Source: Its chief at the centre of a row, Dera Sacha Sauda spreads its wings - IndianExpress.Com 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.