Since BJP formed its government in Uttar Pradesh, an anti-Romeo squad – team of policemen – swings into action at every nook and corner. Five women constables are also part of the squad led by a Deputy Superintendent of Police. Walking around, they look for potential troublemakers or “Romeos” – the term many use for men who stalk women. This is the age where young men sitting alone, or even in groups, eyes at girls they fall for, and do some or the other activities to instantly grab her attention.
“Romeo” is one of the title characters in William Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’. He serves as the drama’s male hero. Romeo, the son of Montague and his wife, secretly loves and marries Juliet, a member of the rival House of Capulet. Forced into exile by his slaying of Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, in a duel, Romeo commits suicide upon hearing falsely of Juliet’s death. Romeo, an only child like Juliet, is one of the most important characters of the play, and has a consistent presence throughout it. His role as an idealistic lover has led the word “Romeo” to become a synonym for a passionate male lover in various languages. Such a beautiful term now has been misconceived and misunderstood for road side stalkers.
Anyway, there is no parameter to find out who the Romeo is on the road. One who is harassing the girl or the one who is pursuing his love story and girl too enjoying the attention of the boys who sit around unnecessarily, just for fun. These days, policeman checks the assumed Romeo’s Aadhar card, another policeman, in plainclothes, takes a photograph of the boy on his mobile phone. Satisfied that there is no ‘mischief’, the policemen move on. Or sometimes they grab a boy make him sit in the police station for hours and then leave them. These days, the “anti-Romeo” drive has taken more aggressive turn.
Anti-Romeo squads, a poll promise of the BJP that paid rich dividends for the party in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, started on a wrong note when visuals on TV suggested harassment and humiliation of young couples and men even in groups. After such repeated incidences, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed that couples should not be targeted. It is still not clear that, how the police plan to catch “Romeos” in public places. For now, says a police officer, the idea is to “question, check group of boys or boys alone near colleges and other places, and create fear among potential harassers. Sometimes, the group of policemen spends around 30 more minutes in the market. No “Romeo” was found, none detained. Uttar Pradesh is geographically very big state and it needs law and order in place, if police machinery is wasted on such moral policing how can the youth of the state breathe free? How government can assure that, there will not be any crime towards woman if the Romeos are arrested.
In fact, allowing better interaction is a healthier approach to develop gender sensitivity. Even the central government’s gender sensitivity programmes are increasingly accepting that men must be involved for them to succeed. We fear that this programme will finally lead towards revitalizing the dangerous love-jihad programme, which had the Yogi’s support. The BJP’s national co-convenor Sunil Bharala, in the run up to the election campaign, was quoted as saying: “In love jihad, innocent girls are targeted and lured. To ensure their safety, anti-Romeo squads will be formed”. Last but not the least, the BJP tried this programme in Gujarat but it did not meet with major success. So why do a re-run in UP?
While we are all for women’s safety, but we are against such suspicious squads, even if they comprise police officers. In India, there are very few public spaces for women/couples. With such an offensive, they will now have to let go of these spaces too. Second, there are enough pro-women laws, which, if implemented properly, can bring down crimes against women. Their proper implementation coupled with sensitive policing would be enough to assure women and force men to think twice before harassing them. Third, such squads legitimise moral policing, and already a few cases of such extra-vigilance have been reported. Who gives anyone the right to stop a man from talking to a woman, or go for a movie? Why should a young man answer a police officer on his personal life as long as he is not breaking the law? Fourth, Yogi Adityanath may think otherwise but stopping men and women from interacting freely will not bring down crime rates.
At the core of this mindset lays the assumption that women need “protection” because, god forbid, what if they exercise their right to choose their own partners for love or for marriage? Don’t forget that there is a specific group of people who pose a threat to these “girls” who are really grown up women. It is only reasonable to assume an adult should be able to take care of herself. Besides, once the genie of vigilantism is unleashed with groups of men taking the law into their own hands, who knows where this will lead?
These squads will comprise policemen and not BJP cadres. It’s a slippery slope best avoided. Violence or their threats as solutions to social ills have always failed. Instead, it creates newer cycles of violence and retaliation. It’s high time, we call out our politicians and representatives on their attempts to curtail women’s autonomy in the name of safety.
We are adults and living in a democracy. No one should be treated as criminal just because group of men assume that the person sitting alone can be troublemaker, or Romeo. If we look at the double standards, the hardcore rapists are roaming scot free after committing brutal crime against girls. Even in the most sensational Nirbhaya case, the rapists are yet to be punished. One of them gave TV interview. As a female, what I need is assurance from government towards my safety and deterrence of law to punish those criminals who are arrested, but not this dummy drill called anti-Romeo squad.
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