Champion of human rights, secularism, Swami Agnivesh, passes away at 81

The powerhouse behind Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labour Liberation Front), Swami Agnivesh leaves a legacy of activism

Swami Agniwesh

The man who embodied the true meaning of saffron robes, as a symbol of service to the marginalised passed away in Delhi on September 11 at 6.55 pm. On September 21, he would have completed 81 years of age. He succumbed to multiple organ failure, and had been under critical care at Delhi’s Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS), as he had been diagnosed with liver cirrhosis. According to his associates a liver transplant had been planned earlier, but his health took a turn for the worse last week and he was put on ventilator support.

Swamiji’s ever smiling visage is how the thousands of labourers he had helped and become the voice of, will remember him. As will all those who ever met him, including journalists who always saw him calm and composed, and armed with facts in answer to the most ignorant questions. He was no typical ‘baba’, he was Swamiji, an activist who spoke his mind, and faced all kinds of attacks.

In fact, as noted in a recent report in the National Herald, he was often called the ‘Secular Swami’ by both his friends and his critics. The social activist and the face of Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labour Liberation Front) Swami Agnivesh has been in critical care for the past few days, with his closest aides, keeping vigil outside the hospital, and praying for his recovery. The news report quotes his friend and general secretary, Rajasthan PUCL, Kavita Shrivastav stating that “his latest concern was the SC order on the demolitions of 48000 houses in Delhi.”

She also reminded everyone that the “erstwhile Jharkhand Government did nothing regarding prosecuting the accused who attacked Swamiji leading to grievous injuries. They did not even apply section 307 IPC, a section that defines the crimes as attempt to murder. They made it a simple Section 323 IPC case.”

Swami Agnivesh’s friends have earlier said that his health had begun to slide after that grievous attack. He had been opposing the “anti-Muslim regime” was beaten up by the right wing affiliated goons at Pankur, Jharkhand in 2017 recalled the NH report. The images of Swamiji’s torn clothes and dazed face after he an unarmed saffron clad man was attacked had gone viral, even in those days. He was then on his way to Litipara to participate in an event organised by the Pahariya tribal community when he was brutally attacked.

Activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad, a close friend and associate of his, recalled, “Swamiji, Agniveshji a true ascetic wth Values of Truth, Non Discrimination Passed left us 6.55 p.m. todayBelieving in Non Violence, Human Rights & Dialogue, above all Constitutional Values he ws violently attacked, & brutally by guess who?”


Swami Agnivesh, winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award), 2004, is a “cyclonic Swami”, states the bio data on  He was just 28, when he quit his job as a professor of law and management in Calcutta and became an activist. Born into a Brahmin famili, in Andhra Pradesh, he shed his name, caste, religion, family, and became an Arya Samaj sanyasi, ascetic. He eventually settled in Haryana and founded a political party, Arya Sabha in 1970. He was elected to the Haryana assembly, in 1977.

Even after his political life, Swami Agnivesh remained the most celebrated leader of the Arya Samaj in recent times. He is known globally for his active campaigns against bonded labour, and was founder-Chairperson of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labor Liberation Front). He was elected as the President of the World Council of Arya Samaj (Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha) in 2004.

Always photographed clad in saffron including his wrap around headgear, or pagri he would say, “saffron, is my uniform for socio-spiritual action, a call to battle on behalf of the oppressed.” Saffron for him, was the colour of “sacrifice, and commitment”.

It is a day of mourning for those who are co travellers in the journey of constant activism, and for the lakhs whose lives his work impacted. His friends are remembering and honouring him.

“The demise of Swami Agnivesh is a huge tragedy. A true warrior for humanity&tolerance. Among the bravest that I knew,willing to take huge risks for public good.Was brutalised in Jharkhand by a BJP/RSS lynch mob 2 yrs ago. Liver got damaged. RIP Agnivesh ji”


Swami Agnivesh’s body will be placed at Bandhua Mukti Morcha office, 7 Jantar Mantar Road, Delhi, for the last public tribute from 11am – 2pm on September. “We request all our friends to pay their last tribute at above mentioned address, by following Covid rule,” stated his close associates Swami Aryavesh, Working President Bandhua Mukti Morcha and Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, and  Prof Vithal Rao Arya Former General Secretary Bandhua Mukti Morcha and Secretary of Sarvadeshi Arya Pratinidhi Sabha,

He leaves behind a rich legacy of fighting for social justice, peace, human rights, and above all interfaith harmony. He is credited with undertaking peace initiatives from Kashmir to Palestine, Maoist conflict zones of central India. Swami Agnivesh truly practiced what he preached.


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