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How Dera Sacha Sauda spreads its wings

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Its chief at the centre of a row, Dera Sacha Sauda spreads its wings

The Indian Express - NAVJEEVAN GOPAL

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past one year but this has not affected the sect in spreading its tentacles across India. Over the years, the religious body has brought in its fold people from all sections of the society regardless of caste, creed, race and religion and now boasts of a following of 2.25 crore.

The controversy surrounding the sect sparked off in May 2007 with the Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh allegedly imitating Guru Gobind Singh in a ceremony that emulated the creation of the Khalsa. Soon after he was charged with raping a disciple and murdering two men, including a journalist.

The Dera chief got into a fresh row recently after a youth was killed and two others were injured when his bodyguard opened fire on Sikh protesters in Mumbai on June 20.

“Before the Dera row started, we had been constructing houses for the poor — almost 10 to 15 per year for the last 10 years in Bathinda district alone. The poor people associated with Dera get spiritual as well as monetary benefits,†said Gurdev Singh, president of Bathinda block level committee of the sect.

The Dera activities include construction of houses for the poor on the recommendation of Dera committee heads at the village level, block level and district level. The organization also organises eye and blood donation camps. By registering 15,432 blood donors at a camp in Sirsa in December 2003 it had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records and broke its own record in October 2004 with 17,921 blood donors at a camp in Sriganganagar.

The Dera Sacha Sauda has about 50 Deras in 19 states in India. In Punjab, there are three Deras, the largest being Salabatpura, spread over 100 acres. Besides, it has a number of Naam Charcha Ghar (Religious Discourse Houses) across the country. Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh are among the main states where Dera has a huge following.

Dr Aditya Insan, the sect’s spokesperson, said the religious body today has a following of 2.25 crore who are registered with the Dera for meditation.

Free health and educational facilities attract the poor from all sects and cast to its fold. But, most importantly it appeared to be the identity crisis among the lower strata of society that helped Dera get a huge following. The neglected, looked down upon and alienated lower classes of different religions got an identity after coming to the Dera, say experts.

“The lower strata of society strive for an identity and that well explains the Dera Sacha Sauda mass base of landless laborers,†said Parmod Kumar, director of Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communication. “Another reason for the people’s shift towards the Dera culture is that the dominant religions do not change with time and Punjab has been a place where the atmosphere is congenial for the emergence of new religions,†added Kumar.

“Most are from the mobile population that does not have much faith in religion and adopting to the Dera culture is easier for them, as they believe in so called living gods. The weekly congregations, which they consider a world away from their world of problems give solace to their minds,†observed Dr R S Sandhu, Head of the Department of Political Science in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar.

Experts believe that Dera’s initiative to pursue people to abstain from all kinds of drugs has also appealed to the rural women, who feel that coming in the Dera fold was the best way to keep their husbands away from drugs.

The Dera managements claims no Maatha Tikai (monetary offerings) are taken from people except in case of donations for disaster management operations that is undertaken by the religious body.

The Dera management claims agricultural produce from its own fields at Sirsa, which is spread over a sprawling 500 acres, is the only source of money apart from selling products like Sach brand of jams and sauce.

A variety of crops are sown in the Dera land and the majority of it is sold to its followers, who buy the produce considering it as the parsad from the Baba. With the followers offering voluntary service, Dera also never feels the labour problems.

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[align=center:6b5b9e8e49]Dera Row

‘Inept handling by SGPC, Akal Takht, SAD deepened crisis’

Varinder Walia

Tribune News Service [/align:6b5b9e8e49]

Amritsar, June 25

Inept handling of the Dera Sacha Sauda issue by the SGPC, Akal Takht and the Shiromani Akali Dal seems to have resulted inthe hijacking of the agenda by radical Sikhs leading to complicating the situation.

Instead of taking a clear stand, the Sikh clerics chose the middle path while discussing the apology tendered by Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on May 29 last year at a meeting at Akal Takht secretariat.

Giani Iqbal Singh, Jathedar, Takht Patna Sahib, alleged he was under pressure from Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, Jathedar, Akal Takht, to take a “lenient view†regarding the Dera Sacha Sauda chief. He alleged that Jathedar, Akal Takht, was under pressure from the Akali Dal and the SGPC. Such decisions gave much space to hardliners to hijack the matter.

The Jathedar, Akal Takht, is again abroad. He has not issued any statement urging the community to maintain peace.

In an attempt to defuse the Dera Sacha Sauda issue, the Sikh clerics had adopted a midway approach by adopting a Gurmatta that neither rejected nor accepted the apology tendered by the Dera chief for hurting Sikh sentiments at Salabatpura in Bathinda district on May 13 last year. Then the venue was shifted from Akal Takht to Bathinda district by announcing that the call to boycott the Dera made from Takht Damdama Sahib on May 17 would continue. This step on the part of Sikh high priests resulted in bloody incidents because the situation had gone out of control after the Sikh conclave at Damdama Sahib.

Later, Balwant Singh Nandgarh,Jathedar, Takht Damdama Sahib, gave a call to assassinate the Dera Sacha Sauda chief while addressing a gathering on May 19 last year with a view to defusing the situation at the cremation of Kanwaljit Singh, who was killed in firing at Sunam (Sangrur). However, the Jathedar, Nandgarh, was virtually humiliated by Jathedars of other Takhts for not supporting him when he was on dharna on the Rajasthan border in February this year. Finally, Jathedar, Nandgarh, had to lift the dharna because there was no support coming from any quarter though he had announced “Come what may, I will lead the Khalsa March in Rajasthan as announced after the Ardas (prayer)â€.

Though the route of the Khalsa March, taken from Fatehgarh Sahib on May 31 last year was shortened at the behest of the SAD though Akal Takht had announced it would culminate in Chandigarh and memorandum would be submitted to Governors of Punjab and Haryana. Instead an ADC to Governor, Punjab reached Fatehgarh Sahib to collect the memorandum.

Now SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has decided to rush to Mumbai tomorrow following the high-level meeting. The saner elements in the community say the situation should be handled in a way it does not go out of control again.

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Six days later, Dera sect slams Balkar's murder

By: Vinod Kumar Menon

Date: 26 Jun, 2008 09:18 AM

The Dera Saccha Sauda (DSS) management in Sirsa, Haryana, has finally condemned the brutal killing of Balkar Singh (45) outside the Nirmal Lifestyle Mall in Mulund. Balkar was allegedly shot dead by bodyguards of DSS chief, Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim, on June 20.

Pawan, spokesperson of the DSS, told MiD DAY from Sirsa, "It was an unfortunate incident that should not have taken place. Baba's bodyguards opened fire because they feared the worst. Baba did not know about the incident till he reached his ashram in Kalapur that evening." When asked why the guards did not fire in the air, he did not respond.

Pawan said some anti-Dera protestors had gathered outside the mall and tried to stop his convoy. He had escaped an assassination attempt three months ago, when miscreants attempted to blow off his convoy with RDX near Karnal, Punjab. His bodyguards feared something similar in Mulund and hence opened fire.

The spokesperson also clarified that on the fateful day, the DSS chief did not buy anything for himself. He first went to the Alpha showroom near Andheri and then halted at the Nirmal Lifestyle Mall. He was already in his car (black Tavera) when the incident took place.

The incident

Bodyguards of Baba Ram Rahim apparently opened fire at protestors outside the Nirmal Lifestyle Mall in Mulund. Malkar Singh died in the firing. Mulund was tense as thousands resorted to violence. The Dera chief later went to his ashram in Raigad.

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