Will the fearless conviction of controversial cult guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh deter other debauches? Does it spell the end of the sect?
Dera Sacha Sauda’s (DSS) controversial leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim, would never have imagined that the long arm of the law would catch him for his alleged misdeeds. He has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two Dera sadhvis (women followers) — a case that was registered in 2002!
On August 28, Judge Jagdeep Singh of the Special Court in Panchkula — who tried the cases investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation, sentenced this self-styled godman to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment.
But the judgment came at the cost of precious human lives. On August 25, when Singh pronounced this self-proclaimed ‘messenger of God’ guilty, the die-hard followers of this maverick ransacked, broke and burnt properties and harmed fellow citizens in Panchkula, Sirsa, Chandigarh and parts of East Delhi. They did not spare the media either.
While political leaders maintained a stoic silence, in his monthly radio address to the nation, titled Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Modi warned that those who take the law into their hands will not be spared. “Violence in the name of faith will not be tolerated. Whether it is faith based on community, political ideology, individual or tradition,” he asserted. But it was too late in the day and too little. The Modi Government got a dressing down from the Haryana and Punjab High Court a day earlier.
“National integrity is above parties. Are we one nation or a party nation?” the court responded after Additional Solicitor General Satya Pal Jain argued that such violence had happened in states ruled by other parties.
Why did Haryana let the violence spiral out of hand? Not surprising, given the proximity of the BJP-led Manoharlal Khattar Government and the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS).
It is common for Indian politicians to seek the blessings of spiritual leaders. Given his huge fan following in Haryana and Punjab, Gurmeet’s blessings meant huge political support.
In May, 2017, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced tax exemption for six months on the movie Jattu Engineer, starring Ram Rahim Singh. Health and Sports Minister Anil Vij donated INR 5 million from his discretionary fund to DSS to promote rural games.
His cabinet colleague, Manish Grover also announced INR 1.1 million to the DSS sports village.
Interestingly, all the games played at the Dera academy have been invented by Gurmeet Ram Rahim himself, and are neither played at national or international levels.
Ahead of the assembly polls in 2014 in Haryana, the DSS chief had extended support to the BJP.
In November, 2014 the Union Home Ministry had scaled down the security cover of some Congress leaders, including former CM, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, but continued the Z-plus security cover — the highest level of protection — for Gurmeet. That was the level of political influence he wielded in power corridors.
This security was granted by the Congress government in Haryana in 2007, when Gurmeet received threats following his alleged impersonation of the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh.
Gurmeet’s son Jasmeet became son-in-law of the Congress leader Harminder Singh Jassi. Naturally, DSS supported the Congress in the 2007 Punjab state elections. Given the symbiotic relationship of political support and patronage, the mayhem resulting in the death of over 30 people could not be prevented.
Who is Gurmeet?
A native of Sriganganagar, Rajasthan, Gurmeet sought refuge with Shah Satnamji, his guru, in the Sirsa ashram, after police suspected him of hiding illegal arms. Shah Satnamji, highly popular in Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, passed on the baton to Gurmeet Ram Rahim, in 1990.
Unlike his guru, Gurmeet chose to move beyond the realms of spirituality to develop a business model with minimum investment and maximum profits. This helped him build schools, hospitals, colleges, hotels, market complexes, and also launch factories and consumer products.
He even became a movie star with the film The Messenger of God, also known as MSG, in 2015. He was the co-director, co-cinematographer, co-editor, songwriter, and stuntman. It is about a spiritual leader, played by Singh and largely based on himself, on a quest to eradicate drugs and gender-related issues.
A Wild Beast
Ordering a compensation of INR 1.4 million each to the two victims, Judge Jagdeep ruled that Gurmeet deserved no sympathy. His victims had worshiped him as ‘god’ and “revered him” but “he did not even spare his own pious disciples and had acted like a wild beast”. His actions had caused “irreparable damages…to the heritage of this ancient land”.
The sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim does not mean the end of DSS. Established by Mastana Balochistani in 1948, DSS today has over 60 million followers worldwide.
Why are sects so popular in Punjab?
First, both Punjab and Haryana have been ruled by the Congress or the Akalis. The Jats form the social base of this power structure, while the backward classes remain excluded. Second, the much-touted Green Revolution benefitted only the Jats and not the small or marginal farmers belonging to the lower castes, whose only refuge are deras such as DSS, where identities of caste and religion do not exist.
The sect is divided into easily manageable zones, headed by Bhangi Das.
In a country where families struggle for two square meals, the Dera provides subsidised food and free rations. It also offers free treatment those suffering from the ill effects of poor-quality water and also to cancer patients in and around Sirsa.
It is a networking platform, which helps members in business dealings, social engagements and even in finding life partners.
These non-sectarian deras give their followers a sense of security and belonging.
DSS is not the only one opposed by the Sikh orthodoxy. There are approximately 10,000 Sikh as well as non-Sikh deras in Punjab and Haryana, many of which began as reform movements in Sikhism. With time, they became anti-Sikh and started idolising the living guru as God or as the spiritual master. These include Sant Nirankari Mission, Dera Sachkhand Ballan, Divya Jyoti Jagaran Sansthan, Namdhaaris or Kukas, Dera Baba Murad Shah, Dera Begowal and Dera Baba Mast Ram Ji.
The deras are open and casteless spaces where the marginalised lot experience a sense of security and relief, away from the hostile realities of caste violence and the agrarian crisis.
It is time to wake up to the strength of these deras. If their resources are channelised properly, they could prove to be assets in shaping a better future, for not just Haryana and Punjab, but the country in general.