It seemed business as usual inside the Salabatpura dera, the biggest estate of Dera Sacha Sauda in Punjab, spread over 150 acres. Outside, there were police spread out from the dera’s boundary to about half-a-kilometre. A police checkpost stood at one of the dera’s 13 gates, while the other 12 were locked.
The throng of devotees has reduced to a trickle over the past few days, but the sewadars have beem showing up without fail to carry out routine duties. Nearly 300 followers, mostly senior citizens, were spread out in the dera carrying out various duties. Of them, around 100 are on the dera’s rolls, while the rest are all sewadars. All of them display a dera locket to identify themselves as followers.
“We come for weekly duties; stay here and after performing our duties in the given area — farming, dairy, security, canteen — we go back. Even tomorrow, duties will be performed in a similar manner. No matter what the verdict is,” said Sonu Kumar, a private teacher from village Kangar.
Harmail Singh, another dera follower from Bathinda’s Deon village, said, “There are hardly any followers inside the dera. Most of them are in Sirsa or Panchkula.”
On Wednesday, a total of 85 village panchayats of different parts of Punjab came and extended their support to the Dera chief. Sukhwinder Singh, son of Salabatpura dera administrator Zora Singh,said: “With such a support, we are confident we will win and truth will prevail.”
Inside the premises, dera followers have created checkposts where women followers check female visitors. Nachhatar Kaur, a woman in her 70s, said: “Security checking is very important. Our deras are also being checked daily by police, so why can’t we check strangers entering the dera.”
Sukhwinder Kaur, from Bhaduar village of Barnala district, added: “We are peace loving. We will never indulge in violence, but will not keep quiet if someone tries to overpower us.”
Sitting at a little distance from a cave, used as a place of rest by the dera head, follower Preetam Singh said,”It is one of the 13 places of rest for Guruji. As he has not come to Punjab for the past 10 years, so this cave has not been used since long.”
There is also a gate meant exclusively for the Dera chief. Sewadar Gurbax Singh said, “It is opened only when Guruji comes. As he never comes to Punjab these days, there are no satsangs, so it is locked.” Inside the dera, kinnow, amla, seasonal vegetables, cotton, paddy and wheat are cultivated.
While the vegetables are sold at the dera canteen, rest of the produce is sold in mandis, said Gurdev Singh from Barnala’s Jangian village.
Over 100 cattle are also there in the dera’s dairy farm. A clinic offers medicines at discounted rates and doctors, who are followers of dera, come for “free service”. Meanwhile, all 11 deras in Bathinda were inspected in the morning by police. Naveen Singla, SSP Bathinda, said: “Nothing objectionable was found. Our security forces are on high-alert and we are also taking out flag marches on a daily basis..”