry in Nathadwara temple

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

The death of Swami Agnivesh is a great loss to the civil society movement in India, of which he was an active member all through his life. Those of us who have been frequenting various protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi knew him well how he would encourage youngsters and join their protests at any available time.
Agnivesh was basically a political person, though he continued to wear saffron robes. But that was his personal faith. He was emphatic on the issues of social justice, secularism and multiculturalism. He fought for bonded labourers and campaigned against sati. He fought for the entry of Dalits in the famous Nathadwara temple in Rajasthan.
Several years back Agnivesh was attacked by goons in Jharkhand, but nothing happened to the attackers, as the miscreants had the full support of BJP. The government did not bother to investigate the matter. None of us know where the matter stands is today. The attack was justified for quite some time. Agnivesh was often confronted by some sections at different spots. The reason was, what he spoke from his heart hurt powerful social and political interests.
He was an Arya Samajist, yet he was ostracised by most of them, as they found his views too radical. His strong ideological perceptions became a roadblock for his political career. In 1977 he was made education minister in Haryana, but on the bonded labour issue, he listened to his conscience and resigned.
In fact, Agnivesh became the conscience keeper of civil society, and though many questioned his ideological stance in the fight against caste discrimination and for minorities rights, he remained immensely popular because he he spoke he touched their heart.
I cannot claim to know him much, though I not only shared various platforms with him but also participated in dharnas and protests that were organised by him and friends. There wasn’t any when his presence was required but he did not come or join in. Many a time, he became one even with very few participants in protests against violence unleashed by state forces.
Agnivesh recognised: We are a very complex society, which does not have one particular way to resolve things. We may have diverse viewpoints but if we really consider the Constitution as the benchmark, we can build a united and strong India.
Agnivesh was not a revolutionary. He attempted to change things without changing the status quo. He might have gained during the Nathadwara temple movement. Yet, the fact is, things have not changed for Dalits, who know: Mere temple entry movements do not help. Indeed his was an attempt to bring Dalits into the Vedanta fold -- much like what Gandhiji, who attempted and failed.
Swami Agnivesh: Attacked in Jharkhand in 2018
Indeed, removal of untouchability and annihilation of castes are not possible through glorification of shastras. Criticizing or blaming the powers-that-be for it wouldn’t also help. Removal of untouchability or annihilation of castes cannot be achieved without creating an inequitable society. For that we would need to destroy the current caste monopolies on our natural resources and power structure. May who fight against it only speak in a very patronising way, hence fail.
Similarly, the issue of secularism in India should not mean uttering 'Bismillahurahmaan o Rahim’ but understanding broader issues of hierarchies among minorities, and not treating them as a homogenised entity. At a meeting with the Muslim community, Agnivesh asked Muslims to campaign against alcoholism, which had nothing to do with the issues confronting the community -- their continuous marginalisation, political, economic and social.
A political movement shaped up following the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, which saw participation of all sections of society, particularly women, and participants included people from all faiths. Such movements need time to emerge as a political force. Agnivesh had a pragmatic role to play by making himself felt at such movements.
In one his worst decisions, initially Agnivesh supported Anna Hazare's movement, which had sought to unite all the regressive forces. When he tried withdrawing from the movement, Anna's right wing friends defamed him for being a Congress agent. Today, we face bigger threat to not only our democracy but civilisation. Agnivesh understood this soon and began focussing on rebuilding and uniting all the progressive democratic secular forces.
Indeed, Agnivesh has left a rich legacy. He will continue to inspire people’s movements. One may disagree with his views, yet one cannot really ignore the issues he raised. He stood for people's rights, whether it was Bastar adivasis or Haryana Dalits.
---
*Human rights defender

Comments

TRENDING

Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk,  Wole Soyinka Counterview Desk  As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Top ex-Gujarat babu tells Modi: Not yoga but solar system is our biggest source of energy

By Rajiv Shah  An email alert to Counterview from a top ex-IAS bureaucrat, termed as Gujarat’s turnaround man for revamping loss-making state public sector undertakings (PSUs), has sought to take a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark on the Yoga day – that the ancient Indian exercise provides an “infinite solutions” within ourselves, offering “the biggest source of energy in the universe.”

Hunger, lack of food security behind India's 'slip' in UN's sustainable development rank

By Dr Gian Singh*  According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India's ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries -- Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries -- Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Collapse of healthcare system? Why 90% of Covid patients treated at home survived

By Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* Well known Hindustani classical singer Padma Vibhu shan Channulal Mishra, chosen as one of the proposers of Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha elections, lost his wife and elder daughter to Covid in private hospitals in Varanasi. Younger daughter has accused Medwin Hospital of charging Rs 1.5 lakh for treatement of her sister and not being able to explain the cause of death. Pandit Channulal Mishra has asked for a probe into his daughter’s death from the Chief Minister. The family has also asked for the CCTV footage of the ward where deceased daughter was admitted for a week.

Rooted in mistrust? Covid-19’s march into rural India is a very different ball game

By Sudhir Katiyar* As the Covid-19 virus penetrates rural India, the rural communities are responding very differently from their urban counterparts who rushed to the hospitals. The rural communities are avoiding the public health facilities and any mention of the disease. The note argues that this supposedly irrational response is based on a deep-seated mistrust of the state by the rural communities. It can not be resolved with routine Information, Education and Communication (IEC) measures suggested in the Government of India SOP for tackling Covid-19 in rural areas.

Courageous, in-depth attempt to confirm common spiritual values of Christ, Buddha

By RB Sreekumar, IPS*  All religions, both theistic and atheistic designed conceptual and practical architecture, for holistic and comprehensive elevation and enlightenment of humanity. PK Vijayan, in his novel “Nirvana of Jesus Christ” (Notion Press, 2020) through creative imagination portrayed personality evolution of the two progenitors of God-centric and sagaciously logical major religions – Jesus Christ of Christianity and Gautama Buddha of Buddhism.

Why hasn't Govt of India responded to US critique of freedom of religion under Modi?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* About two weeks ago, on May 12, 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken released in Washington the ‘2020 International Religious Freedom Report.’ This official annual report of the US Government details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes US actions to support religious freedom worldwide. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report highlights the fact that ‘religious freedom is both a core American value and a universal human right’.

Covid fear? Cremation rituals gone upside down, Dalits asked to do Brahminical rituals

By Abhay Jain, Sandeep Pandey*  As Covid consumes human life in a very conspicuous way we are confronted with additional problem of disposing of human corpses. Cremation grounds are lit with continuous pyres, graveyards are running out of land and now Ganga has become a mass grave potentially polluting its water.