Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan is the present Guru of Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS). The word Dera, also sometimes called Dehra, means ‘Encampment’, or the dwelling place of a sant (saint). Sacha Sauda literally means ‘true business’ and gets its name from an event in the (first) Sikh Guru Nanak’s life. DSS calls itself a “Confluence of Religions” as reflected in its present Guru’s name where ‘Ram’ indicates Hinduism, ‘Rahim’ refers to Islam and ‘Singh’ to Sikhism. The symbol of the Dera represents the number 1 with the combination of religious symbols from Sikhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. DSS calls itself as an inter-caste, inter-religious spiritual organisation founded in postcolonial, post-partitioned, Punjab in 1948 by Shah Mastana Balochistani (Shah Mastana is said to be from Balochistan) at Sirsa in Haryana (located on Punjab-Haryana border). It is also said that DSS is an offshoot of Radhasoami religious organisation. After Shah Mastana, Shah Satnam Ji succeeded as the second Guru from 1963-1990, followed by Dr Saint Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh Ji Insan as, the present, third Guru.
On 25th August 2017 the special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court convicted Ram Rahim Singh of the rape of two sadhvis in his Dera and he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. In addition to this, on 17th January 2019, he was also convicted of the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati and sentenced to life imprisonment. And most recently, on 18th October 2021 he was given a life sentence for the murder of his manager Ranjit Singh. The conviction in 2017 led to widespread protests, in the form of vandalism and damage to public property by DSS followers, which was countered by the state with a violent response, leaving more than thirty people dead and several injured. This also raised several questions in the mainstream media regarding the future of the DSS and its Guru. In this uncertainty, due to DSS Guru’s imprisonment, his Dehdhari (living) physical presence becomes absent, or on hold, without any assurance to his followers, called premis (lovers), of its return. In this context, the existence of the Guru becomes virtual, taking the form of an archive consisting in videos of his Satsangs (congregations), his music videos and audio DVDs, and most importantly his MSG: Messenger of God films that are present on YouTube channels, DVDs, and other platforms of social and virtual media. Edited clips from these videos were played on giant screens during DSS’s Satsangs to assure followers of the Guru’s presence.
Image of Guru projected on giant screen at a DSS congregation in Punjab on October 2021, Photo: author
Therefore, irrespective of DSS Guru’s imprisonment, his existence remains formative in the everyday religiosity of DSS followers through exchanging images of him, and previous gurus, and sharing his video clips and other media on numerous WhatsApp groups. Through these interactions the divine wonder enshrined in the Guru’s presence will continue to mesmerize followers by keeping the politics of attraction intact through multifarious engagements. The exhibited images below are shared by followers of DSS after Guru’s imprisonment in platforms such as WhatsApp groups.
Koonal Duggal, Research Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh.