Dera Sacha Sauda – An Encounter

Dera Sacha Sauda, hitherto unknown to most of us, has in the past few days occupied much mind & conversation space. Our senses have been battered, from the ridiculous, to the evil, to the inexplicable fervor of the followers.

Who are these people & why would they even look up to this Neanderthal creature of puerile sensibilities in Lycra, sequins & special effects?

So, it was a strange coincidence indeed, that I actually met a devotee of Dera Sacha Sauda last evening at a close friend’s!
Strange, because not once did I think, that I may know someone so removed from my life, in a place that I considered as good as home.

In the course of the evening I made conversation with a woman in her late forties, visiting from Canada, to trousseau shop for her daughter.
The conversation flitted from ‘designer’ lenghas in Chandni Chowk, to the extravagance of genuine ones, the choice available today &….. all things mothers discuss when they’re as excited as their daughters but tempered down by looming bills.
Her husband she said, works for Vancouver City & she, for a real estate company after years of being a home maker.
Before we fly off, she said, my daughter had hoped to take the blessings of our elders at the Dera, but this time it’s not to be.

Dera.
A word which had no place in my lexicon till last week perked my ears – Which one? Where?
~The one that’s on TV~

At the risk of sounding snobbish or was it ignorance, that I couldn’t for the life of me associate her with the image I had in my mind.

Her in-laws & a dozen other families, Dera followers, immigrated to Canada in 1950s & 60s.
And though Sikhism frowns on the caste system it’s actually a reality with Jats being on top of the pecking order.
The lower castes, marginalised, landless, with few opportunities, left as labour for New England fruit orchards & lumber jacks in Canada.

With the connections & the association of the Dera they belonged to, they stayed close at Gurudwaras, Langars & Kirtans.
They socialised & offered emotional support to each other.
The feeling of belonging & having someone of their own was comforting in foreign lands.

After all these years their ties with the Dera were strong. It is a close-knit community that remains eternally grateful for the start & opportunity given to them.
The second generation is educated & largely successful.
They organise Deras & Bhandaras in North America. Some of them hold positions of authority in the overseas organisation & also collect huge contributions. The figures were actually mind boggling.

Their children are encouraged on vacations, to return home & spend time at the Dera for Seva, to connect with their roots.
Doctors, engineers, architects offer gratis expertise to the Dera’s works & projects. In fact, a devotee parfumier was working on a perfume for their store.

Articulate & with an astonishing frankness she answered many curious questions.
We get a lot of respect at the Dera, she said. Others look up to us & our success. It gives hope to the less fortunate that they too can make a good life with hard work & perseverance.

The family who remains in Bhatinda is associated on a daily basis.
A cousin is a manager in the Dera’s dairy. Others also find employment, social interaction, affinity through arranged marriages. A club of sorts.

But what about the horrors & crimes of Gurmeet Ram Rahim?
~He’s a Baba gone rogue. Punish him. Let the law take its course.
With your closed minds & lack of understanding of our position in Indian society don’t condemn an entire Dera and the work its done – the security, the opportunities, the employment, the solace it has offered to thousands of people.

The Radha Soamis also have the same kind of organisations.
Beas follows the hereditary tradition, Dayal Bagh is like ours. Is it because their followers are wealthy & well connected you aren’t critical of them?

No, I’ve seen the Radha Soamis up close I told her. The community service they do is highly commendable. The bonding they offer is good for those who seek such ties but it makes me wary that the Huzoor, Guru or Baba is almost God incarnate & his word & wisdom is taken as gospel (pun intended).
That ardor & devotion can test a lesser man.

Yes, she said, Gurmeet Ram Rahim was that lesser man.
A speck. A shameful blot. The Dera is bigger than that.
He can go to prison but my family and I are forever grateful to this Dera & nothing will shake our faith

After all these years in another country, a different life what ties you to the Dera?
~Our roots & culture. Most of you wouldn’t understand because you’ve never spent a day in our shoes.
Do you know what it feels like, if you are stopped from singing at your place of worship because it disturbs the higher castes? Do you know that our Gurudwara decorations can irk them too ? Our people get protection at the Dera. Can you even begin to understand that? ~

Did you know what he was up to?
~ Many benefited from his misdeeds. Others were scared & kept quiet.
When ordinary people see powerful politicians & administrative officers hobnobbing with the Baba, they know they have no recourse – be it for rape, murder or extortion – as both are in cahoots.
In fact, I blame the politicians who gave him a free pass. They emboldened him ~

Who were these people who descended upon Panchkula?
~ The foot soldiers, who Gurmeet Ram Rahim used & took advantage of & a large number of political goons added to the mayhem.

But her passing comment, turned the evening’s conversation upside down-

The word at the Dera is that the BJP laid a trap for Gurmeet Ram Rahim. They assured him that nothing would happen to him & he should come to the Court with his cavalcade, in full regalia & style. He walked right into their trap.

You’d be surprised how many of us are grateful for that ~

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