Even one year after the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was sentenced to jail for 20 years, normalcy has not returned in the dera that is spread in almost 1,000 acres in the outskirts of Sirsa town. Almost all the business establishments, including its Mahi Cinema and factories of soaps and oil productions, have been lying closed. The long perimeter wall of the dera on the road leading to Sirsa town is full of the posters of the dera chief in which he is addressed as “Hujoor Pita Dr MSG”. Although hundreds of posters and banners with dera chief’s pictures cover the entire stretch of the 4-km road, there are not many visitors these days.
A functionary of newspaper Sach Kahun, dera’s mouthpiece, says, “Almost 60 per cent of our staff have left after the last year’s incident. They were not paid salaries and the circulation of newspaper has also gone down. We could not generate enough revenue to pay them. There is almost negligible advertisements for the newspaper because of adverse publicity of the dera following the conviction of the dera chief and the violence that took place last August 25.” It was only on August 15, when the dera saw a substantial number of gathering. Dera’s followers celebrate their chief’s birthday on this day.
Sirsa Deputy Commissioner Prabhjot Singh says, “As per reports, there were around 30,000-40,000 people who had reached dera on August 15. The organisers did not seek any permission for holding any function.” A dera insider says that in the absence of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, dera followers are looking after the dera. “Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh ji is still dera’s chief. There is a trust headed by Vipasana Insaan who looks after the day-to-day administrative functioning of the dera, apart from vice-chairperson of the trust Shobha Insaan,” he says.
The dera’s bank accounts were freezed by the district administration after the violence following dera chief’s conviction continue to remain blocked. A few months ago, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered state government to constitute a committee headed by the Sirsa Deputy Commissioner to release the money to the staff working in different organisations of the dera. “We have yet not received any request from the dera for release of money for any such purpose,” said Prabhjot Singh.
Dera’s super-specialty hospital is being run under the supervision of the Sirsa’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) while three schools and two colleges of the sect are functioning under the supervision of a committee headed by District Eduction Officer. But this is not the only worry of the dera. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Income Tax department are still probing the bank accounts and assets of the dera and Ram Rahim, his family members and close aides, following allegations of money laundering and on the HC orders.
Around two weeks ago, the ED informed the High Court that the dera acquired 293 acres of agricultural land from hundreds of farmers by way of donations, which needed to be probed under the law for prohibition of benami transactions. Dera’s public relations department, which used to interact with the media, is also lying defunct these days. Dera’s chief spokesperson Dr Aditya Insan, who is facing sedition charges, is still at large.
Three dera volunteers from Sikh community who were sitting outside the gate number-5 of the dera headquarters refused to reveal their names. “What is there in the name? We all have faith in Pita ji (dera chief). He may be lodged in the jail but entire dera is functioning in his name,” they said. Sukhdeep Kaur, 35, from Salemgarh, was more vocal in explaining her association with the dera. “Our entire family has been dera chief’s follower for the last 20 years. We don’t think there was any mistake on the part of Pita ji. That’s why followers still come to the dera. Even after his conviction, nobody from our relatives or neighbours question our association with the dera. I am here for a week to perform ‘sewa’, be it mopping the floor or washing utensils,” she says.
Kiran Arora, another volunteer at the dera from Sirsa town, says, “My husband drives a school bus in Uttar Pradesh. My family has been associated with the dera for the last 22 years. Whenever I have time, I come here to perform sewa.” Despite repeated attempts, Dera’s chairperson Vipasana Insaan did not agree to be interviewed. Sach Kahun’s Editor Prakash Singh Sarwara, also a dera follower, said, “Despite ups and downs, dera continues to carry out welfare activities. As many as 133 public welfare works are being done by the dera. We have also sent a seven-member team to flood-hit Kerala to assess the situation there before sending the required help to the victims there.”