Social reformers under attack: Swami Agnivesh is the latest victim 

The recent attacks on Swami Agnivesh are not grounded in values of tolerance, they are rooted in the politics. Hindu identity is selectively used to mobilise people for political goals

Social reformers under attack: Swami Agnivesh is the latest victim 

Ram Puniyani

On August 17, 2018, during the funeral procession of the former Prime Minster of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Swami Agnivesh was assaulted outside the BJP head office, when Swami was trying to participate in the procession. The assaulters, some members of the crowd, began to heckle him and then they physically attacked him. They were raising the slogans, Bharat Mata ki jai and ‘Deshdrohi Wapas jao’. (Go back anti-National)

A month ago, in Pakur district of Jharkhand, Agnivesh was brutally assaulted, allegedly by activists of BJP’s youth wing Yuva Morcha. The attack was severe and as a matter of relief, he survived while his turban was taken away and his clothes were torn asunder. In the wake of this attack, many BJP supporters, justifying the attack circulated the video of Swamiji’s speech. In this video, he is seen criticising Prime minister Modi for his statement that there was plastic surgery in Ancient India as seen in the planting of an elephant’s head on a boy’s neck or of Kauravas being born through stem cell technology. He went on to criticise Modi for his public pujas in Nepal and Dhaka.

Attacking Amarnath yatra and idol worship, Agnivesh pointed out that the Barfani baba, the ice shivling is a natural phenomenon which gets formed due to natural processes of deposits of stalactite and stalagmite. In the same video, he points out that one of the years, when the deposits were inadequate to form the ling (the Shiva idol), ice had to be put to give it the shape of linga. Similarly, criticising the Kumbh mela, he points out that bathing in such polluted water, on contrary can lead to new diseases.

As intolerance is growing in the society, those having opinions contrary to ruling dispensation are being targeted. As the culprits are enjoying impunity, appreciation from the leaders of ruling party, they know they can get away with hate crimes of this dastardly nature.

Overall, Swami has been part of various social movements such as Bandhua Majdoor Mukti Morcha, (against bonded labor) for which has also participated in global eradication of modern form of bonded labor, under the aegis of UN. He has been associated with movements opposing female foeticide and against sati. He has been a part of the Arya Samaj organisation for long time. In recognition of his work, he has received various awards such as Right Livelihood (Alternate Nobel) in 2004, apart from Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award again in the same year. There are various issues on which one can disagree with him, like his interpretation of relating Hinduism exclusively with Vedic period. But, still what is important is his constant engagement with issues related to the downtrodden, to those related to modern forms of bonded labor, to sati, female foeticide to name a few.

A saffron-clad swami has been targeted by the followers of a Hindu nationalist brigade. This attack on him is a part of a series of attacks which began with the murder of Dabholkar, and later took the lives of Govind Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. As intolerance is growing in the society, those having opinions contrary to ruling dispensation are being targeted.

As the culprits enjoy impunity and appreciation from the leaders of the ruling party, they know they can get away with hate crimes of this dastardly nature. Imagine, a saffron-clad Swami who had come to pay his last respects to the ex-Prime Minster of India and he is heckled and insulted! These hooligans, drunk on fake nationalism and false pride in the name of religion, are encouraged by the powers that be. The real culprits are those who support them, appreciate them, those who in the first place disseminate this ideology which is sectarian and looks down their opponents or their ideas as anti-national or anti religion.

What is more surprising is that all this is being done in the name of Hinduism, which celebrates diversity to its core. We know that most of the religions have a single founder and single holy book, yet they develop sects within. Christianity has Catholics, Protestants, Born Again, Pentecostals among others. Muslims have Shia and Sunnis in the main while Sufis and Ahmadiya are also very much there. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism too have sects within them. In contrast, Hinduism has no single founder, no single Holy book, and no single pattern of clergy or rituals. It is a collation of diverse traditions such as Brahmanism, Tantra, Nath, Siddhanta, Shaiva, Vaishanav and Bhakti among others. Diversity is at the very core of Hindu religion.

While idol worship is part of some sects of Hinduism, it also encompasses animist nature worship, tri-theism, to polytheism to Nastik (atheist) tradition of Charvak as well. The concept of God also varies from the idol worshipers to those who believe in a formless God. Swami Agnivesh propounds that Vedas are the base of Hindu religion.

The central focus of Agnivesh has been social reform, and that’s probably his most important engagement with the society. Irrespective of his views and his contribution to the cause of social issues, he has the right to follow his notion of Hinduism. No one can usurp his right to follow his own form of Hinduism.

The current attacks on him by the followers of Hindu nationalism are not grounded in the values of tolerance of Hinduism, they are rooted in the politics. They selectively use the Hindu identity to mobilise people for their own political goals. There is nothing religious about it.

While hoping that the present Government will provide security to a social reformer and political activist like him, one hopes that the serial killings of rational thinkers-activists, which began with the killing of Dabholkar will soon be brought to a halt. The guilty are identified, tried and punished as per the law.

The nation should heave a sigh of relief that the two recent attacks on Swami Agnivesh and Omar Khalid, have failed. A pledge should be taken that these killers will not be able to extinguish the voices of dissent.

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