Amid the unrest in Punjab over incidents of sacrilege and the Sikh clergy’s flip-flop on pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, the dera’s state headquarters at Salabatpura village in Bathinda district is a picture of calm.
It was during a sect congregation at Salabatpura in 2007 that dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh allegedly dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh, triggering a controversy that is yet to die down. Life goes on for dera followers, who are holding ‘naam charcha’ (prayers) every Friday, even as they are pained at the incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib across Punjab.
“Every such episode (of sacrilege) upsets us,” said Zora Singh, the dera manager at Salabatpura. “We have adopted verses from Guru Granth Sahib, which is as sacred to us as to the Sikhs,” he added.
Zora Singh stated that despite the Akal Takht’s decision to revoke pardon to the dera chief, the latter was committed to withdrawing cases against Sikh activists who had been booked during the dera-Sikh clashes in 2007. The clashes had claimed the lives of two Sikhs.
“The situation then was totally different as some mischievous elements were playing into the hands of vested interests in political circles,” he said. He termed the controversy over the upcoming Sarbat Khalsa in Amritsar as “the internal conflict of the Sikh community”.
He recalled that the inspector general (IG), Bathinda range, had called him the day provocative posters were found pasted on walls of the Bargari village gurdwara in Faridkot district on October 12 and he had ruled out the involvement of dera followers. Bargari was the epicentre of the anti-sacrilege protests, which had led to the death of two Sikhs in police firing.
Gurlal, who runs a shop in Bhadaur near Bargari, said there were about 350 families of dera followers in the town and they were smoothly holding their congregations every Friday.
“We initially got worried as the news of provocative posters spread, but I can assure you that amity prevails in our town,” said Gurlal.
“Every town or village should be like Bhadaur, as we live in communal harmony. Some Muslims and Christian families also share our ties of brotherhood,” he added.
Gurjant, a baptised Sikh activist who runs a shop in the main market on the Bhadaur-Kotkapura highway, said dera followers had supported their protest dharnas after the sacrilege at Bargari.
“The ‘thikri pehra’ (night watch) is everybody’s duty, whether he is a dera follower or a Sikh, as we are vigilant against any more incidents of desecration,” said Gurjant.
Three days ago, the dera carried out a small procession at nearby Tallewal village in honour of a deceased ‘premi’ (dera follower), Nand Singh, while taking his body to the civil hospital for donation to medical science. The march was peaceful, underlining the lack of bad blood despite the statewide turbulence.