Gurmeet Ram Rahim convicted of rape: For millions of followers, questioning Dera chief isn't an option
Dera followers genuinely believe Gurmeet Ram Rahim can lead them to salvation. They proudly flaunt the social welfare and anti-drug programmes he has run in the last few years
- Rakesh Dhawan, a youth in his 20s, does not have an iota of doubt if it was a meditation technique prescribed by his guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim that melted a five-millimetre stone in his abdomen.
- A middle-aged farmer from Punjab, member of Green S Force Welfare, a group of baton-wielding militia that protects the guru-in-bling during his court and public appearances, credits the Dera Sacha Sauda head for his son securing a government job.
- Aditya Insaan, his media handler, an ophthalmologist from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), credits the Ram Rahim for his transformation from a skirt chaser or sex fiend.
I heard these and more such unbelievable stories during a visit to Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim's sprawling ashram in Sirsa for a narrative for Latterly magazine, an online international publication, in 2015.
Supporters there told me how the guru would throw his old clothes, socks and caps to them as souvenirs once he believed they had achieved something special. Hansraj Chauhan, a petitioner in a castration case against the baba, said the latter was overjoyed after the procedure was conducted at Shah Satnamji Specialty hospital in Gursarmodia (Sriganganagar) in 2000. "You are a real man now," he is said to have told Chauhan, throwing his old clothes at him and terming it "loot of love".
In almost every case, an elder — a father, mother or brother — is instrumental in introducing their sons, daughters or siblings to the spiritual organisation. Ranjit Singh, for instance, a resident of Kurukshetra who was shot dead by Dera followers in July 2002, introduced two of his female relatives to the ashram. One of these later filed the rape case against Ram Rahim, which produced the conviction.
Singh withdrew his relatives from the ashram only after he got to know about their ordeal. The Dera head allegedly suspected that Singh was behind the publication of an anonymous letter whereby a sadhvi alleged sexual exploitation by him.
Hansraj Chauhan (37), a resident of Tohana, says his parents took him to the guru when he was only five-years-old. Gurmeet Ram Rahim asked him to recite a mantra in Punjabi, which translated to "God is truth and formless", and also gave him sweets. Initially his job was to offer water to visitors in the ashram and make announcements about the guru’s arrivals and discourses. Subsequently, he also started labouring on growing vegetables and recording the guru's discourses in cassettes. He also started singing bhajans and playing them in performances during the discourses.
Gurdas Tur (44), a resident of Sirsa whose constable father had introduced him to the ashram and who has since become a witness against the guru, remembers listening to Chauhan's songs. "People liked to hear songs from Hansraj and women singers," Tur recollects.
In 1994, Chauhan assisted in the construction of an ashram in Himachal Pradesh, something all new followers do. Five years later, Chauhan who hitherto frequently shuttled between Sirsa and his hometown Tohana, was asked to become a hostel resident in the Sirsa ashram. This is considered a major promotion. For this, he even placed a request with Gurmeet's private chamber. Subsequently, Chauhan says, he was taken to Shri Satnamji Specialty Hospital and both his testicles were removed. Today, he can't grow a moustache or develop chest hair.
These followers have been taught never to question the guru, and to always fight for his honour at all cost. They easily turn to violence when the Dera head is questioned. I have had a personal experience of this. During a pre-election survey in northern Delhi in 2013, I came across a Dera follower, a middle-aged man, and I questioned his belief. Within seconds, the man became so abusive, I had to literally run to escape being beaten up.
For these followers, the guru's word is cast in stone and must be upheld. Insiders in the Sirsa ashram cite auction of vegetable and fruit baskets as an example. Followers from different regions are invited for these auctions, which take place frequently. Fruit baskets, which otherwise cost a few hundred rupees, are auctioned for lakhs of rupees.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had a tough time investigating cases against the Dera head, because no follower was ready to speak out. The agency learnt about the sexual exploitation of more than two dozen girls, but had to drop these cases for there were no FIRs or witness statements. Most of the women guards, who allegedly took the girls to Gurmeet Ram Rahim's bedroom in the cave, denied the charge.
The Dera followers genuinely believe the guru can lead them to salvation. They proudly flaunt the social welfare and anti-drug programmes he has run in the last few years.
A restaurateur in Fatehabad, a city about 55 minutes from Sirsa, praises Gurmeet Ram Rahim's campaign against drugs in Punjab. He says his son quit smoking after joining the Dera. The followers also cite Guinness World Records set by the guru on blood donations and eye camps. He is also hailed for getting commercial sex workers married and for the work done during natural calamities. A tweet of him saying "If you find any acid attack victim girl, inform me. I'll adopt her and get her treated like my own daughter. Her marriage will be done by her wishes" was retweeted over 8,500 times.
But Gurmeet Ram Rahim's detractors believe an overwhelming number of these records have happened after Gurmeet started facing heat from the investigative agencies regarding rape, murder and castration charges.
Though Gurmeet Ram Rahim is considered 'Pitaji' (father) by his followers, he refuses to take responsibility for their acts of omission or otherwise. In an interview in 2015, he told me that he shouldn't be held responsible for his followers/guards firing at journalist Ramchandra Chatrapati and for killing Ranjit Singh. Even though in the case of Chhatrapati, the crime weapon, a revolver, was licensed in the name of a Dera manager.
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