Dera Sacha Sauda
|Established||29 April 1948|
|Purpose||[non-primary source needed]|
|Headquarters||Sirsa, Haryana, India|
|Shah Satnam Singh|
|Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh|
Dera Sacha Sauda ("Camp True-Deal"; colloquially DSS) is an Indian non-governmental organization described as a "religious cult" and "non-profit social welfare dera" that was established on 29 April 1948 by Mastana Balochistani, an ascetic follower of Baba Sawan Singh (the second Satguru of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB)), as a centre for religious learning. After Baba Sawan Singh, the movement split into four groups, one of them led by Mastana Balochistani. After the death of Mastana Balochistani, his movement was split into three groups, with Satnam Singh leading the Sirsa group, who selected Gurmeet Ram Rahim to be his successor. Dera Sacha Sauda's main centre is situated in the city of Sirsa in Haryana state, northern India. The organisation has 46 ashrams (divisions) across India and other countries.
Under the leadership of Mastana Balochistani, 25 Ashrams were established in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, where Naam method of Meditation was taught to the followers who accepted three principles for the rest of their life: No consumption of meat, egg or gelatin, no consumption of alcohol, drugs, tobacco etc. and no adultery or illicit sex. He also laid the foundation of the main ashram in 1948 and coined the expression "Dhan Dhan Satguru Tera Hi Asra" (Blessed are you the true guru, you are my shelter) widely used by the Dera.[clarification needed] Shah Satnam Singh lead the Dera from 1963 to 1990. He was succeeded by controversial Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in 1990, who added more than a dozen ashrams and made Dera a much more visible organization.
The current leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who himself claims to have more than 60 million followers worldwide, is a controversial figure in India and was accused of murder and convicted of rape. On 25 August 2017, a special CBI court in the city of Panchkula, Haryana, found him guilty of raping two Dera sadhvis (female followers). Subsequently, the special CBI court sentenced Singh for a period of 20-year prison term on 28 August 2017. In January 2019, Singh was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapatti.
Dera Sacha Sauda was established in 1948 at Sirsa by Mastana Balochistani. He was born in Kalat, Balochistan in undivided India, now in Pakistan in 1891. He was popularly known among his devotees as His Holiness Beparawah Mastana. He died on 18 April 1960. Shah Satnam Singh, born on 25 January 1919 took over the spiritual leadership position from Balochistani at the age of 41 and served until 1990. He died on 13 December 1991. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh became the third master of DSS on 23 September 1990. DSS is a registered NGO.
2007 clashes with Khalsa Sikhs
In May 2007, violent clashes broke out between the Khalsa Sikhs and the followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda over the Dera leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's appearance in a newspaper advertisement. The orthodox Sikhs alleged that he had impersonated their Guru Gobind Singh, thus insulting their faith. At least one person died in these clashes; several more were injured. The news media described the violence as the most serious since the Sikh–Nirankari clashes of the 1970s and the separatist insurgency of the 1980s.
The Akal Takht of the Sikhs demanded closure of all the Deras in Punjab, and asked its followers to organise protest marches and bandhs. Ultimately, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh issued an namesake apology. However, this apology was rejected by the Akal Takht. The marches and boycotts against the Dera continued, until the situation subsided after several weeks.
Allegations by Dera defectors
2017 Conviction and subsequent riots
Its leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was accused of murder and convicted of rape by an Indian court. On 25 August 2017, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Panchkula, Haryana, found him guilty of sexually assaulting two Dera sadhvis (female followers), one of whom had written to the then prime minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee about it in 2002.
More than 150,000 followers of DSS had gathered at Panchkula, where the hearing was taking place, and a few other places. Upon learning of the court's verdict, they were involved in a mass riot which led to the death of at least 30 people and left more than 250 people seriously injured.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered all of DSS's properties to be attached to pay for the losses incurred due to the violence. A few incidents were reported in the Indian capital, New Delhi, which is 243 kilometres (151 mi) away from the epicentre.
The incident led to widespread criticism of the ruling government, in that, despite the high court's repeated warnings, it failed to gauge the severity of the situation, and failed to enforce Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The latter prohibits an assembly of any more than four people, and was in effect at the time of the verdict.
Allegedly 400 followers of the sect have been castrated inside the sect’s headquarters to "bring them closer to god". One of the castrated men came forward and filed a complaint in court against the guru. According to India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the sect defended castrations as done to "safeguard female followers from possible sexual advances".
On 4 September 2017, after receiving a 2-day notice from police to surrender weapons, DSS members turned in 67 firearms, almost half of which were licensed. Police confiscated 33 of the weapons.
The Dera's teachings emphasise the recitation of sacred words and the achievement of transcendence. The devotees are asked to practice alcohol abstinence, vegetarianism, marital fidelity, and truth. They are also asked to abstain from ritualism and from making monetary religious donations (see Funding).
