Social activist and Arya Samaj leader Swami Agnivesh passed away Friday at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences in New Delhi. He was 80.
Agnivesh had been suffering from liver cirrhosis and was put on ventilatory support on Tuesday due to multiple organ failure.
“His condition deteriorated today and he went into cardiac arrest at 6:00 PM. Resuscitation was attempted but the stalwart passed away at 6:30 PM,” said a statement by the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences.
Born to a Brahmin couple in Andhra Pradesh, Swami Agnivesh renounced his name and caste, religion, family, and all his belongings and property to lead the life of a sannyasin.
He was widely known for his campaign against bonded labour through his foundation Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labor Liberation Front). His public work spurred him to enter active politics.
Swami Agnivesh: My ideal of social justice runs counter to the casteism of Sangh Parivar
He was elected to the Haryana Assembly in 1977 and was made education minister after two years. He, however, resigned from the post in protest against the Haryana government’s inaction against police who had opened fire at workers protesting bonded labour.
Swami Agnivesh also led several initiatives to foster peace and interfaith harmony in Kashmir at the height of militancy, his website notes. In 2010, he was tasked by the Congress government to open a dialogue with the Maoist leadership. A year later he was part of the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare. He was forced to split from the group after a video surfaced allegedly showing him speaking to a minister from the Congress government. It was around this time that Swami Agnivesh appeared on reality TV show Bigg Boss as a guest.
Swami Agnivesh, who was president of World Council of Arya Samaj till 2014, had also angered Hindu groups for his comments on Amarnath shrine in Jammu & Kashmir. Agnivesh, they alleged, insulted Lord Shiva by saying that the ice stalagmite doesn’t hold any religious significance.
In 2018, he was attacked by protesters allegedly belonging to the BJP’s youth wing in Jharkhand. Videos of the attack showed protesters asking Agnivesh to “go back” while calling him a “Pakistani agent”.
A month later, Agnivesh was assaulted on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg in New Delhi on his way to pay tribute to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.