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EDITORIAL


Dera Sacha (?) Sauda

Dera Sacha Sauda of Sirsa in Haryana has attracted headlines in the newspapers during the last few weeks, and may continue to be in the news in the weeks to come. The name recalls to one’s mind the great spiritual deal Guru Nanak struck. As we all know, the Guru’s father was keen to induct him into business. He gave the young Nanak a sum of Rs 20/- or so, which was by no means a small amount in the fifteenth century, and sent him to the nearest market at Chuherkana, with instructions to buy some merchandise which could be sold at a handsome profit in his own village. On the way, he came across a group of sadhus who had been hungry for several days, which moved his young tender heart. Without a second thought, he spent all the money to buy food, and gave the hungry fakirs a hearty meal. They were happy, and blessed their young benefactor. Nanak knew that he would have to face his father’s wrath at this outrageously unbusiness-like conduct. But he was clear in his mind that no other profit could match the blessings and prayers of the beneficiaries of a charitable act. He was sure that he had struck a real good bargain, a sacha sauda. A gurdwara stands on the spot with that name, giving the message for all times that feeding the hungry is a foremost duty of all human beings. The lesson has not been forgotten, as is clear from the endless chain of langars run by the Guru’s followers across the globe. Incidentally, the proposed atta dal scheme of the present Akali government in Punjab seems to have its roots in the great lesson taught by the Guru.

The present-day Dera Sacha Sauda was founded on a modest scale at Sirsa by one Mastanji of Baluchistan in 1948, and given this name ‘Sacha Sauda’, obviously to exploit its association with Guru Nanak. As expected, people started visiting the dera under the impression that it was the message of Guru Nanak that was being preached there. The present Baba, took over the dera as its head in 1990 at the age of 23, under dubious circumstances from Param Pita Shah Satnam Singh ji Maharaj and adopted an aggressive posture. His following swelled into hundreds of thousands spread mostly over rural area of Punjab and Haryana, particularly in the Malwa region, and looked after through a network of sub-deras. Side by side, a real-estate buying spree started, so that the dera now stands on sprawling 700 acres at Sirsa. All means from persuation to outright coercion were used in its acquisition. According to a Sirsa lawyer (Sh Ashwani Bakshi) it was not uncommon to see reports of dead bodies being found in the dera’s vicinity.

The Baba has discarded the simplicity of his predecessors, and lives in a royal life-style in a huge palace with a large retinue of sevadars and sadhvis constantly at his service. All sevadars and sadhvis are enjoined to practise celibacy, although the Baba is himself married, and has children.

His growing popularity attracted politicians including the Congress as well as the Akali leaders. His influence can be judged from the fact that in the last Feb 2007 Punjab Assembly elections, the Akalis lost most of the seats in the Malwa region, which traditionally belonged to them, as a result of an edict from the dera to support the Congress candidates. This could not have happened without a clandestine understanding between the Congress and the Baba.

In earlier stages, the dera kept a low profile, following a subtle agenda, and appeared to function as a sect of the Sikh religion. But things changed with the present encumbent who made no such pretensions and assumed the title ‘Hazoor Maharaj Sant Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh’ to spread his tentacles among Hindus and Muslims as well. He wanted to show that what he preached was a new dispensation. Surprisingly, he did not add Christ or Jesus to his title. Perhaps he did not expect any followers from the Christian stock, since their missionaries look after their flock real well. It is only the Sikhs and Hindus, particularly the former, who have neglected the missionary functions almost completely, leaving their poor ignorant masses vulnerable to allurements from other faiths.

Things came to a head, when on the 13th May, 2007, an advertisement appeared showing the Baba attired like Guru Gobind Singh, imitating the Guru administering the amrit at the time of creation of the Khalsa. He donned robes and a kalgi (plume) like what Guru Gobind Singh is believed to have worn, and to outdo the Guru, he administered his ‘Ruhani Jaam’ sherbat in Sirsa to seven premis, instead of five piaras as selected by the Guru.

The Baba says he had done it earlier also, but the matter came to the notice of public only when the advertisement of the 13th May for the ceremony at Salabatpura was issued.

Sikhs see Guru Gobind Singh as manifestation of God Himself, and revere him as sarbansdani for the unparalleled sacrifices he made for the noble cause of uplift of mankind and the defence of the poor and the lowliest sections of humanity, giving them a sense of self-respect and pride, unknown to them earlier. With such deep reverence for the Guru, no Sikh can tolerate even the slightest disrespect to him. The despicable act of imitating the Guru on the part of the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, is highly sacrilegious and clearly amounts to blasphemy. It led to spontaneous protests, demonstrations and clashes. The dera had expected such a response, and had prepared the premis for a clash. It is clear from the fact that at the time of the clash at Salabatpura on the 14th May, the premis used sticks of the same kind and size. Truckloads had been brought to Bathinda in anticipation of the reaction. The clashes left one dead (shot by the dera premis) and several injured.

