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Decade-long investigation into Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh unveils crime story stranger than fiction

How do you tell a story, that has already been the story? Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insan’s conviction by a CBI court in Panchkula last year is no secret. It brought the country to a standstill, and perhaps for the first time in a long time, convinced people to turn back to their TV screens, not to gather information about the case, but rather to revel in the chaos that a criminal godman's followers had unleashed on a city. The horror of selective consumption aside, it made a larger point about the state of the country and its troubles with regards to controlling religious sects, all the while remaining true to its secular label.

Known more for his tacky films than the myriad cases filed against him (thank you, broadcast news), Ram Rahim’s appearance on the national stage was served with salacious, conspiratorial theories regarding his relationship with the TV news’ queen of one month – Honeypreet Insan. A balanced, objective perspective would have been capable of looking beyond the slime of this red-carpet trash served up as journalism. Anurag Tripathi’s Dera Sacha Sauda and Gurmeet Ram Rahim offers that perspective—the one we need—though may not deserve.

 Decade-long investigation into Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh unveils crime story stranger than fiction

Frenetic, frightening, almost too rewarding to a reader, Dera Sacha Sauda and Gurmeet Ram Rahim almost seems fictional because of its findings

Tripathi, who was part of Tehelka in 2007, a magazine known for its investigations and sting operations, narrates a story that if you are prepared believe, is even more unnerving and discomforting than the visuals we drank our tea to in those anarchic days. For those who think or wish that the book should be about Ram Rahim and his sexual crimes alone—for it’d be every bit the sardonic read—look away. This is so much more, thankfully. As beguilingly real, it feels implausible.

Tripathi begins by narrating the start of Tehelka’s investigation, that even in 2007—five years after the CBI had launched its own investigation—was new to the presses in Delhi. It is every bit Spotlight and All the President’s Men from here on, with room for more, so much more. Anonymous tips, suspicious meetings, lives at risks, last-minute turnarounds, undercover identities, frantic trips, sleepless nights are all part of what Tripathi and his co-investigator on the story, Etmad A, experienced. Khan went through the thick and thin of it all. It is frenetic, frightening, almost too rewarding to a reader, to seem believable at times. But given that the investigation took place in the pre-smartphone age, a fair bit of the mechanisms at use are kinetic, thereby assigning the narrative energy of movement, over thought.

It is crucial to remind oneself at each point that this is not a work of fiction, albeit it ticks most of the requisite boxes. It is despairingly real, and the pressures that Tripathi and his colleague must have experienced putting their lives at risk while blending in at the Dera’s headquarters in Sirsa feels overwhelming. Not necessarily due to the language, because Tripathi restrains himself from over-elaborating, or aphorising his emotions. Considering he has written the book a decade on, it is admirable that Tripathi’s diction is still attuned to the principles of journalism. Evidence, perhaps, of the fact that some books are best written by journalists, even if they carry within themselves the potential for fictional retouches and improvisation.

In the process of telling the story of Tehelka’s investigation, Tripathi expertly, layer by layer, unmasks the man at the centre of it all. There are bloodcurdling, bone-chilling revelations: How Ram Rahim, a 24-year-old took over the Dera Sacha Sauda, how he engineered his clout, normalised rape, accumulated wealth and eliminated those who came in his way. A conjunction of these make Ram Rahim look less like the man-baby sex-addict that TV coverage has portrayed him, and more of the delusional yet hauntingly merciless and cunning criminal that he is.

Perhaps the one question that has had perplexed viewers roll over in their sleep or pull their hair out, is how can all of this be so easy to pull off? What potion of deliriousness do the followers of the Dera drink every day? The answer to that question is easily the most tragic part of Tripathi’s investigation into the Dera Sacha Sauda as an institution. Families and people so blind in their faith that they refuse raped women a return back home. “Uske maa-baap ne bola ki TV, picture dekhne ko nahi milta hoga isiliye tu bhaag aayi,” one key witness says of a woman’s return home after being raped by Ram Rahim. It is jarring on so many levels, the realisation that to Ram Rahim and his ilk, the system—be it familial or political—is actually a handy tool. Plus, the roots of the Sauda as a possible departure from class and caste hierarchies, reads all the more defeatist now that we know what it thrust most families into. Though Tripathi could have been tempted to brood over the issue and give into the frustrations he himself must have felt, he chooses to skip exposition and sticks to reporting.

For those who think the book is just an extension of Tehelka’s investigation or a detailed retelling of it–as joyously readable as that is–there is much that Tripathi has done since. Most crucially, unearthing the making of Ram Rahim’s suicidal outfit of forcibly castrated men. How even well-educated surgeons answered the Baba’s call to carry out surgeries is as baffling as any other question that the book may leave you with.

The book consists of two parts, even though they may overlap across timelines at certain points. The investigation of 2007, easily the most chillingly racy part of the book, and the investigations Tripathi has done since to better understand how the juggernaut of Ram Rahim’s empire came to be, and how it was brought down. The latter, expectedly, is slow, and given its placement at the end of the book feels like a geared down stroll.

That said, Tripathi’s book is hard to put down — impossible, really. At times you wish it was told in the third person so we could know him and his colleagues better, rather than just their resumes. It is an incredible story, though more disturbing than it is exciting. It is overwhelming in the details it divulges, diving far deeper than TRP journalism bothers to. But it is in the discomfort of the possible questions it raises, the ones it answers, and the ones that it leaves for the reader that its value lies: all that while being engrossing and breathlessly bothersome.

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Updated Date: Apr 30, 2018 11:49:26 IST