Speech by Swami Agnivesh at Unhrc

Capturing the audience in his spellbinding style Swami Agnivesh spoke about the real definition of spirituality which according to him will be palpable to us only when our minds migrate away from the sectarian approach of the organized and the institutionalized religions. He reiterated that the true, pure and pristine and spirit of spirituality has been held captive by these religions and can only be comprehended when one adheres to the concept of‘Vasudev Kutumbhkam’ (we are all members of one single global family). True spirituality comes from our selfless actions based on Truth, Love, Compassion and Justice.

Swamiji spoke about his awe-inspiring journey from being a part of an orthodox South Indian Brahmin family, to his career as a management teacher in the University of Calcutta. Where he came face to face with the reform movement of Arya Samaj- This transformed his life and thought process completely. He transcended his religious and caste identity, and also to some extent his national identity- giving up his sense of possession and dedicating his life for the service of humidity. He has since championed the cause of the downtrodden, poorest of the poor and the most voiceless.

Swamiji emphasized that the discourse on Human Rights should be Universal and thus Spiritual, as Spirituality is directly proportional to Universality- the sad truth is that all the institutionalized religions which are supposedly the guardians of spirituality are all localized and not Universal. According to Swamiji, Spirituality should resonate with the attributes of the divine which are Truth, Love, Compassion and Justice - And the only way to relate to the divine, the only way to worship that benevolent creator would be through living those values, thus conditioning ourselves to accept the universal perspective, and decode the message of‘Vasudev Kutumbhkam’. Our Hearts should be throbbing for each other and pulsate love for each other and the entire Creation which includes the plants, the animals and even the insects. People who have been revered as messengers, torch bearers or prophet have lived these values transcending and cutting across boundaries and bondages.

Swamiji said that the Human Rights should conceptualize itself according to this spirit of Universality and also derive strength from it, as the concept of Human Rights might be new but this spiritual energy has existed from times immemorial. He asked, that why inspite of the Human Rights charter, are Human rights being trampled upon in all the corners of the world ? The answer according to him is simple and clear as it’s the absence of the spiritual perspective in the concept of the Human Rights for the enforcement of Human Rights we rely on the state, which pivots around power and uses its powerful devices, the military and the police for the enforcement of Human Rights. All this is contrary to the very spirit of Human Rights. The state in order to uphold its glory shows on paper that the Human Rights are being enforced, simultaneously flushing them down the Drain. Reflecting his thoughts he reiterated that Human Rights cannot be enforced unless they are imbued with spiritual values and values of Justice. If these values of Truth, Love, Compassion and Justice are not inculcated from the childhood and one is not explained the interconnectedness, the interdependence of life and the integrity of the creation, all our efforts to enforce Human Rights are just like watering the leaves.

Swamiji reminded everybody about the nature of the Holistic Universe and said that as the Universe itself is Holistic thus we must have a holistic approach towards Human Rights as well, which inturn would be incomplete without women rights. Today is Gender Day- Can today we keep our hands on our hearts and say that we give- our countries give equal rights to our women-No! Not at least in my country which is believed to be the land of religions. How can it be the land of spirituality and religion when women rights are being trampled upon day in and day out? Swamiji here narrated a jaw dropping account of his tireless crusade against the gruesome and diabolic Sati (Widow burning) practice. He said that even more reprehensible than these henious cold blooded murders in the name of Sati was the act of glorifying and upholding them in the name of religion.

