Inside Dera Sachha Sauda: the good, the bad and the ugly
Whatever be the extent of loyalty of the followers, it is difficult to believe that Dera Sachha Sauda didn't ask followers to converge at Panchkula on or before Friday. But what makes them so devoted?
What makes so many people so loyal to the head of Dera Sachha Sauda that thousands of men and women, both young and old, are willing to brave the elements, presumably spend their own money and live in the open for over 48 hours defying police and prohibitory orders ?
The eccentric head of the Dera, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who is barely in his fifties, runs an empire in Sirsa (Hisar district), the Haryana town bordering Rajasthan and Punjab. The Pakistan border is also not too far away. His followers claim that when the Dera set up its headquarters at Sirsa in the sixties, the land they occupied or bought was infertile and full of sand dunes. They claim to have reclaimed the land and made it fertile.
The headquarters of the Dera houses an impressive general hospital, a 350 acre farm, several schools and colleges for boys and girls and also an orphanage. A journalist who visited the orphanage was pleasantly surprised to find that the orphans had the benefit of airconditioners. With the temperature soaring to over 46 degrees Celsius in summer months, he noted, the AC was a blessing for the orphans.
What, however, was disconcerting, he recalls, was that everyone from teachers to students was far too ready to credit their Pitaji’ (daddy as they call Gurmeet Ram Rahim) for everything. The girls who represented India in Roller Skating attributed their success to him. The hockey players claimed the Guru ji had tweaked their hockey sticks to make them more effective. The archers claimed to have been trained by him. And cricketers said they were grateful to Pita Ji for providing them with a bowling machine for training. In that desolate land, the children had been provided with a swimming pool as well.
The teachers similarly attributed super human attributes to the Guru Ji, who, they claimed, had tweaked with the syllabi, methods of teaching and had even designed the hostels and classrooms. Photographs of the Guru driving a tractor were flaunted to prove that he was an agriculturist and knew how to repair implements. One of his hobbies was said to be to dismantle cars gifted by followers and put them back again after redesigning them. These cars, the followers claimed, would generally be auctioned after some time to the highest bidder.
The Dera insists that its followers become teetotallers and vegetarians. Drugs are taboo and the followers are encouraged to help out each other. If a follower needs his house to be built or repaired, it was said, he could fall back upon other followers to bail him out. If he fell short of money while marrying off his daughter, he could again rely upon other ‘Premis’ to chip in. This could partly explain the dependence of followers on the Dera and the Dera head.
The Dera’s economy is sought to be explained by the sale of products like honey, rose water, soap and cosmetics etc. that the Dera produces. They also claim that the followers work on the farm voluntarily whenever they are called. They would turn up in their thousands and expect only to be fed a simple, vegetarian meal and given a place to sleep.
The empire includes a shopping mall, a residential colony, a daily newspaper, a cable network etc. which presumably employ some of the followers or their kin. The Dera head’s superhuman skills are said to extend to singing, writing lyrics, designing costumes, sets and directing fight sequences.