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'They want to give second class treatment to women'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
April 29, 2016 15:17 IST
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'As I was getting out of my car at Haji Ali some activists charged towards me with lathis and knives.'
'Our presence forced the trustees to shut down the entrance earlier than usual.

IMAGE: Bhumata Brigade chief Trupti Desai outside the Haji Ali Dargah demanding the entry of women inside the sanctum sanctorum of the tomb. Photographs: Sahil Salvi

 

After her successful campaign to gain entry for women at the Shani Shingnapur Temple near Shirdi, women's rights activist and Bhumata Brigade chief Trupti Desai on Thursday, April 28, took her movement for gender equality to the Haji Ali Dargah in South Mumbai.

Desai wanted Muslim women to be granted entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the tomb of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, but was stopped from entering the shrine, avoiding a showdown with the protesters who had gathered to block her.

In 2011, trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah barred women from entering the interior of the tomb. The matter went to court and is still being heard.

Desai spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com about her organisation's efforts to overcome religious restrictions against women.

What happened to your protest at the Haji Ali Dargah?

The police did not allow us to enter Haji Ali. They claimed that there was a danger to my life and did not allow me to enter the tomb. They said there is a law and order problem and sent me to Pune under police protection.

I am meeting my fellow activists in two days and on May 4 we will decide our next move.

IMAGE: Desai alleges protesters working with the AIMIM attacked her car as it neared the dargah.

 

Is it true that a mob beat you up outside Haji Ali?

Yes. That is true.

As I was getting out of my car at Haji Ali some activists from the AIMIM (the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) charged towards me with lathis and knives.

In order to protect us, the police took our car ahead of the dargah.

Were you afraid of the threats by AIMIM leader Haji Rafat Hussain who said he would throw ink on your face?

No, I am not scared of him. I told him that he can go ahead and do whatever he wants. I told him I am going to protest irrespective of what he or what other people feel about my movement.

If someone wants to throw ink on my face or even throw chappals at me I am not scared.

Did the police give you adequate protection?

No. The police did not give us proper protection.

The matter is sub judice in a Mumbai court. Why are you insisting that women be allowed inside the Haji Ali Dargah?

The Haji Ali matter has been in court since 2012. The Shani Shingnapur matter was in court since 2001. This (Haji Ali) matter can go on for another two years.

Muslim women are demanding this (entry inside the sanctum sanctorum of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari's tomb).

They want this to be implemented soon and have joined our movement. It is our duty to highlight this issue to the court and also to the government.

The trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah told the court earlier that the entry of women in proximity to the grave of a male Muslim saint is considered a grievous sin.

These trustees are lying. Before 2011 women were allowed to enter. Many women used to do that.

It was only after 2011 that the trustees of Haji Ali refused entry to women. If you check you will find that the trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah are the same ones who are the trustees of the Makhdum Ali Mahim Dargah.

Women are allowed entry inside the Mahim Dargah. The trustees are fooling the people.

IMAGE: Desai has criticised the poor police presence outside the dargah.

 

What do they gain by doing this?

The Haji Ali Dargah trustees want to give second class treatment to women. They want to show their male dominance.

It is said your movement for entry into the Haji Ali Dargah fizzled out in comparison to Shani Shingnapur.

We were aggressive in this (Haji Ali) movement. You must have seen we tried to enter Haji Ali with all force. We were stopped by the police for two hours. We still sat there and agitated.

And if you recall what happened on Thursday, you will find that the Haji Ali trustees shut down entry to the public at 7.30 pm.

The Dargah usually shuts at 9.30 pm. However, our presence forced the trustees to shut the entrance earlier than usual.

You did not turn up at the appointed time of protest at Haji Ali. Can you explain?

I left Pune at 10.30 am. I got stuck at traffic in Dadar and was therefore late to reach Haji Ali.

You also wanted to meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. What happened?

He did not meet me. I went to his house Varsha and protested about this issue. The police told me that since I had no appointment I could not meet him.

The police detained me last night and released me from the Azad Maidan police station.

IMAGE: The Haji Ali Dargah barred women from entering the interior of the tomb in a controversial 2011 decision. Photograph: Getty Images

 

You've been criticised for not being your aggressive self when it comes to Muslim women's issues.

That is untrue. We are aggressive in both cases. People who are opposing me write such things to undermine our efforts. We were aggressive at Haji Ali.

If we were not aggressive we would have run away from Haji Ali when I was attacked there.

But I did not run away from Haji Ali. I sat there for four hours and protested. We told the police that we would enter the Dargah even if you don't give us protection.

We were as aggressive as we were at Shani Shingnapur, but some Hindus who oppose our movement want to defame us.

I do not care about such things. It does not make a difference to our movement.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com in Mumbai
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