POLITICS

The 'Anti-Romeo' Squad In UP May Be Curtailing Women's Freedom Instead Of Protecting It

The disarray marring the anti-Romeo squad operations is a blow to civil liberties.

24/03/2017 6:59 PM IST | Updated 24/03/2017 8:52 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The newly appointed Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's government has acted swiftly on the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) poll promise of deploying the so-called 'anti-Romeo' police squads across the state of Uttar Pradesh. But it is apparent that many police personnel in the field don't know whom to target and what to do even when they catch a 'Romeo'.

The BJP government in UP says these squads have been formed to protect women against harassment from boys and men loitering outside spaces frequented by women, such as schools, colleges and hostels. But the result seems to be a kind of institutionalized moral policing that is curtailing women's freedom instead of protecting it. One woman in Lucknow was imparted a moral lesson for being out with a man. "Aren't we allowed to talk to guys?" a female student in Meerut lamented. "A guy can be a friend, a classmate or a brother."

In the haste to deliver on its election promise, the BJP government has rolled out the 'anti-Romeo squads' without adequately training police personnel for the job. It is failing to ensure that the police do not harass the innocent and civil liberties are not violated. The entire operation appears to be running on the police's personal discretion, with little accountability. How can the police catch hold of men, whether they are guilty or not, and force them to do sit-ups on the road while holding their ears?

The entire operation appears to be running on police's personal discretion, with little accountability.

What Is A Romeo?

Ever since the BJP first pitched the 'anti-Romeo' squad idea in its UP election manifesto, it has never been clearly defined. The manifesto stated that an "anti-Romeo squad" would be constituted in police stations in the vicinity of every college.

Police personnel have expressed their confusion about what makes a person a 'Romeo'. Some police personnel believe that they can identify a Romeo purely by his looks. The police in Meerut told the Times of India on Thursday that they identify them "by the look in their eyes, their face and the way they stand". The prospect of a party's poll promise turning into license for the police to become keepers and enforcers of morality as they define it is alarming.

In Lucknow, a 20-year-old man was detained at a police station for an hour, all because he was in an auto-rickshaw with a female friend. In Meerut, policemen descended on a boy waiting to meet his friend outside a girl's college. "A boy and a girl can never be friends," a cop informed him.

"A boy and a girl can never be friends."

Ever since the BJP first pitched the 'anti-Romeo' squad idea, it has never been clearly defined. The manifesto stated that an "anti-Romeo squad" would be constituted in police stations in the vicinity of every college. While campaigning for the Assembly elections, some BJP leaders said these squads would be set up to prevent instances of so-called 'Love Jihad', which they say is Muslim men passing themselves off as Hindus in order to pursue Hindu women. Yogi Adityanath also made combating 'Love Jihad' a main plank in his election campaign.

There have already been instances of radical right-wing vigilante groups, supported by the BJP, joining the 'anti-Romeo' movement. In 2002, Adityanath had founded a right-wing youth organisation called the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), which, in the last ten years, has been accused more than once of inciting communal tensions in its stronghold of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

After 'anti-Romeo' squads began operating this week, HYV men have reportedly started their own patrolling outsides universities and colleges. The students of Meerut's Raghunath Girls Post Graduate College, already chafing under restrictions, said they were appalled by the presence of HYV men who supposedly believe that girls shouldn't even meet boys.

Unfortunately for the students, their college principal is in agreement with these men. "Girls shouldn't have boyfriends for Indian society doesn't permit us to have boyfriends," she told News 18.

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