Swami Agnivesh, who dedicated his life to fighting semi-slavery in India and was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2004, died at 80 in New Delhi on Friday.
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A member of the Hindu upper caste, the Brahmins, Agnivesh in his youth gave up all his assets and his name, Vepa Shyam Rao, to dedicate his life to the defense of workers' rights.
Agnivesh is well known internationally for his fight in India for the rights of semi-slavery workers, those individuals who are cheated with small loans and then must dedicate their lives to work to repay that initial outlay. In India, this form of "bonded labor" occurs in contemporary brick factories, especially.
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation awarded him the Alternative Nobel Prize for promoting in South Asia "the values of religious and community coexistence, as well as tolerance and mutual understanding."
"Agnivesh was an advocate for the oppressed and sought to create unity through religious tolerance," Right Livelihood Foundation Director Ole von Uexkull stressed.
"His legacy is a guide for coexistence at a time of widening social gaps and growing extremism. We are deeply saddened by the passing of this extraordinary leader," he added.
Besides opposing forms of forced labor, Agnivesh fought for the right of untouchables (Dalits) to enter temples, the legalization of homosexuality, and the rights of women.