High drama and pandemonium prevailed as Bhumata Brigade president Trupti Desai and her band of around 50 women supporters tried to enter the famous Haji Ali dargah here on Thursday evening.
However, their attempt was foiled by police, who were present in large numbers, and supporters of political parties like the Samajwadi Party, All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Awami Party and other Muslim social and religious organisations.
Undeterred, Desai and her supporters sat on a dharna on the main road leading to the narrow 500-metre sea route approach to the shrine situated on the rocks in the Arabian Sea off Worli coast.
Earlier, tension brewed between the supporters of 'Haji Ali For All', comprising several NGOs and other civic groups, and those opposed to her.
Police whisked her off to safety shortly after she reached near the dargah, as angry men and women laid siege to her vehicle.
As tempers cooled down, Desai and her supporters again approached the dargah's entrance, but only to be greeted again with full-throated slogans, banners and placards asking her to stop her "political stunts" and leave.
A minor scuffle took place between police and both pro- and anti-Desai groups near the entrance in the evening, following which the Haji Ali Dargah Trust decided to exercise caution and shut the main gates two hours before the scheduled time of 10 p.m.
"All women are allowed inside the dargah on adhering to rules, regulations and traditions that concern respect for religious sentiments. What is the need for her to come in a procession when women have always been permitted in the dargah? But they cannot go to the tomb of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari," trustee Suhail Khandwani told IANS.
After having a long-distance 'darshan' of the dargah from the entrance -- around 500 metres from the shoreline -- Desai left, promising to meet Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and demand women's entry to the sanctum sanctorum for gender equality.
"We have come peacefully, with no intentions to hurt the religious sentiments of anybody, but only to ensure that women are accorded equality to pray at all religious places," Desai told the media.
Earlier, Shiv Sena's Muslim leader Haji Arfat Shaikh threatened to welcome Desai with 'chappals' if she tried to enter the dargah, while AIMIM leaders warned of blackening her face.
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