The Root—Agrarian Distress

Dera, Crime, Politicians

S S Mahil

Chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, who designated himself as Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh pretending to be inclusive of all religions, and whose original name is Harpal Singh has been sentenced for twenty years of imprisonment in two separate cases of rape filed by his two close followers and has been sent to jail (In each of the two causes he has been sentenced for ten years of rigorous imprisonment) and a fine of thirty lakhs, out of which each victim is to be paid 14 lakhs each. After hearing this sentence this so-called baba squatted on the ground crying and started pleading for forgiveness. He was behaving like a child saying ‘will not go to jail’. Thus a self created aura of divinity around him was smashed proving him to be a coward. Even when his crime is proved and he is in jail, his representatives claim that they have been denied justice, some of his chieftains continue to say that even Jesus Christ was crucified and Guru Nanak was also put behind bars and all great gurus had to face such injustice. A majority of his followers still think that their guru is innocent, has not committed any crime and is wrongly jailed. This blind faith in dera chief has not completely ended yet. But those who had firm belief that their guru has divine powers and none can harm him, are in deep shock and some are confined to bed.

These people deeply drowned in blind faith were misled to throng Panchkula where a CBI court was to pronounce judgment in the rape Case against dera chief. Though verdict was to be pronounced on 25th August but people started pouring in few days earlier. They came with bag and baggage to stay long. Punjab & Haryana High court instructed Haryana govt. to impose section 144 to prevent the gathering, as this provides that any assembly of five or more persons to be illegal and liable to be dispersed. Though Haryana BJP government formally declared imposition of section 144 but did not impose it and allowed more than a lakh people gather in Panchkula. Not only that, Ran Bilas Sharma, education minister in Haryana government of BJP led by Manohar Lal Khattar, issued a statement saying that Haryana government will provide basic amenities to the dera followers gathered at Panchkula. It clearly exhibited that Haryana government was in active collaboration with dera.

This huge gathering at Panchkula was not sudden and spontaneous. This was pre-planned by the master minds in dera management. As soon as dera chief was pronounced guilty and this news leaked out of court room, people there were provoked and as planned in advance, violence started. Media vans were specially targeted, were burned and overturned, some media persons were attacked, vehicles were burnt and window panes were broken. It is pertinent to note that dera followers targeted property but they did not attack security forces or any officials or anyone else. But security forces, including police and military retaliated with vengeance, they didn't give any warning, did not use lathicharge or water camons, they didn’t use even pellet guns so frequently used in Kashmir valley but directly resorted to firing. Generally if in any circumstance forces have to resort to firing it should be either in air and if it does not serve the purpose then below the waist. But in Panchkula forces fired directly in the upper parts of the body. All those killed were shot either on the chest or in the head. Thirty eight persons, including women and children were shot dead and nearly three hundred were injured.

Apart from the incidents in Panchkula efforts were made by dera activists to damage the government property in southern-western districts of Punjab and northern district of Haryana. Some such incidents happened in Delhi too. Curfew was imposed in the affected districts of Punjab and Haryana. This brought the normal life in this region to a grinding halt. It affected people's life adversely. People were wondering why this is happening after all—one rape accused was convicted, heaven have not fallen?

Haryana government was aware of the fact that whole proceeding was being monitored by Punjab & Haryana High Court and it is not in a position to evade the issue as such, and dera chief has to be brought to the court. So it promised the dera administration that Dera should mobilize a huge gathering of its followers, seeing which court will not dare to pronounce any adverse judgement. Even if court pronounced dera chief guilty, this mob shall not allow him to be taken to jail, he will be snatched from the police and shall be taken to safe place. This was the conspiracy. Haryana government extended its full co-operation in the first leg of the conspiracy. It allowed a huge gathering despite the explicit orders of the court to prevent such assembly. It turned it into a prohibitory order into only prohibition to carry arms. Haryana government had only this much role to play in this conspiracy, which it played perfectly.

Dera leaders tried to implement the second leg of the conspiracy. When Gurmit was pronounced guilty, they tried to provoke the people to overwhelm the security forces and get the dera chief released. But they were outnumbered by security forces which were at the directive of court though dera chief did try his best. Gurmit insisted on going in his own car though travelling by air was more comfortable. This was because he thought that while travelling in his own car, he can elope from the police custody. Security guards, who were his loyal followers, and his personal commandos tried to get him released and take away but could not succeed because of heavy deployment of military and para-military forces. They may have succeeded if only Haryana police was deployed at the spot. When this failed then dera leaders provoked followers to try to prevent the security forces talking the dera chief, this was an act of frustration. This was precisely the reason that dera in a statement said that they have been deceived.

