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Hours before Ram Rahim’s sentencing, dera stays tense but calm

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Unfazed by curfew in Sirsa, a team from ThePrint found the godman’s followers carrying on with their daily routine.

Hours before godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s sentencing in a rape case, there was an uneasy calm inside his dera though most followers were carrying on with their routine work. Curfew and the heavy deployment of security forces in Sirsa did not have any visible impact on the dera, a parallel world within the town, which was unaffected by what’s happening on the “other side”.

In Dera Sacha Sauda, people were following their normal routines. Shops with life-size photos of the self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in jazzy outfits are selling baked items, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. The apparel store is open; a theatre proudly displaying posters of the godman’s last ‘hit’ Jattu Engineer has screenings scheduled as usual.

Mahi Cinema which showcases films by MSG to his followers.Source: Nayanika Chatterjee/ThePrint

A team of the godman’s staff, all of whom are wearing the ‘MSG’ uniform that is a poor imitation of the Indian Army’s, is busy cleaning the compound of the ashram. People are feasting at MSG food corners; many are queued up outside the ashram’s gates to go inside for the ardas (prayer) and youngsters ride around on their Bullet motorcycles. Not a single Army or local police personnel is in sight.

“What curfew? Can you see anything here? This is dera. This is our home. No one can enter this place just because they wish to. And we are carrying on with our daily life, who gave them the right to interrupt that,” a devotee says, refusing to identify himself.

“The media is not showing the right picture. On TV, they are saying that we are all stuck inside and the Army is evacuating us. Can you even see one Army or police personnel here. They can’t and will not come,” the devotee said.

At the gate of the ashram, this reporter and an accompanying photojournalist are permitted to visit but on the condition that we enter without our phones, cameras or even a note book. There are balloons and posters still across the ashram wishing the self-styled “Messenger of God” a very happy birthday, though the celebration was held on 15 August.

Cards greeting the godman across the ashram. Source: Nayanika Chatterjee/ThePrint

Large numbers of women head to the prayer hall that is surrounded by well-maintained parks, that have paper sculptures of animals every 100 metres. Giant greeting cards, allegedly from devotees in Singapore, Canada, UK, Morocco and Qatar are visible everywhere as are posters of the godman singing at concerts.

Thousands of followers sit in the prayer hall facing the godman’s empty gold throne, while the ardas is on.

“He has done so much for us, how do we believe that he was involved in this crime. For us, he is god who can never be wrong and we can even lay down our lives for him. Whoever died in the clash in Panchkula are martyrs for us,” a devotee said.

(See: Photos from inside the secretive Dera Sacha Sauda complex)

Another devotee claims that he was born in this ashram.

“I grew up here and studied here and have never heard of any ongoing illegal practice. We come here and pray, listen to baba-ji’s sermons. If today, he is in trouble because of a conspiracy by a few, we are sure that he will come out clean,” he said.

Comparing him to lord Krishna and Ram, a woman said, “Even Ram had to go for vanvas (exile) for 14 years. Krishna was born inside a jail. Were they all criminals? Same is happening with babaji. It is a rough time but he will come out clean. He is just going through a test.”

Dera followers standing in queue waiting to offer prayers at the inner sanctum inside

Devotees say the dera is their home and say that they will not leave the premises no matter what.

“We are all sitting here and praying and no one can touch us. This is our home. How can someone from outside come and tell us to leave. We will not. They can try it if they wish to,” a follower said. “The Army is far away; we are not even concerned by what they are doing outside. We just want our gururji to be safe. Till we are assured that he is safe, we will not do anything.”

Another one said, “We are all peace-loving people but they are coaxing us, forcing us to react and retaliate.”

Devotees believe that Ram Rahim is the victim of a conspiracy.

“How could the court pass a judgment based on an anonymous letter? That could have been a conspiracy to overthrow him. Maybe the political parties wish that he be wiped out,” a devotee said. “We will definitely get angry if we are called goons and our babaji is abused on TV. Won’t you get angry if your father is abused?” he said.

Even as we speak, the Army proceeds a little further towards the dera. But they are still far from getting there.

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