He narrated an account of one of these horrible events when a young girl was burnt to death by her inlaws on 4th Sept, 1987. The story goes that this young girl was married to this already diseased Rajput boy who soon perished. In India the widows have to lead a very strict life of pain and penance (another evil practice in the name of religion which Swamiji has been crusading against). She has to get up every morning at 3 am and finish all her daily chores before anybody in the family wakes up. Then she has to dress up in white and sit facing the wall till everybody has left the house, so that her so called ‘harmful gaze’ should not fall on others. This must have been a shocking and extremely excruciating realization for the young girl and instead of consoling her, her inlaws started cursing her and branding her with names like witch or demoness who devoured their son. In this suffocating pandemonium the girl sighed the words- “It would have been better if I would have died too.” The inlaws who were waiting for an opportunity to some how do away with the bride girl because if she went back to her parents she would have taken back her dowry and also been entitled to a share in her husbands property sprung up to this opportunity with a henious calculating move. The very people who were calling her a witch now started to call her ‘Sati- the godess’ and before she could comprehend anything, she was intoxicated and her tender body was covered with a paste of camphor. She was then made to sit on the funeral pyre of her husband, and set of fire. The poor soul screamed and wreathed in agony, but her shouts of help fell on ears defended by obscurantism and mysticism. Their evil schemes did not stop here with this cold blooded murder but now they wanted to make a family business out of it by building a temple (for Sati) at the place of crime. Within days they got a collection of 7 million INR and construction began in full sway.

When Swamiji heard of this horrendous fellony he organized an 18 day long march on foot from the Redfort (in Delhi) to that obscure little village of Deorala (in Rajasthan). He with around 180 Sanyansins of Arya Samaj and other faiths marched tirelessly towards Deorala with zeal and passion to do away with this glorification of murder and denounce the evil practice of Sati. They wanted that the perpetrators of this crime must be tried for murder. Swamiji got monumental support of the public and the civil society for this march and his socio- spiritual prowess sent even the central congress government into a Bondsman key. The then Prime Minister of India Shri Rajiv Gandhi immediately summoned the parliament and came up with an act- The 1987 Sati Prevention Act- which said that glorifying Sati even by the word of mouth is illegal. Swamij’s spell binding narration was received in an emphatic way and one could notice several moist eyes.

The crusade of Swami Agnivesh for gender equality did not stop here as he and his colleagues then initiated the biggest movement against female foeticide. In the patrichal society of India where the male child is often preferred over the female child- the people have found an evil use of technology to satisfy their devious designs. The sex of a foetus is determined via ultrasound and if the foetus is that of a girl, the parents abort it by threading the throbbing live to pieces- what an irony as this happens in the country which is called the land of ‘The Mother God’. Prof. Amartya Sen called them the “Missing Girls” after it was discovered that 25 million girls were less in 1991, this figure went up to 35 million in 2001 and by the end of 2009 it would be a whooping 50 million. What kind of society is it which feeds on the very seeds of its own creation? This is the most gruesome tampering of the Natural and Spiritual laws and the result is that there are no girls to marry now which in turns increases Human trafficking and thus crime. Violence takes place when we tamper with the valves.

Swamiji has also taken up the cause of Dowry deaths in India. Dowry is a gift that the girl brings with her to the family of the boy during marriage. When it is not enough to satisfy the greed of the inlaws they constantly and persistently trouble the girl and one day eventually pour kerosene on her and set her on fire- invariably calling it a kitchen accident. The girl is constantly bootlegged and faces tremendous humiliation if she is not reduced to cinders. “ We are so vocal about the deaths due to bomb blasts and terrorist strikes, which are in any case extremely condemnable, but how can we not raise our voices against the cruel murder of about 25000 girls every year in the name of Dowry” said Swamiji.

Swamiji further reiterated that there has to be a change of attitude if we want to do away with these horrid practices, and no amount of law or charter will bring about this change unless all of us are imbued with that spiritual sense and refuse to accept discrimination of any sort or kind. To take this forward and to develop this sense of proactive applied spirituality Swamiji and his friends have come together to form the unique concept of Sarva Dharma Sansad (Parliament of Religions) where people of the country which is mixed in caste inequalities, gender injustices and exploitative practices come together and solemnly affirm in the name of the Creator/God/Allah/ Parmatma to come together for an action based crusade against the social ills playing our society.