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Born (1939-09-21) 21 September 1939 (age 78)
Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, India
Nationality Indian
Occupation Social worker, scholar, politician

Agnivesh full name is Swami Agnivesh; born 21 September 1939) is an Indian politician and a former Member of Legislative Assembly from the Indian state of Haryana, an Arya Samaj scholar, and a social activist. He is best known for his work against bonded labour through the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which he founded in 1981. Agnivesh became president (2004-2014) of the World Council of Arya Samaj, which is the highest international body of the Arya Samaj movement originally established by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1875,[1] and served as the chairperson of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery from 1994 to 2004.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Agnivesh was born Vepa Shyam Rao on 21 September 1939 in an orthodox Hindu family of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. He lost his father at the age of four. He was brought up by his maternal grandfather who was the Diwan of a princely state called Shakti, now in Chhattisgarh. He gained degrees in Law and Commerce, became a lecturer in management at the reputed St Xavier's College in Kolkata and for a while practiced law as a junior to Sabyasachi Mukherji who later would become Chief Justice of India.[4]


In 1970, Agnivesh founded Arya Sabha, a political party based on Arya Samaj principles as he himself formulated in his 1974 book, Vaidik Samajvad.[5]

Agnivesh became a member of the Legislative Assembly of Haryana in 1977, and served as a cabinet Minister for Education in 1979 .[6] In 1981, while still a minister, he founded the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which continues to raise issues surrounding bonded labour in India, especially in the quarries in and around Delhi; he remains the chairperson of the organisation.[6][7] After leaving the Ministry, he was arrested twice, spending a total of 14 months in jail on charges of subversion and murder, of which he was later acquitted.[6][8]

In March 2011, Maoist forces killed three members of the Chhattisgarh security and police forces; subsequently, the security forces allegedly attacked and burned an alleged Maoist village. When Swami Agnivesh and his organisation attempted to bring relief aid to families in the affected village, they were met by a large group of demonstrators who attacked their cars with stones, claiming that the Maoists were responsible for the deaths of many security force personnel over the last year.[9] Swami Agnivesh, winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award), 2004, is a cyclonic Swami. At the young age of 28, he abandoned a promising career as a professor of law and management in Calcutta for a life of activism. Born into a Brahmin - upper caste - South Indian family, he shed his name, caste, religion, family, and all his belongings and property to adopt the life of a 'Swami' or renunciate, and began his life's crusade for social justice and compassion. Seventy five-year-old Swami Agnivesh is easily the most distinguished leader of the Arya Samaj. He was elected as the President of the World Council of Arya Samaj (Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha) in 2004. In 1994, he was appointed the Chairperson of the UN Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. He is better known across the globe in general and India in particular for his campaigns against bonded labor, and is founder-Chairperson of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labor Liberation Front). For over four decades Swami Agnivesh has campaigned for the rights and dignity of 'bonded labour' or inter-generational slaves, and child labour, and restored their freedom through path-breaking new legislation. Swami Agnivesh's campaigns have led him to fight alcoholism, female foeticide, bonded labor, child labor, injustice to Tribals and Adivasis, as well as struggle for the emancipation of women and even the violence against animals. His current 'mission' includes fighting the consumer culture and the Western model of development in India, opposing Western cultural imperialism, and battling casteism, obscurantism and communalism. He established the Movement for the Freedom of Bonded Labour (Bandhua Mukti Morcha). He has advocated relentlessly for women's rights, taking on the most controversial issues such as female foeticide, plight of child widows, practice of sati and dowry deaths. As an environmental activist, he draws on Gandhian wisdom to advocate simplicity and sustainability and economic rights, and to deplore the economics of greed that accompanies globalization. While Swami Agnivesh's chief preoccupation is social justice and rights, he has also championed the search for peace in violent conflicts. He has led numerous initiatives to foster peace and interfaith harmony in Kashmir during the worst periods of violence. He partook in a peace march to Palestine 2012. His particular concern at present is the Maoist conflict that is spreading across large swathes of central India. In 2010 Swami Agnivesh was appointed by the Government of India as the mediator to foster dialogue between the government and the Maoist leadership. He is at present deeply concerned with the plight of the aboriginal Indians called Adivasis dwelling in this area for millennia, who are facing the brunt of this conflict. Swami Agnivesh has also spearheaded the interfaith and inter-religious movement nationally and globally. He has steered it towards genuine responsible engagement in overturning many of the social scourges that religions inadvertently or deliberately support. The Sarva Dharma Sansad or All Faiths Parliament he established in India in 2007 is the first interfaith movement that includes both women and men leaders. Swami Agnivesh also hosted a weekly television debate on parliamentary TV called 'Vichar Manthan' or Thought Forum where eminent experts addressed burning social and political issues amongst a live audience of youth from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Swami Agnivesh is a man of action. He preaches but preaches only what he practices. His dedication to work with the oppressed and passion for social justice are as old as his political career which goes back many years to his entry into the Haryana Assembly in 1977. His activism, appearance and understanding leaves a lot of us astonished and at the same time provokes us to strive hard for social amelioration while generating love and respect among the masses. Swami Agnivesh participates in politics as an outworking of his spirituality and he bridges politics and religion with the plank of social justice.