Manohar Lal Khattar said in front of TV cameras that Haryana government has handled the situation very tactfully: main concern was to bring the dera chief to CBI court. If he had refused to come out, an operation to bring him out of dera would have more difficult resulting into bigger loss of life and property. It means some deal was struck with dera chief, some assurances were given to the dera chief, and this assurance might have to keep him free. After the whole episode dera issued a statement that "they have been deceived". They may mean that promise to dera by Haryana government was not kept. That is what dera statement means. What was the deception alleged by dera on the part of Haryana Govt.? What assurance Haryana Govt. gave to the dera chief for him agreeing to come to the Panchkula court? An independent enquiry is needed to answer these questions, solve the puzzle and expose the conspiracy, root cause of the whole disturbance. But a pre-condition for independent and impartial enquiry is possible if Khattar government is not in the saddle.

Gurmit is not the first dera chief to be exposed, convicted and sent to jail. Bapu Asha Ram and his son were put behind the bars on the allegations of rape. Asha Ram is still in the jail. Ram Pal, chief of Satlok Ashram in Haryana was arrested by using force and is facing trial. Similarly, one Ramnath Yadav who had a dera on a large tract of land near Mathura, was running his own state in the dera. Disputes in the dera never reached court but were settled inside the dera, if a police person entered the dera, he never came out. Para-military forces had to face a tough fight to arrest him. There are a number of deras which are involved in the similar crimes but are not exposed as none has yet come out to speak up.

Some people in Punjab claim that such crimes and irregularities are a phenomenon of non-Sikh deras and there are not such crimes in Sikh deras. Many people outside Punjab may be surprised to know that Sikhs too have their deras. But this claim is not backed by facts. Few years back a dera chief in a village in Ludhiana-Sangrur road was arrested on rape charges. Another dera whose headquarter is in Ludhiana district but has branches in other districts too is involved in grabbing of land, has a secret den underground and all sorts of crimes are reported in this den. Two persons were killed in this dera but their bodies were not found and no case was registered against dera. Few years back the peasants of Mehatpur area of Jalandhar district fought a pitched struggle against the effort to grab their land by dera. So the claim about deras in the name of Sikhi is false as it is not backed by facts.

The dera phenomenon is largely centered in the area of so-called green revolution, especially in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. With advent of imperialist model of agriculture in the name of green revolution mechanization of agriculture has largely reduced the work opportunity in agricultural sector. Because of industrial backwardness and specially the lack ol industrialization loss of jobs in agricultural sector was not compensated by job creation in industrial sector. There is a very high level of joblessness in rural Punjab. MNREGS has failed to solve this problem but on the contrary has become a fountainhead of corruption. Record of Punjab government on this count is very dismal. Unorganized sector has limited potential in providing jobs. This section of population is facing serious situation of unemployment. Advent of migrant labour has further aggravated this situation. On the other hand, with the policies of privatization, private institutions are dominating in health and education. This has turned the health and education into trade. Situation in government hospital and schools is very precarious. They cannot afford education and health care in private sector as it is too costly. So quality education and health care is not within their reach, this has enormously enhanced their cost of living. Thus Dalit labourers are facing a serious crisis, forcing them to suicides. Mostly Dalits do not identify themselves with Hindu religion. Sikhi is dominated by Jat community in rural areas, which have different layers of peasantry and landlords, they don't treat dalits on equal level, they are not allowed to serve the langar (common kitchen); even they are served langar separately not in the common line. Sikhi has advocated equality and opposed caste system. Guru Nanak Dev said that he stands with the downtrodden and has nothing to do with rich and upper castes but ideological degeneration started after Banda Bahadur and finally culminated in establishment of feudal kingdom of Ranjit Singh. Since then Sikhi is dominated by landlords and traders and its tradition of standing with the downtrodden has been abandoned. In this situation they identify themselves neither with Hindus nor with Sikhs. So they turn towards non-Sikh deras, where they are treated equally, find psychological solace and sometime given some economic help too. This is the basic reason for the mushrooming of deras and expansion of their base.

