Why did people have blind faith in 'godman' Ram Rahim?
Sirsa wears an almost-deserted look nowadays. The Dera headquarters, once a bustling place, has more or less been abandoned. "I am going back to Sikhism," says 29-year-old Manjit Singh who joined the sect two years ago. Noble tales about Ram Rahim had attracted him to the Dera. Many others are battling similar disillusionment. But, why did people trust Ram Rahim, in the first place?
The Dera Sacha Sauda is one among Punjab and Haryana's 9,000 deras. Initially, most were spaces of acceptance for backward classes. They created strong senses of togetherness. In such groups, education or wealth doesn't impact credulousness. Otherwise, David Koresh (Branch Davidians) couldn't have encouraged 77 to get killed in an FBI confrontation; Jim Jones (Peoples Temple) couldn't have persuaded 900 to drink poison-laced drinks.
Many of the Dera's followers are from oppressed classes. Once they joined, they were given apparent equality, education, subsidized food and medicines, jobs, spirituality, and most of all, a purpose. The Dera also helped instilled a sense of pride in being "low-caste": everyone had to name themselves "Insan". By naming unit heads "Bhangi Dass", it turned around a word socially reserved for low-castes.
It is now known Ram Rahim planned the riots in advance. But why did followers obey? As Harnidh Kaur explains, "A lost man doesn't care if a rapist gives him direction. A hungry man will take food from a murderer." They were even willing to take the fall: "Tell everyone to say they have come on their own," a supporter was heard telling another.
Ram Rahim will now stay in prison for 20 years for two rapes he committed 15 years ago. "We are waiting and watching," says Ramji, a 35-year-old engineer. He's unsure if he will return to the Dera for now though: "Let's see how things go."
Singh, who claims he was an alcoholic earlier, says he now sees the "truth in the charges" against Ram Rahim. "I have lost my faith," he says. "I can't trust a godman again." Meanwhile, 21-year-old Pooja Insan, who was captivated by Ram Rahim's larger-than-life persona in MSG, is also not sure if she's returning. "We don't want to be a part of any controversy."