Editor's note: This is the first in a multi-part series that profiles people immediately affected by Ram Rahim's incarceration and police crackdown on the Dera Sacha Sauda.
Rohtak: Sundu Ram Vashisht would have been 75 today. He may have been sitting outside his humble house, looking out at his farm land and playing with his grandchildren.
"If only he had not gone to the Dera Sacha Sauda ashram that day..." rues his son, Ram Kishan.
Kishan, 40, was 27-years-old when he last saw his father. "Exactly 13 years ago, this month, my father left with a fellow villager to attend a monthly religious meeting of the Dera and never returned," he says.
With the Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh now behind bars and his lavish 700-acre headquarters, or ashram as it is popularly called, being searched brick by brick, Kishan waits to hear some news about his father. "He went inside with his friend but never stepped out. How is that even possible?" he asks.
On 24 September, 2004, Kishan's father, hailing from Charkhi Dadri village, went to attend a monthly religious meeting of the Dera at the insistence of his friend Munshi Ram.
"The followers were given a target of bringing the maximum number of people to attend the monthly meeting... thus, Munshi took my father," says Kishan. "They had a target of making more and more people join the Dera."
Munshi, a watchman at the government school, returned to the village alone, but not before calling Kishan and informing him that his father had "suddenly disappeared". Kishan recalls how he, accompanied by the village sarpanch and other panchayat members, had rushed to the Dera but they were not allowed inside.
"They asked us to accept Ram Rahim as ‘Pitaji’ like other devout followers. They said that we have to be a part of the Dera and only once Ram Rahim blessed us, would we be allowed to meet my father."
He alleges that despite filing an official missing person report, the Sirsa police remained uncooperative. He says the police did not get into the Dera despite the family's request that the CCTV footage be checked and Vashisht's movements be traced. "They did nothing except sitting on my complaint for the past 13 years," says Kishan.
He adds that in the initial years, he and other family members would regularly try to enter the Dera premises. "I myself have visited more than 20 times but each time, we haven't been let past the gate. They'd always say that to enter, we would've to become a part of the Dera and, that way, get to meet my father as well. They did not relent even once and I knew their behaviour was suspicious. But what could I do?" he says.
Vashisht going missing left his wife and Kishan’s mother Savitri Devi distraught. "His absence cost us a lot. My mother suffered a paralysis attack and was bed-ridden. She died in 2013, waiting and hoping that he will return," Kishan says.
The recent clampdown on Dera's activities has made Kishan hopeful again. He has now submitted a fresh application to Charkhi Dadri police station, describing the complete story and asking them to establish contact with Sirsa police to look for his father. "We have also asked that the police should quiz Munshi as he had accompanied my father and would definitely know what had actually happened," he says.
Charkhi Dadri Sadar police station in-charge inspector Raghubir Singh confirmed receiving the application from Kishan recently. He said they would contact Sirsa police to check if they have stumbled upon any helpful information in this regard during the search operation in the Dera.
The author is a Rohtak based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Published Date: Sep 13, 2017 02:23 pm | Updated Date: Sep 13, 2017 02:23 pm