The advertisement referred to above was accompanied by 47 directives to the premis. Out of these, nos 27 and 35, are quite suggestive. While the former directs the premis not to listen to any criticism of their satguru, or enter into any argument, the latter exhorts them to be ready to lay down their lives fighting for their country and their true satguru.

  1. The Jathedar Sri Akal Takht and the other high priests of the Sikhs called a Sarbat Khalsa meeting on the 17th May, 2007 at Talwandi Sabo, and issued an edict calling for social, religious, economic and political boycott of the dera and the premis, and demanding closure of all deras by the 27th May, 2007. The Chief Minister, Punjab, Sardar Parkash Singh Badal called an all party meeting to discuss the situation on the 18th May, 2007. Leaders of other communities including Hindus, Muslims and Christians, led by Swami Agnivesh advised the Baba to tender an apology for the hurt caused to the Sikhs and other admirers of Guru Gobind Singh. All they could extract from the Baba, after several rounds of talks, was a vague statement which was not an apology by any stretch of imagination, and which was not signed by anybody. This was rightly rejected by the Sikh High Priests, and the situation continues to be tense.

    The Punjab Government has registered a case against the Baba under section 295 for causing hurt to the religious feelings of the Sikhs. In addition, according to the Tehelka dated 2nd June, 2007, there are the following cases of murder and rape pending against him:

    1. “On July 10, 2002, Dera functionaries shot dead their former colleague Ranjit Singh while he was working in his fields in Kurukshetra. Singh was suspected to have leaked an anonymous letter written to the Prime Minister by a sadhvi alleging rape at the hands of Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. According to the CBI chargesheet, Ranjit had been threatened by the accused to seek apology from the Baba. The CBI arrested Inder Sain, Avtar Singh, Kishan Lal Pradhan, Jasbir Singh and Sabdil Singh. While the CBI has accused these five persons and others of criminal conspiracy, the Baba has not figured in the CBI’s chargesheet.
  2. “On September 24, 2004, the HC ordered the CBI to probe allegations of sexual exploitation made in the anonymous letter by the sadhvi, and also in pursuance of the report submitted on the matter to the HC by the Sirsa District and Sessions Judge.
  3. “On October 10, 2002, Ram Chandar Chhatarpati, the Sirsa based editor of Poora Sach, was shot and grievously wounded by two men who were later arrested. Chhatarpati had done a series of stories on the dera, and had also published allegations of rape and sexual exploitation against the Baba. Later, dera manager Krishan Lal was also arrested in the case.”

    It is almost five years since these cases were registered. The CBI probe into the charges of two murders and rape and sexual exploitation of sadhvis by Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was ordered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2002-03. Though the probe was time-bound, repeated extensions were sought by the CBI, besides litigation against the HC order in the Supreme Court. This inordinate delay indicates that efforts are being made to hush up this politically inconvenient case. This led to a scathing indictment of the CBI by the HC on April 16, 2007, and is suspected to be a major factor behind the trouble in Punjab provoked by the advertisement placed by the Baba on May 13, 2007 in two regional dailies. A Division Bench of Justice A K Goel and Justice H S Bhalla asked the CBI Director to explain the delay, and indicated the possibility of initiating contempt proceedings. The HC went so far as to record: ‘A period of almost – five years has expired. Such gross delay in investigation can hardly be expedient to administration of justice, and creates a doubt about the sincerity and competence of the officers who have been assigned the responsibility of carrying out the investigation. We are unable to hold that there is any genuine reason for the CBI for not having conducted the investigation so far. …The only inference is that the officers concerned have either not been sincere or have been acting on extraneous considerations in dealing with the matter. (Tahelka, June 2, 2007, pp 16-17). On April 17, 2007, the HC ordered the CBI to complete its probe into the three cases by May 25, and listed the matter for hearing on 28th May, 2007. The compliance of this order did not go beyond a report to the effect that the probe cannot be completed before the end of August 2007.

    We learn from newspaper reports that five persons have now been booked in one of the cases, and that the Baba is not among them.

    Vested interests have come in. The Baba supported the Congress in the last elections to the Punjab Assembly, so the Congress Government in Haryana, and the UPA Govt at the Centre are likely to shield him. Then there are elements that want to destabilize the Akali-BJP govt in the Punjab to secure President’s rule in the State, as has happened more than once earlier also. In fact, the demand has actually been voiced by the Baba.

