The death of Swami Agnivesh is a great loss to civil society movements in India which he was an active member all through his life. Those of us who have been frequented with various protests at the Jantar Mantar knew him well how he would encourage youngsters and join their protests at any available time.
Swami Aginvesh was basically a political person though he continued to wear saffron robe and that was his personal faith. However, he was emphatic on the issues of social justice, secularism and multiculturalism. He fought against many things particularly bonded labours as well as also campaigned against the Sati. He fought for the entry of the Dalits in the famous Nathdwara temple in Rajasthan.
Several years back Swami ji was attacked by goons in Jharkhand but nothing happened as those attacked him had full support of the BJP that time and government did not bother to investigate the matter. None of us know where is the matter. Rather, the attack was justified for his views. Swami Agnivesh was often in confronting position as he spoke from his heart and taking a right position which hurt those in power whether social or political.
He was an Arya Samaji but unfortunately isolated and virtually ostracised by most of them as they found his views too radical. His ideological perceptions actually came as a road block for his political career when at the peak of it in 1977 he was made Education Minister of Haryana State but on the issue of Bonded Labour, he listen to the voice of his conscience and resigned.
Swami Agnivesh actually became conscious keeper of civil society and though many had questioned his ideological strength in fighting against caste discrimination and for the rights of minorities among whom he was immensely popular because he knew what the audiences wanted to hear.
I can not claim to know him very personally though I had not only shared various platforms with him but also participated in Dharanas and protests that were organised by him and other friends.
The fact is that we are a complex society, a very complicated one and it does not have one particular way to resolve things. We may have diverse view points but if we really consider Constitution as the benchmark for all of us, then we can build a united and strong India. Swami ji’s many of the ‘revolutionary’ things were never revolutionary but attempt to bring ‘change’ without changing the status quo. That is why, he might have gained through Nathdwara Temple movement but things never changed and Dalits have realised that Temple entry movements never bring anything for them, it only create a ‘new’ leader who want to bring them to the ‘Vedanta’ very much like what Gandhi attempted and failed.
The question of untouchability and annihilation of castes are not possible through glorification of Shastras and just criticizing a smaller part of it or blaming the powers of today for it. We all have to bear the blame because annihilation of castes and removal of untouchability can not be done without creating an inequitable society and for that we will have to destroy the current caste monopolies on our natural resources and in our power structure. Most of those fight against it only speak up in a very patronising way therefore failing it.
Similarly, the issue of secularism in India and it can not be merely uttering a few words of ‘Bismillahurahmaan O Rahim” but understanding the broader issues of the hierarchies among the minorities and not treating them as a homogenised entity. At a meeting of Muslim community, Swami ji asked Muslims to campaign against ‘alcoholism’, much against the agenda which were related to issues of the community and continuous marginalisation of the community politically. Today, there is a big political movement among the communities and anti CAA protest saw participation of all sections of society particularly women as well as people of other faiths as well as those who dont have any.
Obviously, all this will take time till forces emerge from these sections and spread their outreach. Even when we build up an alliance of all the marginalised, there can not be a space for hatred against any one. We as citizen of India need to stand with all sections of society whose rights have been violated or are threatened. I think, Swami Agnivesh remain a very pragmatic person who made himself available to all such forces bringing India together. He stood for the rights of the dalits and marginalised apart from his deep faith in Minority Rights.
Swami Agnivesh has left a rich legacy. He will continue to inspire people in the movements for his candid views. One may disagree with his view points but could not really ignore the issues raised by him. There is no doubt that he stood for people’s right whether for the Adivasis of Bastar or of the Dalits in Harayana who were bonded and that need to be acknowledged.
Our Sincere tribute to Swami Agnivesh. He presence will definitely be missed in social movements and secular social justice circles in the coming days.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity