‘The Clouds Of Falsehood Cannot Forever Hide The Sun Of Truth’
Neha Dixit profiles Dera Sacha Sauda's head, Gurmeet Ram Rahim
Ram Rahim, 41
HEAD, DERA SACHA SAUDA
NUMBER OF CASES: 3
RAPE, MURDER AND ILLEGAL ARMS
Photo: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
MILITANCY HAD still to recede from Punjab in 1990 when Gurmeet Ram Rahim, a 23-year-old Jat Sikh from a family of landlords in Rajasthan’s Ganganagar district, became as the head of a religious sect, the Dera Sacha Sauda, in Sirsa. He was a close associate of the dreaded militant, Gurjant Singh Rajasthani, of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), which aimed at seceding Punjab from India. Gurjant Singh put a bullet through the forehead of Rahim’s predecessor, Param Pita Shah Satnam Singh Ji Maharaj. The new guru took the title Hazoor Maharaj Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
Ram Rahim’s takeover ushered in a new era for the Dera, an otherwise humble sect, founded in 1948. Enjoying cross-party political favour, the Dera today claims a following in millions. Apart from several industries that are exempted from paying taxes, the Dera controls over 700 acres in Sirsa alone, the land allegedly stolen from villagers.
Discipline is strict inside the Dera. Training in arms is imparted. Residents live in celibacy, though Ram Rahim himself is a father of three.
Alleged malpractices at the Dera first came to light in 2002 when a sadhvi wrote anonymously to then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, accusing Ram Rahim of rape and mass-scale sexual exploitation.
“There are 35 to 40 girls here who have compromised themselves at the Dera. We appear to be devis, but are treated like prostitutes,” the woman wrote in her letter, adding: “My life is in danger, so I will not reveal my name.”
Since then, Ram Rahim’s name has figured in many criminal cases, including the murder of the sadhvi’s brother in July 2002, allegedly for carrying her letter to the PM.
In May 2007, an unusual advertisement appeared in two regional newspapers in Punjab, showing Ram Rahim dressed like the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. It quite succeeded in its aim
to stir trouble throughout that summer. Dera members regularly clash with Sikh hardliners. This has sent out a message that were he arrested in the CBI cases pending against him, it would trigger massive and violent public unrest.
The CBI was not deterred, however, and filed charges against Ram Rahim for rape and on two counts of murder. Further testimony against the Dera chief came in August 2007, when TEHELKA got Khatta Singh, the Dera chief’s former driver, once of his inner circle and a crucial CBI witness, admitting on video recorded on a hidden camera that Rahim’s men had committed at least seven murders.
He also said that sexual exploitation at the Dera was rampant, and that several male followers had been forcibly castrated on Rahim’s orders.
In spite of the numerous allegations against Ram Rahim, his Dera continue to grow. Rahim is adamant he will not apologise for dressing up as Guru Gobind Singh. At his first court appearance in Ambala, he arrived in a convoy of 50 cars, with 1.25 lakh followers in tow. Schools and colleges had to be closed.
Dera spokesman Aditya Insan, an opthamologist from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told TEHELKA: “The entire controversy has been thrust upon us. It is the handiwork of organised crime called politics.” Insan is especially indignant over charges of sexual misconduct, saying his own sister-in-law stays at the Dera.
Meanwhile, the Dera remains impenetrable and its alleged gory murders, rapes, sexual exploitation, forced castration and illegal stockpiling of arms and ammunition are still uninvestigated.