By Kiran Deep, Roving Editor, Chandigarh
It was intelligence and counter intelligence network in Dera Sacha Sauda, Sirsa that had shocked me in 2007. After much probe, the dera insiders revealed that a team of retired Army, police officials, retired officials of intelligence agency, including RAW, were behind their intelligence operations.
Some of their dedicated disciples were well trained to tackle any adverse situation. Even some of the disciples were motivated to take the extreme step of taking their lives or someone’s else in case of any eventuality. It was also evident from the fact that four dera followers had reportedly committed suicide during the dera chief’s dress row.
The dera was high-tech with the modern facilities to monitor every event round-the-clock. Even many suspects that the dera men too had phone tapping instruments inside the dera. There were many inside the dera who were found with spying instruments.
I had a first-hand experience of the dera activities when Gurmeet Ram Rahim (who was sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment in two rape cases) had courted controversies by wearing a dress resembling the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. Subsequently photograph of the same event appeared as an advertisement in the newspaper in May 2007. I was then working with The Tribune as Staff Correspondent and posted in Sirsa. I was among few journalists who were allowed to meet the dera chief to get his version on the dress row.
As we moved in the dera, I saw a large number of dera security personnel deployed inside. Right from the beginning, the dera men video recorded our conversations with the dera spokesperson or any other.
Members of the dera management escorted us to the residence of the dera chief. We were asked to remove our shoes and deposit our mobile phones at the entrance. We had no choice but to do it. We all were wondering if we would be taken to scary Gufa of the dera chief, the infamous area where he raped Sadhvis.
As the gates of his residence were open, we got a glimpse of his living quarters and things were surprising. The dera chief was sitting on a chair in his manicured lawn and was surrounded by the dera men carrying at least three video cameras and still cameras.
We were directed to sit on the ground and ask question to the dera chief. One of our fellow journalists folded his hands and asked the dera chief why he was not tendering an apology to end the controversy. But the dera chief denied that he copied Guru Gobind Singh. I told my friend journalist not fold his hand before the dera chief because the dera men were recording everything and can misuse it at any point of time.
After taking a few more questions, the Press meet was declared over. The terror of the dera chief was visible everywhere. After this interaction, it was clear to us that he was supported by some intelligence agency people. I was inquisitive enough to find out who really was behind their intelligence network as the dera was not sparing their management men, spokespersons and recording their activity also. The people, who were escorting their dera chief, were suspicious looking.
After a few days of the dress row, the journalists from all over India were camping in Sirsa to cover the controversy. We all had to attend the press conferences daily addressed by the dera spokesperson Aditya Insan who was the mastermind of many dera operations and sometime by Pawan Insan. Many times the press conferences were held late at night. But the journalists were always chased by the deramen wherever they went. Later, some of the journalists took the matter to the dera management. Everyone inside the dera was under scanner. The journalists who wanted to get a reply on any query from the dera chief, had to attend the “Mazlis” (the religious discourse) in the evening. During this time, the journalist had to send a slip carrying his question to dera chief and he would then answer this publically. In addition it, all the journalists had to attend this because while addressing his followers, many times dera chief used to made comment on the current events and that too made headlines. The dera followers had good knowledge of print, electronic media and also about internet. They had proper control room to monitor all the channels.
The dera had released two letters, one of “Regret” on May 19 and another of “Apology” on May 27, 2007 stating these in a large interest of humanity which, to some extent, eased out the tension between the dera followers and Sikhs. Aditya Insan was the one who was deciding about the content of these letters. Significantly before the letters were issued by the dera to the media, its content was discussed with then Punjab Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, through government officials involved in the negotiations, the well placed sources in the bureaucracy and intelligence had revealed. The dera was having all the expertise to deal with any situation.
The dera had a dedicated team of devotees, some of them were sadhus (doctors, engineers and from other fields). One of the sadhus, who had a B.Tech degree, told me that he was monitoring whatever content regarding the dera chief was appearing online and making records of it.
This was later confirmed when my story “It’s hard to find dera chief” was published on May 22, 2017 in The Tribune. I was under the impression that the story was filed late that it would appear in the Chandigarh edition only and thus not lead me to any trouble. But I was shocked when I went to attend another press conference in the dera on the ongoing dress controversy, the same sadhu (male disciple) told me that I had hurt his feelings by publishing a story against the dera chief while the dera spokesperson Aditya Insan told me in an agry tone that it was time for me for introspection.
Things were very clear that the dera men had zero tolerance for any story they considered against them. This was just the beginning of hostile behavior towards me.
I was also among the journalists who had managed to get the copy of CBI charge-sheet filed against the dera chief in a rape case and two murder cases. Ten year ago, the information was not posted by the CBI in its website and getting a copy of charge-sheet was a difficult task. The stories that I wrote were based on the CBI investigations that the dera chief had raped two sadhvis. Editor of the evening newspaper “Pura Sach” Ram Chandra Chhatrapati and a member of dera management Ranjit Singh were murdered by dera men as per the conspiracy hatched by the dera chief, Sadhvi found gufa scary, story on independent witness Khatta Singh in both murder cases. But it didn’t not go down well with the deramen and a number of letters from different places were send to The Tribune demanding action against me for filling such stories.
As The Tribune is a Trust and we had a fearless Editor-in-Chief Mr H.K Dua and the Senior Associate Editor A.J Philip, I did not have much to worry about. I was told to submit my reply in response to the letters which I had submitted duely and the matter was closed.
I had submitted that I am neither Sikh nor dera follower, whatever story I did that was based on the facts. Even once during dera row crisis both the sides were angry me and Tribune had received a number of calls from Sikh hardliners and also dera followers, but hats off to our editors who had supported me in those difficult times.
Later, some deramen even dared to damage my motorcycle which was parked inside the police station as I had to rush to a nearby cyber café to file the story. There was no point of lodging a complaint as there was complete immunity for the deramen and dera. The leaders of the different political parties have been extending their support to the dera chief in lure of votes.