NEW DELHI: A 7-star hotel and resort complete with a “Skybar”, replicas of Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and Disney Palace, a cinema hall, shopping complex, food court, an “International School and hostel, hospital, ayurvedic pharmacy and guards at key locations – Dera Sacha Sauda’s headquarters in Haryana, on the outskirts of Sirsa, presents a staggering picture of wealth and power.
Every building is decorated with hoardings carrying pictures of its chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who took over as its chief in 1990. The flamboyant self-styled spiritual leader — dubbed the “Guru in bling” due to his fondness for glittering costumes and state-of-the-art motorcycles — is now in jail.
Set up in 1948, the Dera Sacha Sauda — which describes itself as a social welfare and spiritual organization — claims to have 50 million followers in India and abroad. The numbers had brought it favour of political parties across the board
But on Wednesday, the heart of Ram Rahim’s empire was bracing for a police raid, NDTV found during a visit. Less than two weeks ago, the sect had triggered mayhem across Haryana and Punjab when Ram Rahim was found guilty of raping two women. Vehicles were burned, stones thrown and the police and the media, including NDTV, targeted. The violence left 30 people dead and around 250 injured.
Criticism was heaped on the Haryana government for failing to anticipate the situation, even though more than a lakh of Dera followers had steadily flowed into Panchkula for days before the verdict.
The mood at the 800-acre campus was subdued. Few people were seen. At the hospital, where many people were admitted after the August 25 violence, most beds were empty.
The campus is dominated by the pink mansion, dubbed the “gufa”, meaning a cave, where Ram Rahim lived with his family. This is also the place where women were sexually exploited by self-styled godman, one of the rape survivors had written in a detailed letter to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Though guards at the gates maintained silence, locals said Ram Rahim’s wife, two daughters and son still live here. Ram Rahim’s adopted daughter Honeypreet Insan, one of the leaders of the Dera whom the police are looking for, is said to be on the run.
The Mahi cinema hall, where Ram Rahim’s last MSG film is still playing, looked equally abandoned. The food stalls outside were empty. The “International School”, where locals said hundreds of students studied and boarded, is empty too. The police had asked the parents to withdraw their children. So was the sports stadium christened Bhartiya Khel Gaon.
The Dera Sacha Sauda has large support among Dalits and backward castes and conducts various social drives, like blood donation and afforestation. It has funded and constructed hospitals, hostels for girls and helped with the rehabilitation of sex workers. In 2003, it set a Guinness World Record for the largest blood donation camp ever.