This is an edited version of an earlier article by Prateek Goyal for TNM, published with additional inputs.
When TNM visited Trupti Desai at her residence in January 2016, her house on Satara road in Dhankawadi locality of Pune was not what Sabarimala traditionalists would expect it to be. At her office-residence, orange-coloured walls with posters of Hindu deities and a desk full of trophies and photographs with political leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Sudheer Mungantiwar and Prithviraj Chavan, welcomed our reporter. Now 33 years old, Trupti, the president of Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, was then responsible for rallying a strong force of 1000 women to enter the core shrine area of Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar.
Born in Nipani Taluka on the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra, Desai has her roots in Kolhapur. At the age of eight, she moved along with her family to Pune. She claims to have a spiritual background and is an ardent follower of one Gagangiriji Maharaj of Kolhapur.
A home science student of Shrimati Nathibai Damodar Thackersee College, Desai left college in first year due to family problems and was made the president of an organization known as Krantiveer Jhopdi Vikas Sangh, which was her first foray into activism.
“I used to work on social issues since I was in class 10. In 2003, I started working with Krantiveer Jhopdi Vikas Sangh and used to work for people living in slum areas. We generally used to help them with their day-to-day problems like providing ration cards, dealing with unemployment, legal problems and so on,” Desai had then told us.
In 2007, she came into the limelight when she protested against Ajit Cooperative Bank with NCP heavyweight Ajit Pawar as its chairman, for allegedly perpetrating a fraud of Rs 50 crore. She had said, “Ajit Cooperative Bank was a den of people with political nexus and only people with political connections used to get loans. 35,000 people who deposited their money in this bank were cheated. I formed Ajit Bank Sangharsh Samiti and after a rigorous battle of four years, I managed to get back the money of 29,000 depositors.”
After her campaign against Ajit Cooperative Bank, a few people suggested that Desai form a social organization, which led to the formation of Bhumata Brigade on September 27, 2010. According to Desai, the organization started with 40 people, but now has thousands of members.
Desai said, “Land is one of the most important things in this world and without it nothing can survive, that is why we named our organization Bhumata Brigade. Our organization works on various issues such as corruption, farmer suicides, and women rights, environmental issues and we help everyone who is in distress and needs our help.”
According to Desai, her organization had also extended support to Anna Hazare’s Janlokpal movement and Baba Ramdev’s protest against black money. Bhumata Brigade is an organization for both men and women, but it has a special wing for women known as Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, which led the agitation to enter the shrine area in Shani Shingapur.
Later, in November 2016, after her successful campaign in Maharashtra, she set her eyes on Sabarimala. Trupti had said that she intends to come to Kerala with 100 other women from Bhumata Brigade in January 2017, and had made an appeal to the trustees of the Travancore Devaswom Board to allow women’s entry. “Menstruation is a natural process. No gods have said they consider women impure because of it. The right to pray is our constitutional right and we will come to claim it,” Trupti had said. In fact, she had then said that she does not see a point in waiting for a final decision on the PIL at the Supreme Court. However, she waited not just for the SC’s decision, but also to see how the apex court would respond to the review petitions filed recently. The LDF government had then requested her not to attempt entry till the SC decided on the petition.
Recently, she announced that she will be arriving at Kerala with 6 others on November 16, 2018 and will attempt to visit the hill shrine on November 17. The Kerala government is on high alert ahead of her announcement, and she has written to the Kerala Chief Minister demanding security and travel arrangements.
Trupti, who is married and has an 8-year-old son, said she has the full support of her family. “Women of every religion should be allowed to go to religious places of their respective faiths. People, who consider women as impure, should realise that they have come into existence only because of women. Even the milk that is poured on the shrines inside temples is from cows and buffalos, which are also female.”