There are about 9,000 deras in Punjab and many of them are as old as the Sikh religion itself. Though this is not an official figure, but experts say there are two in every tehsil.
Sikh scholar Dr Darshan Singh says, “Deras like that of Nirmalas, Ravidasiyas are old as the Sikh religion. However, ‘commercial deras’ like Dera Sacha Sauda were raised in late 60s and early 70s.”
Ask him for the reasons and he says, “Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the people who ran them during those times. They ruined the institution for their vested interests, leading the deras to flourish in Punjab.”
Dr Balkar Singh, another Sikh scholar who has been very closely associated with the longest-serving SGPC president late Gurcharan Singh Tohra, says, “The definition of a dera is a place which is run by one person who calls himself a guru and such institutions are spread all over the state. I remember I used to joke with Tohra sahib that would he permit, there would be a dera in his name too. Derawaad flourished because the SGPC became a mere administrative body, and so did the Akal Takht. These two institutions which were supposed to give spiritual guidance to the Sikhs became highly politicised and the people of Punjab turned to deras.”
Talking about the clash between the Sikhs and the deras, he says, “There is no clash when it comes to religion. Had it been so, Nanaksar too is a dera and even Bibi Jagir Kaur runs a dera. This clash is basically a political issue.”
SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar, however, denies all these charges. “The SGPC has not failed. We are doing dharam parchar successfully. In the last one year, we have covered over 100 villages in Malwa where thousands of people have been baptised. The response from the youth is good who want to now revert to beard and turban,” he says.