26/08/2016 1:34 PM IST | Updated 26/08/2016 6:50 PM IST

Gutsy Activist Trupti Desai Cheers Haji Ali Judgement, Laments Female Discrimination In India

'I'm not a feminist, I'm an activist.'

Activist Trupti Desai at her home office in Pune.
Prajakta Hebbar/HuffPost India
Activist Trupti Desai at her home office in Pune.

PUNE -- Activist Trupti Desai, who grabbed India's attention with her agitation to let women enter in the sanctum sanctorum of temples across Maharashtra, is a straight talker. She dresses in khadi, the non-Fabindia variety, wears her guru's portrait as a locket, and has the song 'Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge, aye watan tere liye' from the 1986 film Karma as her caller tune.

Desai had a relaxed chat with HuffPost India in her home office, a small room on the ground floor in Pune's busy Balaji Nagar area. The only interruption was by her seven-year-old son who spoke from behind the closed doors of her living room.

Prajakta Hebbar/HuffPost India

The home office is dotted with Ganesha idols, photographs of Desai with well known personalities, and a photo of her late mother.

Discussing subjects ranging from religion, class division, feminism to the right to equality, Desai's lines sound a little rehearsed. Maybe because she has made these points in her appearances in several regional TV channels.

Prajakta Hebbar/HuffPost India

"No one in my family has ever had anything to do with politics or activism," she asserts. "I used to be the class monitor in school, and the general secretary in college, and was always referred to as a tomboy by my classmates. I have always been aggressive (akramak) in my behaviour, so no one dared stop me when I got into fights or skipped school to help others."

A Home Science student who later switched to Arts, Desai first came into spotlight with her aggressive style of agitation against the Ajit Co-Operative Bank fraud in Maharashtra that was unearthed in 2007. Over 30,000 people had lost their money, and Desai made it to all the big TV channels when she sat down at a major chowk in Pune and begged for money so that the victims could be compensated.

"Several people tried to bully me, threatened me, but I've always been gutsy," she says matter-of-factly.

Desai founded the Bhumata Brigade in 2010 and is now dedicated to fighting injustice against women. She has been protesting the ban against women from praying at places of worship, such as Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar, the Mahalakshmi temple in Kolhapur and the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai.

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Now, with the Bombay High Court ruling that women cannot be barred from visiting the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali shrine in Mumbai, Desai is excited and hopeful about the future.

"We are very happy with the Bombay High Court's decision. It is a tight slap on the faces of those who put a ban on women's entry into the Dargah. It's a big victory of women power," she said. She added that the Bhumata Brigade was going to visit the dargah on Sunday, 28 August.

Desai has also been working in remote villages near Satara in Maharashtra against female foeticide. She said that the root cause of inequality between men and women was the "treatment" that children received while growing up.

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"Women have always been treated as inferiors, especially in the rural parts of the country," she said.

She recounted a particularly disturbing tradition in Maharashtra. "I have visited villages in Maharashtra where the first or the second daughter in the family is named Nakoshi [which means 'unwanted' in English]," she explained. "They have the superstition that the next child will be a male child. It is here that we want to make a change."

We asked her if she considered herself a feminist. "Yes, probably," she replied. "But why do you ask if I'm a feminist. I'm not a feminist, I'm an activist."

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