Social neglect leading to growing influence of sects: Experts

May 29th, 2009 - 1:33 pm ICT by IANS  

By Alkesh Sharma
Chandigarh, May 29 (IANS) Punjab came to a grinding halt for nearly two days after followers of Dera Sachh Khand protested violently against the attack on their leaders in Vienna. Experts feel that the growing influence of such sects is owing to the social neglect of people from lower castes.

Some of the sects like Dera Sachh Khand, Dera Sacha Sauda, Divya Jyoti Jagran Sansthan and the Bhaniarewala sect claim to have millions of followers and have been involved in one controversy or the other in the recent past.

The biggest of the sects - and the only one not to court any controversy till now - the Radha Soami sect of Beas near Amritsar, claims to have more than 100 million followers.

Experts and social researchers say that the spontaneous outbreak of violence after the

attack on Dera Sachh Khand leaders in a gurdwara in Austrian capital Vienna could be linked to pent up feelings among the sect followers, much of it owing to subjugation of people from lower strata by the dominant Jat Sikh community in Punjab.

“Followers of Dera Sachh Khand had perceived the attack on their sect leaders as an attack on their principles and identity that they have constituted after years of struggle,” said Ronki Ram, a Panjab University faculty member, who has done extensive research on Guru Ravidass Deras in Punjab and stayed in one of them to gain first-hand experience of their life.

Dera Sachh Khand is called a Ravidassiya sect because it follows tenets laid down by 14th century social reformer and spiritual reformer Guru Ravi Dass. Many of his teachings were included in the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib.

“It was the anguish and resentment of the followers that came out in the form of extensive violence in Punjab. They wondered why anybody was harming their leaders or trying to intrude into their territory,” Ram told IANS.

Three people were killed and dozens injured as the state witnessed widespread violence Sunday and Monday with followers of the Dera Sachh Khand sect damaging public and private property to protest the attack on their leaders in Vienna.

While sect head Niranjan Dass is recovering from the attack, his second-in-command, Sant Rama Nand Dass, died of gunshot wounds.

Ram, who is the head of political science department in the varsity, has also presented research papers on Ravidassiya Deras and social protests.

“The number of deras in Punjab and other parts of the country is increasing. They are the group of those deprived people who had faced societal wrath at some time. Lack of freedom and opportunities largely led people to join these deras,” Ram said.

S.R. Heer, general secretary of Dera Sachh Khand, told IANS: “It was natural and the unrest was an outburst of expression of our followers. But we ourselves went to the affected areas and appealed to them not to adopt any violent means of protest. The protests became subdued after Monday.

“Now the situation has become normal. We have crores (tens of millions) of followers spread all across the world and certainly our whole community was hurt by the Vienna incident but still we condemned the use of any kind of violent means for protest.”

The sect is headquartered at Ballan village near Jalandhar, 150 km from here.

It is in the Doaba belt (the area between rivers Sutlej and Beas) where the sect has the maximum number of followers comprising Dalit Sikhs and people from other communities.

“The recent mayhem in Punjab is testimony to the fact that the increasing number of deras in Punjab have overshadowed the mainstream society,” said Satnam Singh Dhillon, a historian and a research scholar at Punjabi University, Patiala, around 60 km from here.

“In Punjab, 40 percent of the population belong to the Dalit community or downtrodden sections and that is maximum in any state of the country. We are sitting on fire and a little provocation is enough to bring unrest in the whole state and these deras can easily hold the whole state on ransom anytime,” he said.

Harmanjit Singh Deol, a student of Punjabi literature here, said: “Punjab is always divided between the dominant Jat Sikh community and other Dalit Sikhs, who are the followers of one sect or the other. Due to this disorder some self-styled godmen and spiritual leaders have taken undue advantage of the circumstances.”

(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Health Science |