Swami Agnivesh, Crusader Towards Labor Abuses in India, Dies at 80


Swami Agnivesh, a revered longtime campaigner towards kid labor and indentured servitude in India, died on Sept. eleven in New Delhi. He was 80.

His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by an associate, Zayauddin Jawed, who explained the induce was various organ failure.

A pacifist Hindu monk who renounced worldly possessions and relations at a youthful age, Mr. Agnivesh led a decades-extended crusade towards village moneylenders, landlords and brick kiln owners who forced landless, debt-ridden farmers into bonded labor, or indentured servitude.

In 1981 he founded the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, or the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which he headed till his death. From 1994 to 2004, he was chairman of the United Nations Voluntary Believe in Fund on Modern Varieties of Slavery.

“The nation is diminished by his passing,” Shashi Tharoor, 1 of India’s most influential opposition politicians, wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Agnivesh was a prominent champion of several social justice brings about and a trusted mediator when conflicts arose. He fought on behalf of tribal communities that had number of rights to land ownership even although they populated substantially of the country’s forests. In the 1980s, when environmentalists objected to settling bonded laborers on protected forest land, he assisted defuse the problem, doing work out a compromise whereby substantially of the forest would carry on to be preserved.

In 2011, just after Maoist rebels abducted 5 police officers, main to an 18-day hostage crisis in Chhattisgarh state, in central India, he assisted negotiate their release.

“He had a steely courage, and huge compassion,” explained Ramachandra Guha, a pre-eminent Indian historian who knew Mr. Agnivesh for above 3 decades.

In current many years, as Hindu nationalism continued to rise in India, Mr. Agnivesh was 1 of its largest critics, saying the core values on which the republic was founded have been underneath strain. He wrote final yr, “The democratic room — exactly where these values are meant to prevail — is communalized, polarized and poisoned with detest.”

John Dayal, a fellow human-rights activist, explained of Mr. Agnivesh: “His principal challenge was the fundamentalist Hindu.”

“The politicalizing of Hinduism and the hijacking of sacred symbolisms for political gains — he abhorred it all,” Mr. Dayal explained.

Mr. Guha explained he had admired Mr. Agnivesh’s “willingness to place his lifestyle on the line in defense of the inclusive and plural faith he himself practiced.”

Mr. Agnivesh was beaten several occasions in 1 incident a mob of Hindu nationalists stripped, kicked and punched him, accusing him of inciting tribal groups to battle the government. He was convinced, he explained later on, that they had meant to destroy him.

Swami Agnivesh was born Vepa Shyam Rao on Sep. 21, 1939, into an orthodox Hindu Brahmin household in the Srikakulam district of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

His father, Vepa Laxmi Narsinham, a farmer, died when Mr. Agnivesh was four many years outdated. His mom, Sita Devi, a homemaker, died a yr later on. Following he misplaced his dad and mom, he was brought up by his maternal grandfather. He left no instant survivors.

Mr. Agnivesh studied law and commerce at the University of Calcutta and, just after graduating, grew to become a professor of management research at St. Xavier’s University in the Indian state of West Bengal.

He briefly practiced law, but quickly left to function in the northern states of Haryana and Punjab, the two of them notorious for bonded labor. For his function towards kid labor there he was awarded the Correct Livelihood Award for humanitarian function in 2004, offered by a Swedish-based mostly basis.

Mr. Agnivesh invested 14 months in jail just after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a nationwide emergency in 1975, jailing political opponents and activists.

He fought towards Mrs. Gandhi’s Indian Nationwide Congress get together, was elected to the state Legislative Assembly in Haryana and was named a cabinet minister in Haryana. But he served just 4 months, pushed out just after he protested towards his very own government, demanding an inquiry into the killing of ten staff in an industrial township in a clash with police.

That episode led him to dedicate his lifestyle to fighting bonded labor.


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