On 17th August, during the funeral procession of the former Prime Minster of India, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Swami Agnivesh was assaulted outside the BJP head office, when Swami was trying to participate in the procession. The assaulters, the 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 Pokur Jharkhand, Agnivesh was brutally assaulted, allegedly by student wing of BJP. 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 a BJP supporters, justifying the attack circulated a video of Swamiji’s speech. In this video, he is criticizing Prime minister Modi for his statement that there was plastic surgery in Ancient India as seen in planting of elephant’s head on a boy’s neck or Kauravas being born though stem cell technology. He went on to criticize Modi for his public pujas in Nepal and Dhaka.
Attacking Amarnath yatra and idol worship, Agnivesh pointed out that the Barfani baba, the ice Shiv-ling 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 criticizing the Kumbh mela, people congregating to wash their sins, he points out that bathing in such polluted water on contrary can lead to new diseases.
Overall, Swami has been part of various social movement like Bandhua Majdoor Mukti Morcha, (against bonded labour) for which has also participated in global eradication of modern form of bonded labour, under the aegis of UN. He has been associated with movements opposing female foeticide and against Sati. He has been part of Arya Samaj organization for long time. In recognition of his work he has received various awards like Right Livelihood (Alternate Nobel) in 2004, apart from Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award again in same year. There are various issues on which one can disagree with him, like his interpretation of Hinduism exclusively to Vedic period etc., still what is important is his constant engagement with issues related to downtrodden of the society, to those related to modern forms of bonded labour, to sati, female foeticide to name the few.
A saffron clad swami has been targeted by the followers of Hindu nationalist brigade. This attack on him is in the series which began with murder of Dr. Dabholkar, and later took the lives of Com. Govind Pansare, Dr. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. 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. Let’s imagine, a saffron clad Swami is coming to pay 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 things in the name of religion, get encouragement from 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 Hindu religion, which celebrates diversity to its core. We know that most of the religions have a single founder and single holy book, still 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, Sikhism also has 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 like Brahmanism, Tantra, Nath, Siddhanta, Shaiva, Vashanav and Bhakti among others. Diversity is the very core of Hindu religion. Right within Hindu fold, Swami Dayanand Sarswati could form Arya Samaj and propound his ideology that Hinduism is primarily founded and based on Vedas.
While Idol worship is part of some sects of Hinduism, as such Hinduism also encompasses animist nature worship, to tri-theism, to polytheism to Nastik (atheist) tradition of Charvak as well. The concept of God also varies from the idol worshippers to those who believe in 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 right to follow his notion of Hinduism. No one can usurp his right of following his own Hinduism. The present 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 are part of the sectarian interpretation of Hinduism and selective use of Hindu identity for mobilizing Hindus for political goals, there is nothing religious about it.
While hoping that present Government will provide security to this social reformer and political activists like him, one hopes that the serial killings of rational thinkers-activists, which began with the killing of Dabholkar is brought to a halt; the guilty are identified, tried and punished as per the law. The nation should heave a sigh of relief that two recent attacks (on Agnivesh and Umar Khalid) by the ideology which killed these social reformers have failed, and should pledge that these killers will not be able to extinguish the voice of dissent.
(Published on 17th September 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 38)