Apart from spirituality there is something else that attracts followers of the Sirsa-based Dera. When the CBI verdict date was set, lakhs of his followers made a beeline for Panchkula where the special CBI court was to pronounce the verdict.
More than that, followers in their thousands have been gathering at the sect’s worship centres called Naam Charcha Ghars, to pray for the verdict in his favor throughout the week.
It is intriguing that a spiritual figure who had been in the midst of controversies and who is also a maverick should attract such loyal followers and not all of them are of the same bent of mind as him.
Some of the poorest and disadvantaged have been his staunch followers. A resident of a poor settlement near Bhatinda railway station put it this way, ‘We experience peace in the spiritual settings of the Sirsa Dera and the other centres of his in this town. Besides this, he also accords equal status to people of all castes.’
The equality of castes is one of his strong points. In Punjab and Haryana different castes and communities have their own places of worship, temples and gurdwaras, but at the Dera, he points out, everybody is equal. Here all the people have the same surname, Insaan, which mean human, and that is what attracts such loyal followers.
The follower may be a Hindu or a Sikh or of any other faith, but we have failed to eliminate the caste system, he pointed out. ‘At the Dera all these divisions have no place.’
For others, the humble ranking of the Dera management is another added attraction. Sukhvir Insaan, a Dalit from Mansa, points out that the Dera management has devised nomenclature like Insaan to advocate not just equality but also humility. ‘The management divides the state into zones which are further divided into units. Each unit is headed by a man who is given the title Bhangi Dass. The word bhangi is used for low-caste people, but when the unit head is called this, it lends it respect. That is why so many people from the lower castes are such staunch Dera followers.’
The Dera headquarters also has taken other measures that tend to attract followers. Subsidized food and medicines is one of them. Subsidized rations are such a boon for the poor. Unlike the other government welfare schemes, like free ration for the below the poverty line(BPL) sections, that are invariably delayed or go to the undeserving or steeped in corruption, here the operations here are smooth and scrupulously equal to all. ‘The supply of subsidized food and medicines is smooth and equal to all,’ said another follower, Swaran Insaan. The followers of the sect are concentrated in Sanagrur, Barnala, Mansa, Bhatinda, Fazilka, Faridkot and Ferozepur districts. Incidentally most of these districts are close to Sirsa in Haryana.
Most of the districts also have endemic problems like prevalence of cancer and knee problems due to the polluted water they take. The Dera offers free treatment to the patients.
An official explained how this works. ‘A Bhangi Dass (volunteer) collects slips from the followers in his area about the ailment they suffer from. He coordinates with the headquarters and takes the appointment. The free treatment along with the spiritual environment of the place makes it a great attraction for the poor patients. Even those from the middle classes find this a refreshing change from the impersonal and often casual approach at other treatment centres.