All the Dera Sacha Sauda Gurus have come from Sikh backgrounds, and the organisation has several Sikh adherents. However, the vast majority of its supporters are working-class and middle-class Hindus from the rural areas of Haryana and Rajasthan.
In 2009, the Dera Sacha Sauda claimed to have over a million devotees. It had 38 ashrams, most of them in northern India.
The word "Dera" is similar connotations to "ashram", while the word "Sacha Sauda" means "true deal" - a reference to the claim that the organisation does not accept monetary gifts from its devotees. The Dera Sacha Sauda claims to be autarkic: it owns extensive lands in Haryana and other states; and operates a supermarket, a petrol pump, a biscuit factory, a restaurant, and a boating lake. These businesses, managed by its "sadhus," are said to be for the benefit of its devotees.
Dera Sacha Sauda is the only among the various Deras, which openly asks its supporters to vote for particular political parties. The previous Congress government enjoyed the organisation's support and it reciprocated by providing a Z-plus security cover for the group's leader. Singh's son is married to the daughter of the Congress leader Harminder Singh Jassi. The DSS supported Congress in the 2007 Punjab state elections, and helped the party take control of the Malwa region. However, the Shiromani Akali Dal won the overall majority in the state, and allegedly persecuted the Dera supporters during the 2007 violence. When the Congress did not come out in the open support of DSS, the DSS decided not to endorse a single party in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Before the 2012 Punjab state elections, the Congress leader Amarinder Singh, his wife Preneet Kaur and his son Raninder Singh visited Singh, asking him to extend his support to Congress. However, Dera's support to Congress alienated the party's Sikh vote bank. In the 2012 elections, Congress performed poorly, and Jassi lost the election. The poor performance of Congress in Malwa in 2012 was seen as a signal of the downfall of Dera's political power.
In 2014 Haryana polls and Lok Sabha Polls, Bharatiya Janata Party requested support from Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim. In February 2015, the organisation openly supported BJP in Delhi elections. The organisation supported BJP in the Bihar assembly election in 2015, and nearly 3,000 Dera followers campaigned for BJP in the state.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh formed a welfare and disaster relief organisation called Shah Satnam Ji Green-S Welfare Force, which now has more than 70,000 doctors, engineers, rescuers, paramedics, and tradesmen participating.[non-primary source needed] The organisation has rendered aid during many of India's natural disasters like Kolkata fire and the factory collapse in Jalandhar. 
During the 2013 flash floods in Uttarakhand, a team of volunteers and doctors provided medical care to people, distributed food packets and conducted rescue missions. The area of Deoli-Brahmgram village which was called a 'village of widows' after the floods are still facing issues of hardship, the life of widows at a standstill.
Anti-prostitution initiatives began in November 2009, when Singh called on his followers to counter prostitution, and to help sex-workers escape a "life of perpetual slavery". In December 2009, Dera and its volunteers took a step towards reducing sex trafficking in the country and also preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS virus, by giving consent for marriage with adult sex workers and to "help them escape their dreary existence". In January 2010, a mass marriage ceremony for former sex workers took place in Sirsa.
Dera Sacha Sauda had launched a social welfare campaign and had filed a petition in the Supreme Court to grant legal status to transgender people. On 15 April 2014 the Apex Court gave a judgement in favour of the Eunuchs and ordered that the hijras and transgender people will now be given the legal status of the third gender.
Blood donation camps
Like several other religious groups in India, the Dera Sacha Sauda has organised large-scale blood donation camps. In December 2003, a camp held on the death anniversary of its former guru attracted 15,432 donors. In October 2004, the Dera broke its own record during the mortuary ceremony of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's father. This time it attracted 17,921 donors, and collected 12,002,450 ml units of blood in a single day. This was recognised by the Guinness World Records as the largest ever amount of blood collected on a single day.
The official publication of Dera Sacha Sauda claims that the world record was created by "sheer chance", thus denying the suggestions that it was a show-off for media attention and the glorification of their guru. However, in 2003, the Dera had sent an e-mail to the Guinness Book compilers, seeking clarifications on the conditions that needed to be met to break the previous record. During the donation exercise, the Dera had meticulously collected proofs needed to qualify for the world record. After creating the record, several Dera devotees also stated that their aim was to create the record.
Doctors have criticised the "ostentatious" mass blood donation camps organised by Dera Sacha Sauda as wasteful. According to the director of the Shiv Shakti blood bank in Sirsa, most of the blood collected in Dera's camps gets wasted. Moreover, the devotees don't respond to the blood bank's requests for blood donations at other times, when there is need for blood donation.
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- Copeman, Jacob (2009). Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India. ISBN 978-0813544496.
"Dera"—the extended residential site of an influential figure—has similar connotations to "ashram," while "Sacha Sauda" means literally true deal or dealings, and is an allusion to the fact that monetary gifts from devotees are not accepted by the organization, which claims to be fully autarkic.
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- Jacob Copeman (2009). Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4449-6.
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