Swami Agnivesh
Vepa Shyam Rao

Indian Social Activist
2004 Right Livelihood Award Winner

birthdate: September 21
Shakti (Madhya Pradesh, India)

When he presented the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award to Swami Agnivesh in 2004, India's Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh said, "There is no endeavour to enlarge social justice within the country and in the wider world in which he is not in the forefront, be it the ending of bonded labour and child labour of all kinds, or the enforcement of equal rights for women. He has been an eloquent champion of the poorer peoples rights in this age of rapid globalisation and also of environmental protection. But above all it is in the fight against religious fundamentalism and the growth of communal hatred that Swami Agnivesh has made his greatest contribution." That same year Swami Agnivesh received the Right Livelihood Award for his life's dedication to promoting values of cooperation, tolerance and understanding. Swami Agnivesh first gained attention in the early 1970s when he formed a new political party in India which renounced both communism and capitalism in favor of "social spirituality." After being jailed for over a year during Indira Gandhi's administration, he entered politics briefly before devoting himself completely to social justice movements in India. Although he continues to be involved in many movements for change, Swami Agnivesh is best known for his work to stop "bonded labor" -- more than 65 million children are forced to work in India. The organization he founded in 1981, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, has helped free more than 172,000 Indian workers. Swami Agnivesh has also worked internationally with the United Nations to end slavery -- he has been elected 3 times to chair the UN Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

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