This unusual swami (religious teacher) has been consistently doing battles on behalf of the poor, the weak and the defenseless of India. Agnivesh's campaigns have led him to fight alcoholism, female foeticide, bonded labour, child labour as well as struggle for the emancipation of women.

He looks like a sadhu (holy man), talks like a politician and – most importantly – voices the case of the underprivileged millions of India. Swami Agnivesh is a strange man by all counts. He puzzles and provokes at once, and is loved by the masses.

Unlike the politicians who mouth religion between the teeth of communalism, Agnivesh participates in politics as an outworking of his spirituality. He bridges politics and religion with the plank of social justice. In a way parallel to the liberation theologians of Latin America, the swami has been waging war relentlessly on behalf of the poor, the weak and the defenseless of India.

He preaches. But preaches only what he practices. His words catch fire in the heat of his involvement imprinted with the zeal of compassion. He leads and inspires. His date 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.

‘My saffron garb,’ you will hear Swamiji say, ‘is my uniform for socio-spiritual action, a call to battle on behalf of the oppressed.’ Saffron is the colour of sacrifice, commitment and purity and he believes it helps him in his work of love, truth, compassion and justice. He says with utmost realism: "If my clothes come in the way of this, I won’t mind renouncing them. It matters little if you call me "Swami Agnivesh" or simply "Agnivesh". All that matters is that the fire inside of me, the presence of the divine in the inner temple of my being, should continue to blaze till the end.

He narrates a tale of how during a visit to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines to be with the rebels encamped there, he was told that his saffron garb would make him highly conspicuous. ‘Then, I quickly switched over to jeans and a T-shirt,’ he says.

Sixty-year-old Agnivesh is easily the most distinguished leader of the Arya Samaj. Last year, he was appointed the Chairperson of the UN Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. He is better known across India for his campaigns against bonded labour, and is founder-head of the Bandhu Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labour Liberation Front). Recently, he has been appointed the Prsident of the World Council of Arya Samaj (Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha).

So far, his campaigns have led him to fight against alcoholism, female foeticide, bonded labour, child labour, and for the emancipation of women. 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.

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