Swami Agnivesh: Voice of the voiceless
Swami Agnivesh was born in an orthodox Telugu family in Srikakulam. He lost his father when he was four and was brought up by his maternal uncle
Swami Agnivesh was born in an orthodox Telugu family in Srikakulam. He lost his father when he was four and was brought up by his maternal uncle. Agnivesh was a very curious child with many questions to ask: Why has this god got three heads not one? And how does he not use the pillow when he goes to bed?" "How does another God look like a lion and yet another looks like a monkey? In what language do they talk to each other? A volley of questions. But of course, he was afraid of ghosts and would go to bed only after reciting Hanuman Chalisa, in praise of Lord Hanuman the same monkey God.
His innocence stretches further that he would recite it five times on behalf of his sisters and brother in the joint family. When farm labour came home, he was told to give them food from distance. He was told that they were 'untouchables. As he had no father when he came from school he would crawl into mother's lap, but soon was told that he couldn't run to her three days in a month! He asked them is mum an 'untouchable' too? He was told that she is untouchable for three days. Agnivesh was not just curious he was critical too for he soon learnt that in matters of religion no questioning was required as elders wouldn't provide answers immediately.
When he was 17, he began paying for his education in Calcutta and later joined the Arya Samaj that opposes ritual and dogma and requires of everything that it be questioned. Soon he learnt that there are three D's in the pathway to development: 'to doubt, to debate and if necessary, to dissent'. This became Agnivesh's maxim that he took to his teaching of Law at St Xavier's College Calcutta and later into practice at the Calcutta High Court.
There was once incident Swami Agnivesh narrated to around 130 scholars from more than 30 countries in 2014. It was about James Wolfensohn's first ever visit to India as the President of World Bank. Swamiji was holding a placard on the other side of the street Swamiji recalled that interestingly, this man, Wolfensohn, instead of getting annoyed, irritated, he invited us inside his office, something that our own state and central ministers would never do that.
A few days later Swami ji was invited to present his views in Washington DC, where he unfolded his concept of globalization which he explained to them as Vasudaiva Kutumbikam, the whole humanity is a family with sharing, and caring- a paradigm that a commodifying world of market forces and globalisation is incapable of understanding due to spiritual impoverishment.
Swami Agnivesh, that day also spoke about "Power of Love". And asked everyone to yield to a transition from "Love of Power" to "Power of Love" in order to make development holistic, hopeful and humane. He exhorted the audience with a sloka: Mitrasya, Chakrasya sarvani bhuthaani samikshamehe Look at all of creation with the eye of a friend and not try to kill and take away and plunder.
After giving us a fine lecture about the power of love Swamiji went out for five-rupee lunch sitting on the floor along with the urban poor in Hyderabad, consistent and natural of his beliefs. A man that was jailed eleven times for he spoke the truth and that truth he spoke was powerful, the truth he gained from his walking by the side of the people people and in their fights for their dignity, their freedom from hunger and from their slavery.
Fifty years is a long time in a man's life. Every people's movement which a debate and dissent was required Swamiji was there. He was the voice of the voiceless and the friend to both sides in highly conflicting situations. There could never be a better interlocutor between the state and the Naxalites.
His values and principles earned the respect and admiration of several groups, state and non-state actors when it's a challenge of restoring peace. Often, he was the best choice of both parties in a conflicting situation to restore the space for dialogue to overcome the deadlock.
He symbolised the hope and resolution rooted in universal principles of humanism where there is no conflict between spirituality without religious dogma and traditional values are harmony with modern social systems of equity and justice. Swamiji is the example of the Indian model of humanism that is above contradictions of the wrong application of the principles of development based on aggrandizement and inequalities
Swamiji represented a true model of an Indian never being subjected to regional prejudices. It is difficult to find someone else who walked and practiced democracy as it ought to be. He also served for a while as a legislator and Minister in Haryana and a social activist fighting for the liberation of bonded labour. His emphasis on the importance of preserving the right to question authority that may emanate from political, patriarchal religions or social will be greatly remembered. The demise of Swamiji now is a great loss to all those discerning and thinking hearts in the country.