Poor and small peasants are also in serious crisis. So-called green revolution improved their lot to some extent and for some time, but it had led them into a whirlwind of deep crisis. Soil health is badly damaged, water table has gone down to a dangerous level and the danger of desertification is looming large on Punjab. Also, it has resulted in an ecological disaster leading to cancer and hepatitis B like fatal diseases acquiring the endemic proportions. These developments have resulted in enormous increase in production cost of agriculture and cost of living too, has led this section of peasantry into serious crisis. They are heavily indebted. According to study conducted by Punjab Agricultural University, 89% of peasantry is under heavy debt and 22% cannot repay their debt even if they sell their whole property. Engulfed in this crisis and indebtedness they are committing suicides and this phenomenon has acquired serious proportions, to the extent that they started committing suicides at gathering of peasants called by peasant organizations for loan waiver, thinking that organizations will ensure compensation for their family which their family may not get if they commit the same act at home. Faced with this situation they turn towards deras for mental solace and for better economic future, especially dera being run under the cover of and in the name of Sikhi.

Precisely speaking the agrarian distress is at the root of the proliferation of deras. Revolutionary movement could provide outlet for their crisis. But it has not been able to provide them mental solace. So revolutionary movement also, in a way, shares the responsibility for mushrooming of deras.

Expansion of basis of deras and their mushrooming is in reality the result of the backwardness of Indian society. This is reflection of semi-feudal, semi-colonial character of the country. Such a large scale expansion of deras and such a huge spread of blind faith is not possible in a developed capitalist country. Some incidents have been there in the developed capitalist countries too but these do not compare with the reach and influence of Deras in India. This is such a blind faith that followers tend to obey every order of dera. This converts these deras as a vote bank. In this situation the leaders of all parliamentary parties throng to deras for their support in election.
If one closely looks at the proceedings from starting of investigation of the case of rape till Gurmit going to jail, and even afterward, Court has acted as a government and government as an onlooker. Rape victim wrote two letters, one to the Prime Minister and another to Punjab and Haryana high court. Court acted upon it and ordered CBI prove and government did not. High Court monitored CBI investigation and took it to the conclusion resulting in conviction of dera chief. Court passed some order giving direction to Haryana government but Khattar government tried its level best to sabotage those orders, though formally and seemingly implementing those. A glaring example is court order to clamp prohibitory orders to prevent the people gathering in Panchkula but Khattar government ordered banning of carrying of arms, not banning gathering resulting huge gathering and heavy loss of life and property. With court playing pro-active role and government in the role of onlooker, people in large number are praising the Court and judiciary on social media. But these simple minded people don't understand that this is reflection of political crisis of this system.

This political system is just like a machine. State machinery has different parts, every part plays a definite role assigned to it. State Machinery has many parts, military, executive, legislative, and judiciary. When one part performs the tasks of other part, it clearly means that part whose role is assumed by other one is not working, or not working properly. When one or more parts of state machinery are not working properly it is reflection of political crisis. To understand it in a simple form, one should understand that political parties in government or in opposition are badly exposed and isolated among the masses. To face this situation they use many methods including caste, religion, regional parochialism and deras too. When people are losing confidence in political representatives of the ruling classes, it is necessary so that people have faith in other part of state machinery, in this case in judiciary. If people have lost confidence in it, it is pertinent that they have faith in military. When some showering praises on High Court and judge of CBI court, they must understand that court has been pro-active in this case concerning one individual but if there is a case where people or a section of people are facing state or government, court has acted as a weapon of rulers against people, may it be a case of declaring strike illegal, banning gheraos, upholding anti-people and anti-democratic black laws like UAPA, ESMA, AFSPA and many more, ordering to stand when national anthem is played in cinemas. It serves the ruling classes against the people.

A dangerous aspect of this judicial activism has come forth. One advocate of Panchkula filed a writ that security forces used excessive and undue force while dealing with dera followers in Panchkula, it directly resorted to firing without using other methods of crowd dispersal like cane charge, use of water cannons etc. Not only that security forces did not fire below the waist.

Akali government had passed a black law named. "Prevention of Damage to the Private and Public Property Act" but it was not notified in the gazette, but taking the advantage of High Court order to recover the loss of property from dera assets, Punjab government has notified that Act and is preparing to recover the damage under that act. It shows two things, one that ruling classes use every occasion to wield the weapons of repression to suppress people and their struggles, two Akali government passed this act and Congress government implemented it. All these are the birds of same feather.

Vol. 50, No.18, Nov 5 - 11, 2017