Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his so-called anti-Romeo squad, wreaking havoc over the state since he came to power, seem to have very different ideas about the 'Romeos' they are supposed to teach a lesson.
In an interview with The Times of India, conducted at his official residence in Lucknow, Adityanath spoke about a range of issues — from the changing work culture in the government to loan waivers for farmers to reforms in the educational system to the closing-down of illegal slaughterhouses to steering away from the politics of appeasement of the previous regime.
But his remarks about women's safety, which the anti-Romeo squad has been deployed to ensure, stood out for their striking contrast with the ground reality.
When asked about public complaints of being harassed by the squad, CM Adityanath said, "I've already asked people to ensure that consenting youth aren't troubled. It's no crime to sit in a park or move together."
The truth, however, is shockingly different.
Over the last several weeks, men and women in Uttar Pradesh have been pulled up, abused, assaulted and hauled through the coals for doing much less. It's worth revisiting a few of these incidents, reported in the media since the new CM took office, in case he and his administration need to refresh their memories.
Over the last several weeks, men and women in Uttar Pradesh have been pulled up, abused, assaulted and hauled through the coals for doing much less.
Within hours of the new government taking over, the anti-Romeo squad unleashed its fury on unsuspecting men and women all over Uttar Pradesh. In Meerut, the first district to come under their radar, men were picked up for "loitering" in public places — schools, colleges, markets, shops, just anywhere would do. They were questioned about their intentions and told off by the squad; in some cases, their parents were called about informed of their whereabouts.
One boy, who was waiting to meet a friend outside a college, was ticked off. "They did not even know if I was there to meet a girl or a boy. For them, any young boy in public on a bike is a 'majnu'," he told TOI. An enraged father retorted that his 19-year-old adult son had every right to be where he wished. "It makes no sense to call up his father to say that his son is loitering around," he told the same newspaper.
In the middle of this fiasco, a college principle in Meerut declared it was against Indian tradition for girls to have boyfriends, as though we needed more controversy. As these flippantly regressive remarks were being made, the anti-Romeo squad seemed to step up its infringement of civil liberties. In its keenness to protect women from the unwelcome advances of men, it became a moral police, curtailing women's freedom.
A woman in Lucknow was pulled up for being out with a man and given a moral lecture. Men were made to do sit-ups on the road, embarrassed and hectored freely. In the event that some of these men were really culpable of certain misdemeanours, due process should have been followed in dealing with them instead of a vigilante-type self-styled penal code.
Men were made to do sit-ups on the road, embarrassed and hectored freely.
The stories continue to flow in.
A 20-year-old man was detained for an hour in a police station all because he was in an auto rickshaw with a female friend. A man was interrogated for waiting outside a store for his wife to finishing shopping. In Shahjahanpur, the police watched helplessly as the anti-Romeo squad shaved the head of a man. This was within hours of a notice issued by the police defining strict guidelines for the anti-Romeo squad to conduct itself in public.
That the anti-Romeo keeps operating without impunity is evident from the recent report of a tutor and his student being allegedly intimidated for being present in a house to collect notes. Corrective action is being taken in a few cases against the cops for exceeding their brief or indulging in corruption — as in the case of two policemen in Rampur, who had harassed and tried to extort money from cousins. But these seem to be more in the nature of exceptions than the norm.
With CM Adityanath now clarifying his stance on the misuse of power, hopefully the anti-Romeo squads will pay better attention and start behaving themselves.
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