In April 2007, an anonymous source approached the investigation team at Tehelka magazine. The source showed the magazine’s reporters a letter written in 2002 by a sadhvi of the religious cult Dera Sacha Sauda to the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. It levelled grave allegations of rape and murder against Gurmeet Singh, the spiritual leader of the Dera. The receipt of the letter marked the beginning of a decade-long investigation by the journalists Anurag Tripathi and Ethmad A Khan, who were working in Tehelka’s investigation team under the editor Harinder Baweja. Their investigation uncovered a vast and wild array of allegations against the Dera and its leader—including rape, murder, sexual exploitation, forced castrations, large-scale land grabbing, and illegal trade in arms and opium. In August 2017, Singh was convicted in two cases of rape, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In April 2018, Tripathi published a book, “Dera Sacha Sauda and Gurmeet Ram Rahim,”which records the details of their investigation. In his foreword to the book, Hartosh Singh Bal, The Caravan’s political editor, writes that it is “also a sociological text on the now-infamous Dera Sacha Sauda.” In the following extract from the book, Tripathi expounds on the workings of the Qurbani Dasta, or Sacrifice Wing, of a private militia within the Dera. Its members, Tripathi writes, were “completely radicalised and ready to die or kill, spill blood on the streets, all at a single command from the Dera chief.”
As his wealth grew, Gurmeet knew he was close to realising his dream of building his own empire. To protect it, he knew he would need a private army.
In early 2000, the Dera chief discussed the idea with some Indian Army veterans who were Dera followers. A blueprint was made and recruitment for the purpose began.
The recruitment procedure for the Dera’s private army was loosely based on the process followed by the Indian Army. A jawan, once recruited, underwent rigorous physical training under the supervision of ex-army men. They were trained in the handling of small arms and other weapons.