Many followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, as well as Dera employees, are from lower Sikh and Hindu castes. Faith in Ram Rahim has given many of them courage to face top Sikh bodies like the Akal Takht. The Takht had issued an edict in 2007 asking Sikhs to boycott Ram Rahim. However, Ram Rahim has grown in stature since then, and ironically in the process even prompted Shiromani Akali Dal to ignore the Takht’s call and embrace the Dera.
A few kilometres off Rohtak jail, where Ram Rahim is lodged, his devotee Amarjeet Singh (28) is lying on a bed in Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences. He is recovering from a bullet wound he received above the chest in Sirsa on Friday, yet his faith in Pitaji — as followers call Ram Rhim — is intact.
“His grace saved me,” he says. His mother and younger brother Surendra Pal Singh are by his side. The Sikh family has been with the Dera for decades, and firmly believes that its chief will be out of jail soon. “Pitaji will surely do something,” says Surendra, who works at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa. Both brothers were part of a demonstration in Sirsa when the elder was hit by a bullet fired by the security forces. They are with the Dera since childhood and have many stories about how it gave them courage to live.
On the other side of the jail is a Dera camp, the only one in Rohtak. For several days, hundreds of Dera followers had been gathering here, preparing for the day of the verdict, but the police occupied it on Friday and evacuated them. The only person here is 67-year-old sewadar (attendant) Ram Chandra, who wonders why Pitaji did not perform a miracle on Friday. “He could have done anything. Sirsa aur Panchkula dono jagah prakat ho jaate. (He could have made a miraculous appearance at both Sirsa and Panchkula). Everything would be over,” says Chandra. The unrest has affected business in Haryana. “Meetings of top companies scheduled in my hotel in the last few days have been cancelled,” says Ashok Hooda, owner of Hotel Shangri La Premium in Rohtak. While there is no violence in Rohtak, almost all ATMs and over half of the market establishments are closed. “Business has gone down in the whole of Haryana,” says Hooda.
Rohtak jail was chosen for two reasons: the city has little presence of Dera followers, and the jail is located several kilometres off the city. The jail has been heavily cordoned off, layers of paramilitary forces stop all human movement 2 km from the jail. The state police have denied that Ram Rahim is receiving any special treatment.
Many, including Hooda, in Rohtak strongly denounce him and want severe punishment for him. Most of them are upper castes. But Ram Rahim’s devotees, ignoring the deaths and bullet wounds to many others, believe that his “magical powers” will eclipse all the “evil forces” and he will walk out as a free man. Between the faith and denunciation lies an irony, and a custom called the caste system.