Inside Dera Sacha Sauda: ‘There are 7 crore of us... anything can happen’, say devotees
A day before a special CBI court pronounces its judgment in a rape case involving Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, followers say “anything could happen” if the verdict goes against their religious leader.
The spectre of violence looms large over the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters, located a few kilometres away from Sirsa city.
Even as thousands of devotees – known as premis – spent Wednesday night sleeping on its premises, several others kept vigil on the road leading to Begu village. With only a day to go for a special CBI court in Panchkula to pronounce the verdict in a rape case involving Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the general mood here was that of anger and anxiety.
Many followers at the Dera headquarters remained awake, huddling in groups to discuss the case and its possible fallouts. The situation may look calm now, one of them said, but “anything can happen” if their spiritual leader is indicted.
“There are seven crore of us here. The premis are restless, and they are having sleepless nights,” warned dera spokesman Aditya Insan, accusing the state – including police officers who made “insensitive statements” before the media – of bringing matters to a head.
Hari Chand, a devotee from the nearby Begu village, said many among them were not happy with the manner in which the media had handled their leader’s case. “But the outcry can’t be stopped now. We are pained,” he said as his comrades nodded in agreement.
Back in the city, people discussed the possibility of a curfew being imposed. Though schools and colleges remained shut, provision stores and commercial establishments opened their doors for business. A few morning joggers were also spotted.
Gratitude is the primary sentiment that makes the dera chief’s followers defend him tooth and nail. “The government should be ashamed of the way it has been harassing our Guruji, who works so hard for us,” said Phool Chand from another village in Sirsa, referring to the 400-bed hospital, IT school and skill workshop established by the spiritual leader on the premises. “We were once paupers. But today, we have everything from jobs to money, vehicles and farmland all because of him.”
“We reached Panchkula in lakhs,” another devotee from Ludhiana said, adding that he and his comrades would wait for the dera chief’s directions before taking any action. At present, they are busy trying to obtain updates on the case from mobile phones and television news channels.
So, is this just the calm before the storm? Raj Dulara Insan, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, claimed it could well be the case if the verdict goes against their religious leader. “Have you never seen God? We meet our God here at the dera every day,” he said.
“We know that all the cases against him are fake,” said another follower on the condition of anonymity. “But if they hold him guilty, it will turn into a do-or-die situation.”
As many as three premis had committed suicide in protest through 2011, when the special CBI court instructed the Dera Sacha Sauda chief to appear before it every day.
The first instance was that of a 70-year-old man, Gurdev Singh from Rodewala village in Sangrur, who hanged himself near the dera premises. Later, 42-year-old Suraj Bhan put a gun to his head outside the Panchkula court complex. A suicide note found on his person claimed that he was upset over his religious leader being treated in such a fashion. The third person to commit suicide was Vinod Kumar, the 26-year-old son of a cloth trader in Sirsa. He also attributed the “false allegations levelled against the dera chief” as his reason for taking the extreme step.
Superintendent of police Ashwin Shenvi said law-enforcement agencies were leaving no stone unturned to prevent the occurrence of untoward incidents. “We are keeping round-the-clock vigil to ensure that no violence erupts. Police and paramilitary contingents have been stationed at various checkpoints near the dera and its connecting roads. They are checking every vehicle heading towards the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters,” he told HT.