Swami Agnivesh took part in the 2011 anti-corruption protests in India in August of that year. He would later break away from the main group of protesters, claiming that certain protesters had humiliated and conspired against him for political reasons. A video purporting to show Swami Agnivesh speaking to one "Kapil" (ostensibly Kapil Sibal, who was then a minister), suggesting that the government should deal more firmly with "adamant" protesters, was circulated in the Indian media and via the internet. Swami Agnivesh at first claimed another "Kapil" was being referred to in the footage but would later assert that the video itself was doctored.[10][11]

Social activism[edit]

2009 interview of Agnivesh in Goa. (Courtesy: Frederick Noronha)

Swami Agnivesh testified before the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.[12] Later, he created a new task for emancipation of womanhood, which was a helpful factor in the Commission of Sati (prevention) Act of 1987.

In 2005, Agnivesh was part of a two-week campaign against female foeticide that travelled across India.[13]

Agnivesh also argued at a conference on economic development and religion sponsored by the World Bank that people should be allowed full freedom of movement across borders through the elimination of all passports and immigration laws.[14]

In 1968, Agnivesh went to Haryana to join the Arya Samaj and on 25 March 1970, Agnivesh took the sanyas vows.[3] He was expelled from the organisation in August 2008, after 17 of the 19 Arya Samaj Pratinidhi Sabhas in India expressed opposition to him.[15]

In 2008, he addressed a large gathering at the Anti-Terrorism Global Peace Conference, at Ramlila Grounds, organised by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and several Islamic organisations, where he stated, "It is wrong to attribute the wrongdoings of a few individuals to the whole community." He also supported the demand by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind that banned the singing of Vande Mataram by Muslim citizens of India. "I would not mince words to say that the United States is the terrorist number one. To defame the Koran and Islam is the worst form of terrorism. Islam stands for peace and brotherhood and there cannot be a bigger lie than saying that Muslims are terrorists." [16]

Ahmed deedat invited him for debate on ISLAM AND HINDUISM, eventually he did not attend the debate due to unknown reason. Ahmed deedat lecture available on youtube.[17]

Agnivesh is also a proponent of interfaith dialogue and is a member of the Board of World Leaders for the Elijah Interfaith Institute.[18] He is also a board member of the KAICIID Dialogue Centre established in Vienna in 2012 by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, together with the governments of Austria and Spain.[19] In 2015, he opposed Government's plan of separate settlement for Kashmiri Pandits as part of their rehabilitation in the valley.[20]

Criticism from Hindu groups[edit]

Agnivesh has been severely criticised by some Hindu groups for statements they view as anti-Hindu. In 2005, Agnivesh stated that the Puri Jagannath Temple should be opened to non-Hindus; this led to the priests of the temple condemning his remarks as "purely anti-Hindu in nature" and burning his effigy.[21] In May 2011, hundreds of Hindu priests protested against Agnivesh's claim that ice stalagmite that they believe resembles Lord Shiva is just a piece of ice; during the protest the priests burnt his effigy.[22] According to the Kashmir Observer, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu nationalist political party, offered a 2 million bounty for killing Agnivesh, for negative statements he made about Kashmir and Baba Amarnath.[23] On 8 November 2011, the Supreme Court condemned Agnivesh for hurting the sentiments of Hindu People by commenting on the Amarnath Pilgrimage. The apex court bench of Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice C.K. Prasad told Agnivesh that he should weigh his words "many a time before uttering them lest it hurts the sentiments of the people".[24]

