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Left to Right: Ghazanafar Abbas, Sanjay Kumar, Ravi Nitesh, Dr. Shankar Lal, Swami Agnivesh, Ram Mohan Rai, Pradeep

An 80 year old, saffron dressed monk was talking with local tribal groups in Pakur district of Jharkhand when he heard that an angry mob gathered outside to protest him. Allegedly this mob was workers of Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, associations supported by the BJP, a party which is in government at Centre and Jharkhand state. This old monk neither came in fear nor anger, instead he told that tell them to come inside and talk about disagreement. No one came. And when the monk came outside, he got attacked by this mob. Mob started beating him badly, torn his clothes, abused him with the worst and possibly tried to lynch him. This mob has made the whole environment so fearful that no one could confront them with same manner; life of this old monk was saved somehow.

We know this monk as Swami Agnivesh. In a strange, this monk who is qualified in subjects of commerce and law and has taught at famous St. Xavier college in Kolkata, had left his job to work for society. Born in Andhra Pradesh, he travelled to all over India and to many countries to meet and to raise voice for people who needed solidarity. This rebel monk started ground struggle of laboures and farmers. With the time his struggle and contribution to society has been recognized across the world through various awards conferred to him including Right to Livelihood Award (Alternative Noble Prize). He has been President of World Council of Arya Samaj for a decade and has been Chairperson of UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of slavery. His efforts resulted in the Commission of Sati (prevention) Act, 1987.

During these interventions he made in society, to break the customs , he inspired many to flow in counter currents and probably this became the reason of many protests against him. He faced attacked and abuses by those who felt that Agnivesh is making it difficult somewhere for the business that many were running on the name of superstitions, customs and religion. His rationality mixed with quotes from mythology and social reformers makes it very difficult for people who want to befooled society for their vested political and economic interests.

We visited him to know his health and to express our solidarity and support after he discharged from All India Institute of Medical Sciences. During my many meetings with him, I always found him smiling, hopeful and positive for future and this meeting was not different than earlier ones.

While he is a follower of Arya Samaj and a monk, he doesn’t only provide quotes from Vedas, Upnishads, Satyarth Prakash or Holy Quran but he associates it with the constitutional provisions, internationally recognized laws and human rights and with the ‘common sense’.

He remembers that the mob chanted ‘Jai Shree Ram’ while it attacked and abused him. He says that those who are chanting ‘Jai shree Ram’ and attacking others, beating people cannot be termed as Hindus as these people are fake Hindus who are trying to spread the Hindutva as their political agenda and making common Hindus fool on the name of Lord Rama. They use these slogans as they think that their crime will get shelter with these. He says that even Lord Rama would never allow them to attack upon me, a 80 year old monk who respect Rama, Krishna, Mohammad, Nanak, Kabir , Dayananad, Jesus everyone. He says that he has never learnt to hate with people or community or religion anywhere.

He is a reformer. In his achievements are his ground struggles for bonded laboures since decades. He says that any reformer who tried to stand against wrong has faced wreath of wrong doers. Be it Kabir or Ambedkar or even founder of Arya Samaj, Maharshi Dayanand, they all faced attacks and criticism but their ultimate contribution is some transformation in society. We have seen the time when Sati tradition was accepted in society and its reformers faced criticism of society, but now its abolition is what made our society progressive. Same is true for untouchability. On allegations that he sometimes criticize religions, he replied immediately with all courage that he never criticize spirit of religion, but he doesn’t accept the orthodox customs and propaganda. He says that he welcome everyone who disagrees with him to talk on these things but violence is not the right way. Dialogue is the solution of all disagreement. He believes that with the time, there are so many things in all religions like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity that need to be countered and society need to get rid of from these. He also says that actual work of any person who respects religions or God is to serve people who are deprived, downtrodden, marginalized and who are facing discriminatory status in society.

It seems that fundamentalists are afraid of him. It is also true that his statements and opinions were often misread, misinterpreted. He himself never claims that he is the only living truth or a belief that cannot be ignored, instead he advocates for change, within and outside. He says that he himself was an idol-worshipper and orthodox, he himself was a person who had much belief in caste system; but with the time, with education that included books on mythology, spiritual knowledge and education of law, commerce and other subjects, he transformed himself. He believe that all are born are equal and free.

For him, the most important books of present time are not books of mythology, instead these are constitutions of countries, international laws as they consider citizens of globe as equal and arrange provisions to defend their rights and to bring them on equal level through schemes and provisions.

(Ravi Nitesh was part of delegation who met with Swami Agnivesh recently. Other activists of delegation were Ram Mohan Rai, Deepak Kathuria, Dr. Shankar Lal, Sanjay Kumar, Pradeep)

(Author is founder of Mission Bhartiyam, a youth organization working for peace and communal harmony)

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