    Another view is that the release of the 13th May advertisement, and subsequent developments were engineered by the Baba, to demonstrate his strength and to give a warning to the authorities that, in case any action was taken against him, he could unleash trouble on an unprecedented scale.

    Whatever the reason, the Baba appears to be immune to any punitive measure, although there is enough evidence against him in all the cases mentioned above. In addition, he could also be tried under the National Security Act for creating disturbance in the border state and jeopardising its peace and tranquility as well as security of the country. But the possibility of the government proceeding on those lines is remote. That reminds us of an anecdote:

    A priest, warning against sin, wrote on the Church notice board, “You have to pay for your sins!” When he returned after a few hours he found that someone had added a footnote, “Please disregard this notice, if you have already paid”.

    It seems that the Baba has already paid. Hence no action should be expected against him.

    The Panth is facing a very serious situation. The disrespect to the Guru cannot be overlooked. The challenge must be met. The Panth is united like one man on this issue. The Sikh masses as well as all major Panthic organizations have rallied behind the Akal Takht, and expect a lead from it.

    To deal with the Sacha Sauda problem, the Panthic convention must consider a peaceful morcha at the dera headquarters at Sirsa, to secure the arrest of and legal action against its head and others responsible for the outrage committed by them in imitiating Guru Gobind Singh Ji. We should also demand fresh legislation on All India basis providing for stringent punishment for offences of the kind indulged in by the dera.

    The boycott of the deras and the premis as directed by the Akal Takht must be strictly enforced. Violence must be eschewed and disturbances in the Punjab territory scrupulously avoided, since it can provide an opportunity as well as justification to impose President's rule in the State. It must be noted that although tempers have been high, the Sikhs have shown remarkable restraint in spite of grave provocations, and not a single instance of violence on their side has been reported, in contrast to some recent and earlier agitations by other parties. This restraint must continue. We have to act with foresight and far sight. Politicians with a lust for power will be made to provoke us. We should not fall into their trap. For, even slightest violent retaliation can prove disastrous. Our response to any situation must reflect our ideology, which permits use of force as a last resort only.

    It may be necessary to launch a prolonged struggle. With faith in the Guru, we should be prepared to make any sacrifice in a disciplined manner like we did at Jaito, Guru Ka Bagh, Nankana Sahib, etc., in the Gurdwara Liberation movement in the early twentieth century. The struggle can end only in complete victory of the Panth. The situation has been handled so far in a statesman like manner under the auspices of the Akal Takht. We have no doubt, this unique institution will continue to play its role. The whole Panth is behind it. It seems desirable to involve the Sikh intelligentsia in the decision making process.

    The situation calls for a radical approach and a plan of action that will promote ascendancy of the Panth. We must admit that we have completely neglected dharam parchar and/or missionary work, leaving the field open for the likes of Baba Sacha Sauda to mislead the innocent Sikhs. Otherwise, who would quit the great religion of Guru Nanak to become a follower of an impostor? The deras flourish in ignorance of the people. That ignorance has to be removed. Once the masses are educated about the lofty ideals and the way of life preached by the Gurus, they will themselves resist any intrusion. There is no other lasting defence.

    This responsibility squarely devolves on the SGPC which is regarded as the mini-parliament of Sikhs, and which has the necessary resources. Under the patronage of the Akal Takht, a meeting of all Panthic organizations and Sikh intellectuals should be convened without delay to chalk out a planned programme. We need to launch a mass movement or gurmat chetna lehar to cover all villages, towns, schools, colleges, etc. We need a large number of parcharaks who must be recruited and trained, besides a large number of teachers to teach divinity in educational institutions. Special programmes and camps for the youth will have to be organised. All resources, financial as well as others, need to be diverted towards this programme.The SGPC and the DSGMC should come together, and with the cooperation of the existing network of gurdwaras and other Panthic organisations ensure success of the movement on a sustainable basis.

    As this note is being written, the call for morcha has already come, this time, rather from unexpected quarters, the Sant Samaj. The call deserves whole-hearted response from all Sikhs. The Guru beckons us. The agitation/movement must, however, be guided and directed through an Action Committee representing all major Panthic organisations as well as intelligentsia. The objective is to secure deterrent action on the part of the government against the dera head, so that nobody dares to repeat the blasphemy of initating the Guru. The centre of the agitation should be Sirsa, where the outerage has been committed. An agitation in the Punjab would be senseless and even counterproductive.

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