While her intervention led to lifting of ban on women in the sanctum sanctorium of Maharahstra’s two oldest temples – Shani Shingnapur and Trimbakeshwar – activist Trupti Desai decision to leave the fight of Haji Ali Dargah in the middle led to huge criticism and ridicule. Desai seeks to justify her stand in an interview with Kanchan Srivastava. Excerpts:Q: You had announced a movement seeking justice for women at Haji Ali Dargah which has in 2011 discontinued women’s entry to the core area. Within two weeks, you left that fight in the middle and took up Sabarimala issue. Isn’t this approach proving your critics right, that you are doing all this for mere publicity?<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A: I have not left the fight on Haji Ali shrine issue. I have just withdrawn my support to the forum “Haji Ali for All” as it was opposed to my aggressive approach towards the issue. All those NGOs which are part of that forum work at slow pace. I assure you and the people that I am still part of the Haji Ali movement. Just that I would henceforth do it on my own. I have already planned a flashmob for Haji Ali. Under fresh strategy, I have decided not to pre-announce the date and time of my movement for the dargah.Q: How do you plan to take ahead the movement to Sabarimala’s Ayappa temple which restricts entry of women who are in menstrual age, between 10 to 55 years?A: Our team of 15-20 members would go to Sabarimala this month end, the date of which is yet to be finalised. The plan is to meet the trustees of the temple to apprise them about our demand of equal rights to pray for women. We are not sure about the demonstration outside the temple as of now. Schedule for Kerala is still being chalked out.Q: Don’t you think that your attempt to challenge the centuries-old tradition and the rules of Travancore Devaswom Board (which runs Sabarimala temple) will be met with stiff opposition?A: There would be no forced entry to the temple. We believe in democratic process. A letter to the Sabarimala trust is being prepared which would be despatched in a day or two. We would wait for their response hoping that they would agree to abolish the old-age traditions. Our strategy will be chalked out depending up on the trust’s response and outcome of our meeting with the trust members.Q: The trust and religious leaders argue that the deity is a Brahmchari (celibate) and hence young women in menstrual age should not be permitted there.A: First of all, menstruation period is not a dirty thing. Even if the trustees believe so, they can restrict women on those four days. Why punish women for rest of 26 days? Secondly, Lord Hanuman and Shani Dev are also brahmcharis, but women are not barred from visiting their temples. So, both the arguments are flawed. God never discriminates between the gender. Such ideas are floated by a few with patriarchal mindset. Only religious places are pursuing gender discriminatory in this 21st century, treating women as second grade citizens.Q: The Sabarimala trust has defended the ban in Supreme Court, stating that ‘tradition’ is connected to essential religious practice. Kerala government has also told the court that “the opinion of the priests is final” in matters of religion. With political parties also mum on the issue, do you expect support from any quarter in Kerala?A: I hope women will support me. Temple trusts can’t do dadagiri anymore. I wish trustees come forward to change such discriminatory rules themselves.

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I have not left Haji Ali movement, but Sabarimala is equally important: Trupti Desai