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Sikh Deras

Dalvinder Singh

Dera system among Sikhs in Punjab started with Nirmalas and Udasis. Nirmala and Udasi deras were the centres of learning and research on Sikhism and maintenance of Sikh religious institutions. Later, Gulabdasias were prominent deredars as centres of religious teaching. While the Hindus went to temples, the Muslims to mosques, the Sikh learners went to deras for learning. Teaching of Sikh scriptures was in Punjabi in Gurmukhi script in these deras. The famous folk song ‘na main melne padi Gurmukhi na baithi san dere’ depicts the relevance of these deras. Deras were allotted large lands and properties by various Sikh Maharajas and Chiefs for maintaining deras and the religious centers attached to them. Gradually, some deras concentrated on acquisition of land, wealth and power. Rather than caring for teaching the religious texts and maintaining the religious centers, they used these establishments for personal aggrandizement. Conflicts arose during transfer of power after the death of a dera head. To retrieve the situation and to relieve the Gurdwaras from dera control, Singh Sabha Movement launched morchas like Guru ka Bagh, Chabian da Morcha, Jaito da Morcha, etc., and succeeded in taking over control of some of these deras. An apex body, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak committee was formed to control Gurdwaras. Some deras not holding historical religious places continued while the new ones emerged. These deras, however, remained wedded to the teaching of the Gurus, believing in ten Gurus and Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Later, with the emergence of the Dera Beas, the things changed. Though it drew its teachings from Gurbani and remained attached to spiritual attainment but it claimed an independent identity. As it did nothing against the value system of the Sikhs and paid due regard to Sikh Gurus, it was not interfered with, even though it weaned away the Sikhs from Sikhism.

Lately, however, some deras such as Dera Sacha Sauda, Noormahlias, etc., rose to show up as independent identities, not accepting Sikh Gurus or Guru Granth Sahib as supreme. In fact, they have been trying to raise themselves to the level of Sikh Gurus, while using teachings in Sikh scriptures with no new concept of their own. The political leaders used them to inflate their vote banks. This way they got the political importance they wield now.

Dera Sacha Sauda went to an extreme extent of replicating the holy appearance of the 10th Guru, and performed the ritual of administering Jaam-e-Insaan in the same manner and style as was administered by Sri Guru Gobind Singh. His publicizing this blasphemous act widely has been greatly resented by the Sikhs. As regards the antecedents of the present chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, his allegedly criminal background is well known. His act of sacrilege at Salabatpura, too, needs condemnation. His 47 rules published in papers have nothing religious in them. Most of these are general conduct rules taught in any school book but these have a deception plan with some points to bind his followers. For example, point no 34 says, “Always wear this locket to make you remember that we (the photo in the locket is that of Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh and his guru) are only ones who is your Malik. Point No. 35 says, “ You got to die for your country and the Satiguru (Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh)”. Rule no 6. says, “ After getting up in the morning give a call – dhan dhan satiguru tera aasra; (satiguru here means Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh). Rule no. 1 says, “ Remove all suffixes like Sharma, Verma, Arora, Sandhu. Write only Insan.” Similarly, according to rule no 15, “15th part of your income should be given in charity or to Shah Satinam Ji Green Welfare Force”. This is how he is building his personality cult by obliterating all symbols of other religions forcing people to give their hard-earned income to his Dera. He is allegedly known to have a criminal record. A CBI inquiry report against him for the murder of Ranjit Singh, a former manager, and another of a local reporter as well as of sexual exploitation of sadhvis, against him has been placed before the Punjab & Haryana high Court on 25th May, 2007.

If he is a true saint, he should have apologised for his heinous misdeed of impersonating the tenth Sikh Guru. However, his convoluted apology written in the form of a Dera Press note seeking apology from the tenth Sikh Guru rather than the Khalsa Panth reveals his duplicity, and insincerity.

Similarly, the role of Noormahlias is of similar nature, and is also widely resented. Even declaration of Satiguru by Namdhari chief leader is not acceptable to the Sikhs. These remain the flash points and need to be curbed to avoid any communal tension. Though all the Sikhs agree that these deras be curbed but the political patronage given to these deras by all the political party leaders is a great cause of concern. SGPC was created to check these deras, but it has failed in its role as it has not carried out the required propagation of Sikhism, especially among the poor who are being exploited. Now the stage has reached that the nearly 80% youth in the rural areas have become apostate. It is now often said that times are not far when the Sikhs will lose their base in Punjab. The Sikhs should blame themselves for this, and should not find excuses.

Time has come, when the Sikh clergy rather than following the whims of powers that be should pay attention to dharmprachar. They must shed their political robes, and wear the spiritual robes, so that the Sikhs in general get the required religious guidance and solace. The mayawad of Gurdwaras must be curbed. The preachers, the kirtanias and granthis should be dedicated to Sikhism rather than to maya. SGPC is not a governmental institution; it is a religious institution. It must refrain from any political affiliation to ensure that the Sikhs from all political systems have equal access to it. It must employ only those who have religious zeal. The religious karmachari system must stop forthwith. Their pracharaks must perform. Deras have come up because of their failures. It is the Sikhs themselves who have to change and bring in the change. No one will come from outside to help them.

“Hurry up please, it is time
Hurry up please, it is time.” – T S Eliot


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