Rai Sikhs in Ferozepur rely on Dera, not Sikhism Tagged with: dera sacha sauda Ferozepur Ghubaiya Radha Soami SAD Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Sher Singh Ghubaiya from this constituency is a baptised Sikh, but his two lakh Rai Sikh brethren rely on the deras and not Sikhism for uplift in the area known to be one of the most backward in Punjab. In fact, deras, particularly the Beas-based Radha Soami, is behind the gradual transformation of the Rai Sikhs, described as “those belonging to the lowest castes” and “vagrants” by H Rose in his glossary “Tribes and Castes of Punjab and North-West Frontier”. The Rai Sikhs, settled mainly along the riverine tract, have transformed into a political force and are increasingly being known as hardy farmers and workers who will become more socially relevant after grant of Scheduled Caste status to one and a half years back. The Radha Soami dera has brought about this change. A large section of the community, known for bootlegging, besides other social ills, has given up liquor and non-vegetarian food. At least half of the Rai Sikh community is said to be Radha Soami followers. There are a few followers of Dera Sacha Sauda also. Kashmir Singh of Lakha Singhwala Hittar village near Mamdot says while the Radha Soami sect has given them an identity, it is also of practical help. “Liquor and meat are responsible for excess expenditure in the countryside, and if you remove these, almost anybody can live within ones means”. He says with liquor out, women are also happy and have become ardent dera followers. “All my four sons and their families have taken ‘naam’ (religious initiation),” says Lahora Singh of Mamdot Hittar village, showing proudly photos of the dera head which adorn his house as well as others of the community like Puran Singh of the same village. For whom will the Rai Sikhs vote and will the dera have any role in this? Nambardar Ujjagar Singh says sect guru Gurinder Singh has clearly stated in latest ‘bhandara’ that the vote is ours and we have cast it we so wish. He admits that the community has been voting for the Congress, mainly because it is against Jat Sikhs who control gurdwaras which primarily led them to the dera fold. The community is also known to vote on caste lines and had voted for caste man Mohan Singh Phallianwala twice (1992 and 1996). In 1996 Phallianwala won as BSP candidate supported by the SAD. The SAD is trying the same caste formula by giving Sher Singh party ticket hoping he will in supported by his community as well as by Akali Jat Sikhs. However, times are changing and such calculations may not work. “A large chunk might still vote on caste lines, but social transformation has taught Rai Sikhs to rise above caste lines also,” says community elder Ujjaggar Singh.