The rapidity with which protests spread is a pointer to the growing clout of deras that have mushroomed across the state and their potential to spark off conflict.
In fact, all major villages in Punjab today have two gurdwaras — one frequented by the so-called “upper castes” or Jat Sikhs, another by Dalits or “lower castes,” including members of SCs and OBCs. Ironically, Sikhism was founded five centuries ago to counter the caste system. Today, it’s members of under-privileged communities who constitute the growing ranks of deras, each one usually headed by a living guru — much against the tenets of Sikhism.
While there’s no exact number of how many deras there are or how many followers they have, there are at least a dozen with a following of 1 lakh or more devotees each. Dera Sachkhand is one of them and it hasn’t been in the news of late. Its leader Niranjan Dass had done little that could be seen as provocative as in the case of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh who is said to have worn clothes akin to those worn by Guru Gobind Singh.
The apparent provocation for the attack on Dass could be his presence in a Vienna gurdwara and his calling the Dera’s inspiration Ravidass as Guru Ravidass. Vienna is considered a base for former militants and Sikh ideologues who were given “political asylum” during the peak of Punjab militancy. They are said to have continued backing hardliners through monetary and moral support.
The significance of these deras, including Sachkhand Balan, can be gauged from the fact that come election time, leaders of all political parties flock to dera chiefs. For, the word of the dera chief is a writ respected by followers and, therefore, they constitute committed vote banks. The legitimacy given to these deras and the steady weaning away of the faithful from the gurdwaras has often rattled the Sikh clergy and its more hardline followers pitting them against the deras.
The “dera culture,” as Akalis call it, has seen a steady entrenchment over the last few years. One reason is the growing assertiveness of Dalits and their call for a say in the management of gurdwaras — a role that has been the exclusive preserve of the established Sikh clergy.
Dera Sachkhand’s history mirrors this assertiveness. Says Panjab University political scientist Ronki Ram: “Dalit consciousness in Punjab, in fact, emerged against the backdrop of the teachings of Ravidass (the dera’s patron saint), an untouchable saint-poet of the North Indian Bhakti movement who presented a middle path between assimilation and radical separatism for the construction of a separate Dalit identity”.
“Social interaction levels between Jat Sikhs and Dalits may have improved but there is little change in social hierarchy involving Dalits,” says Pramod Kumar, Director, Institute of Development and Communication (IDC). The feeling of being discriminated against — when it comes to managing gurdwaras — has added to the political voice of these deras. Deras also enjoy popular support for being at the vanguard of social causes, including a high-profile campaign against drug addiction, a major problem in rural areas.
It’s not a surprise, therefore, that deras are wary of the Akalis and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). Since they preach and practise secularism, they become a natural ally of the Congress. This does not deter other politicians. It’s well-known that former Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and even current Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal met Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh as well as Sant Niranjan Dass before the 2005 Assembly elections.
The deras’ tradition of giving the Guru Granth Sahib pride of place next to photographs and idols of their own gurus is deeply resented by the Sikh clergy, represented by the five high priests and the SGPC who argue that Sikh tenets don’t provide for worshipping living gurus, idols or photographs. So the clergy accuses the deras of weaning away followers and “distorting” the faith.
Dera chiefs, however, feel that Sikhs are disillusioned with the established clergy’s hardline tenets and the fact that the SGPC is so “closely” involved with politics. It’s such faultlines that run across the state, just under the surface, waiting for a spark — like the one in Vienna — to erupt.
It is a very good article analysing the problem. Guru Granth Sahib contains the totality to lead the pepole.It does not need any living people(so called sants)to spread its word. If someone have Guru Granth Sahib in their premises(gurudwara, dera, house), there should be some sort of rituals to be followed, including no caste system, no picture or idol worship, no feet touching of any person(including saints). Follow the tradition and values, you can have Guru Granth Sahib, if you do not want to follow the tradition, please do not use Guru Granth Sahib to get people in your deras. do whatever you like and no one will object to that unless you use guru Granth Sahib as a tool.Why deras are mushrooming in Panjab, we all need to think about it. Educating pepole is the key. Democracy without education will drive us all down and also in a wrong direction.Do we need that many different ideologies in Panjab? Conratulations to Vipin Pubby for writing unbiased article.
Dera Sacha Sauda, Dera Sachkhand, Dera Beas, Dera Bhaniarawala etc and numerous other such independent institutions which has emerged in the north of India especially Punjab and Haryana are slowly and steadily becoming a source of immense wealth and political power, thanks to the indefinite followers who have started believing in their specific ideologies. The base has been so strong as visible in the last general elections that they have successfully influenced the formation of government in Punjab. It is generally noticed that although the followers of these deras belong more or less to low income groups, the heads of these deras are seen moving around in luxirious cars, living in palatial bunglows and have acquired large number of properties not only in India but almost all the world. Unless their followers do little bit of self realisation in the sense that whether they have gained anything from believing the dera's so called idelogies, the future seems actually dark. Wakeup call!!
The article, ‘Deciphering Deras’ factually is very correct but scientifically and geometrically left explained and concluded as to who are at fault? The problem is more political than religious and the fault lies with the politicians in view of the conclusion followed based on facts given in the article, ‘Deciphering Deras’ by Vipin Pubby: “The people involved in clash against each other in the name of religion i.e. Sikhism are disobeying Sri Guru Granth Sahib in its letter and spirit openly and following it in violence as the true Sikhs should always believe in casteless and classless society including the one that there cannot be a living guru. The immoral politicians are supporting such mean characters that are disobeying the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib in their day today life. Here question arises as to how do the deras get power and their legitimacy? The answer is very clear that the visits and obeisance paid by top politicians give Deras legitimacy”. By Balbir Singh Sooch