Bigg Boss Participation[edit]

Agnivesh spent three days inside the Bigg Boss house as a houseguest, from 8 to 11 November 2011[25][26]



  • Vaidik SaamajvadVedic Socialism (Hindi), 1974.
  • Religion Revolution and Marxism (Hindi and English)
  • Harvest of Hate: Gujarat Under Siege, with Valson Thampu. Rupa & Co,India. 2002. ISBN 81-7167-858-0.
  • Religion, Spirituality and Social Action New Agenda for Humanity: New Agenda for Humanity, Hope India Publications, 2003. ISBN 81-7871-000-5.
  • Hinduism in the New Age, Hope India Publications, 2005. ISBN 81-7871-047-1.


  • Rajdharma (fortnightly) – Chief Editor (1968–1978)
  • Kranti Dharmi (monthly) – Chief Editor (1989–1991)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ About Agnivesh Archived 26 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Annual Report 2002" (PDF). UNHCR. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Agnivesh – Profile Holy People of the World: A Cross-cultural Encyclopedia, by Phyllis G. Jestice, ABC-CLIO, 2004. ISBN 1-57607-355-6. Page 25
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Swami Agnivesh (India), Joint Honorary Award with Asghar Ali Engineer (2004)- Profile Right Livelihood Award Official website.
  6. ^ a b c Swami Agnivesh – Profile in New Slavery: A Reference Handbook, by Kevin Bales, ABC-CLIO, 2004. ISBN 1-85109-815-1.Page 71-72.
  7. ^ Children in Debt Bondage Children Enslaved, by Roger Sawyer. Published by Taylor & Francis, 1988. ISBN 0-415-00273-7. Page 55-57.
  8. ^ "The Swami Agnivesh". Late Night Live. Radio National, part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 23 January 2002. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  9. ^ John, Joseph (27 March 2011). "Dantewada mob attacks Agnivesh; SSP, DM shifted". India Express. Archived from the original on 28 December 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  10. ^ "Team Anna conspired against me: Agnivesh". PTI. 2 September 2011. 
  11. ^ Banerji, Annie (8 November 2011). "Swami Agnivesh turns to Bigg Boss in publicity quest". Reuters. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  12. ^ The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women's Rights and Feminism in India, 1800–1990, by Radha Kumar, Kali for Women Organization, Published by Zubaan, 1993. ISBN 81-85107-76-9. Page 180.
  13. ^ Pandey, Geeta (12 November 2005). "Religions target female foeticide". BBC. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  14. ^ Malhotra, Rajiv (2001). "Language Hegemony and the Construction of Identity". Infinity Foundation. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  15. ^ Madhya Bharat Arya Pratinidhi Sabha takes a strong stand on Swami Agnivesh The Daily Pioneer – 26 August 2008
  16. ^ "Jamat fatwa against terrorism". The Hindu. 1 June 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ The Elijah Interfaith Institute – Hindu Members of the Board of World Religious Leaders
  19. ^ Governance | KAICIID
  20. ^ "Arya Samaj Leader Agnivesh opposes Separate Settlement for Kashmiri Pundits". 18 April 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  21. ^ Agnivesh Kicks off Storm at Puri Vaisnava News – December 2007
  22. ^ "Hindu priests protest against Swami Agnivesh's statement over Amarnath shrine". DailyIndia. Archived from the original on 23 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-24. 
  23. ^ "Hindu Group Puts Bounty on Agnivesh's Head". The Kashmir Observer. 23 May 2011. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  24. ^ "Swami Agnivesh should weigh his words: Supreme Court". The Times of India. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  25. ^ "I'm not an entertainment material: Swami Agnivesh". Times of India. 8 November 2011. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ Swami Agnivesh – Biography
  28. ^ `Alternative Nobel' for Asghar Ali Engineer, Swami Agnivesh Business Line, 21 September 2004.
  29. ^ St. Thomas award for Agnivesh , The Tribune, Chandigarh, 27 June 2006

External links[edit]