The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in its election manifesto before the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, promised to create “Anti-Romeo Squads” which would be deployed near colleges to ensure the safety of girls, to keep a check on eve-teasing. Just two days after taking office as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath ordered the immediate formation of an Anti-Romeo Dal in 11 districts of the Lucknow zone. This was announced for women’s safety.
Many places in UP, from Meerut to Jhansi, saw Anti-Romeo Squads active in a bid to check incidents of passing lewd comments on girls and eve-teasing.
The primary motive behind the formation of these teams is to ensure that girls are not harassed in public places.
But it seems the police have deviated from the main motive and are themselves indulging in moral policing.
In one of the instances cited by The Indian Express, a man from Lucknow was detained at Hazratganj Station as the police were suspicious of him. The 22-year-old, Uddeshy Pandey from Sitapur, was on his way to watch a movie at a mall with one of his friends when the police stopped them at a busy intersection of Moti Mahal lawns. They started questioning him and took him to the police station.
Pandey, who is based in Mumbai, had come to his hometown on Holi to celebrate his birthday. He had decided to take his friends to a multiplex in Hazratganj where two of his friends were also waiting. The police stopped the rickshaw, and the Male Station House Officer started asking him his whereabouts. The policewoman started interrogating his female friend. After questioning him for half-an-hour, he was taken to the police station. He was repeatedly questioned there and after one hour, he was allowed to go when his friends arrived.
Source: Hindustan Times
It is to be noticed that Anti-Romeo Squads and moral policing are not entirely the same. Protecting girls from sexually repressed and pesky men is certainly needed – but it should not degenerate into harassment and blackmail.
The cops should not target adults walking or sitting in a restaurant, enjoying each other’s company, consensually present there. They should definitely not be so confident as to spot Romeos “by the look in their eyes”.
The concept of anti-Romeo squads is not new: we witnessed “love jihad”, which shot to prominence in Karnataka and Kerala in 2009, where certain groups alleged that the women of their community were lured by the people of different religion into marriage and converted to their religion. The allegations came back in 2014 in Uttar Pradesh when certain communities reported the same.
Also, in 2015, a group of women from UP would take photographs of couples in public places on Valentine’s Day and shame them on the social media. The group, named Mahila Shakti Samajik Samiti (MSSS) from Noida, would do such shaming to stop obscene acts by the youngsters and to “discipline” them.
The Logical Indian take
It should be ensured that the groups meant to tackle harassment don’t resort to harassment themselves. Anti-moral policing should not lead to anti-couples who are out in public are not indulging in moral policing – the concept of consent is vital. Additionally, it should not lead to vigilante justice, justice that is outside the purview of the law. That would be dangerous.
The Logical Indian requests police officers to be persistent on the motive behind the squad rather than indulging in moral policing. While protecting a woman from perpetrators, the police should not harass couples who are adults and mature enough to take their decisions.