agnivesh

Agnivesh (or Swami Agnivesh; born 21 September 1939) is an Indian politician and a former Member of Legislative Assembly from the Indian state of Haryana, an Arya Samaj scholar, and a social activist. He is best known for his work against bonded labour through the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which he founded in 1981. Agnivesh became president (2004-2014) of the World Council of Arya Samaj, which is the highest international body of the Arya Samaj movement originally established by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1875, and served as the chairperson of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery from 1994 to 2004.

Swami Agnivesh was born Vepa Shyam Rao on 21 September 1939 in an orthodox Hindu family of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. He lost his father at the age of four. He was brought up by his maternal grandfather who was the Diwan of a princely state called Shakti, now in Chhattisgarh. He gained degrees in Law and Commerce, became a lecturer in management at the reputed St Xavier’s College in Kolkata and for a while practiced law as a junior to Sabyasachi Mukherji for a while who later would become Chief Justice of India.

In 1970, Agnivesh founded Arya Sabha, a political party based on Arya Samaj principles as he himself formulated in his 1974 book, Vaidik Samajvad.

Agnivesh became a member of the Legislative Assembly of Haryana in 1977, and served as a cabinet Minister for Education in 1979 . In 1981, while still a minister, he founded the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which continues to raise issues surrounding bonded labour in India, especially in the quarries in and around Delhi; he remains the chairperson of the organisation. After leaving the Ministry, he was arrested twice, spending a total of 14 months in jail on charges of subversion and murder, of which he was later acquitted.

In March 2011, Maoist forces killed three members of the Chhattisgarh security and police forces; subsequently, the security forces allegedly attacked and burned an alleged Maoist village. When Swami Agnivesh and his organisation attempted to bring relief aid to families in the affected village, they were met by a large group of demonstrators who attacked their cars with stones, claiming that the Maoists were responsible for the deaths of many security force personnel over the last year.

Swami Agnivesh took part in the 2011 anti-corruption protests in India in August of that year. He would later break away from the main group of protesters, claiming that certain protesters had humiliated and conspired against him for political reasons. A video purporting to show Swami Agnivesh speaking to one “Kapil” (ostensibly Kapil Sibal, who was then a minister), suggesting that the government should deal more firmly with “adamant” protesters, was circulated in the Indian media and via the internet. Swami Agnivesh at first claimed another “Kapil” was being referred to in the footage but would later assert that the video itself was doctored.

Agnivesh has been severely criticised by some Hindu groups for statements they view as anti-Hindu. In 2005, Agnivesh stated that the Puri Jagannath Temple should be opened to non-Hindus; this led to the priests of the temple condemning his remarks as “purely anti-Hindu in nature” and burning his effigy. In May 2011, hundreds of Hindu priests protested against Agnivesh’s claim that ice stalagmite that they believe resembles Lord Shiva is just a piece of ice; during the protest the priests burnt his effigy. According to the Kashmir Observer, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu nationalist political party, offered a 2 million bounty for killing Agnivesh, for negative statements he made about Kashmir and Baba Amarnath. On 8 November 2011, the Supreme Court condemned Agnivesh for hurting the sentiments of Hindu People by commenting on Amarnath Pilgrimage. The apex court bench of Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice C.K. Prasad told Agnivesh that he should weigh his words “many a time before uttering them lest it hurts the sentiments of the people”.

Agnivesh spent three days inside the Bigg Boss house as a houseguest, from 8 to 11 November 2011.