The anti-Romeo squad in India
|April 21st, 2017|
|tags:||anti-Romeo, sexual abuse, squad, Uttar Pradesh|
The ‚Anti-Romeo drive‘ being conducted by the police in Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh ostensibly combats the harassment of women and girls at public places. Yet this has failed to impress women activists.
The government hasn’t terminated the programme, as requested by groups. It has asked police however, to not mete out inhumane or humiliating punishment to alleged offenders.
According to the women’s group, the unwarranted insult and humiliation meted out to boys and young couples will do nothing to curb sexual abuse. The group included well-known women’s rights activists such as Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover, All India Progressive Women’s Association General Secretary Kavita Krishnan, National Federation of Indian Women President Aruna Roy, People’s Union for Civil Liberties leader Kavita Srivastava and many others. The women activists have urged the government to consult experienced women’s rights campaigners and develop a suitable mechanism to end sexual abuse and violence against women and girls.
A joint statement issued by the women activists pointed out that cops were troubling couples and undermining the rule of law by acting in an arbitrary way.
While deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Keshav Prasad Maurya said recently that anti-Romeo drive was the need of the hour as the state had become unsafe for females, the campaigners feel such measures are counter-productive. They believe the squads were over-reaching themselves and had acted beyond the purview of law in a number of cases, and their actions amounted to moral policing. Moral policing is a term generally used in India to describe initiatives by the police or vigilante groups to check activities they deem to be immoral or against Indian culture.
The ‘anti-Romeo’ squads were set up in Uttar Pradesh by hardcore Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath soon after he was appointed the chief minister of India’s most populous state, by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP stormed to power in the state with resounding majority last month dislodging the regional Samajwadi Party.
During elections, the BJP had promised to form police squads to end sexual abuse. Adityanath acted quickly on this promise after taking charge of the state but the squads were soon mired in controversy and critics said that cops misused the power they were assigned and instilled fear and insecurity among young couples as they publicly shamed and gave physical punishments to the alleged harassers of women.
The zealous police squads patrol around public places including schools, colleges, parks, malls etc., allegedly to protect females from being stalked or harassed. Young boys in different parts of the state were arrested, warned and even publicly shamed, beaten up and made to do sit-ups.
“The police campaign is hardly doing anything good. The squads should target only those who break the law. I’ve seen the cops harassing the boys and young couples. They are a threat to our freedom,” said Vijay Mehrotra, a student in Lucknow.
Recounting his experience, a young boy who did not wish to reveal his identity, said “I was sitting in the park with my girlfriend when cops in plainclothes arrived and casted aspersions on our relationship. We tried to reason with them that we were adults and free to take our decisions but they remained adamant on calling our parents. It was so humiliating.”
The couple asserted they could spend time with each other as there was no law against it in a democratic nation like India. According to some reports, at many places alleged harassers were made to so sit ups.
Meanwhile the state’s anti-Romeo drive has received the court’s seal of approval. A Lucknow bench of the state high court (named Allahabad high court after the city of Allahabad where it is situated), while disposing of public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a lawyer Gaurav
Gupta against the anti-Romeo drive, ruled there was no legal or constitutional flaw in the state’s action. The court in its verdict held the government’s initiative was preventive policing and didn’t amount to moral policing as claimed by the petitioner.
The court, however, asked the government to ensure the action was taken as per the law. Amidst reports of harassment by anti-Romeo squads, chief minister Aditya Yoginath has now asked the police to not commit excesses or give degrading punishments to suspects like shaving of heads, blackening of faces, sit-ups while holding ears as they did in some cases.
A senior police officer said, “We do not want to insult or harass boys. Our aim is to uphold the security and dignity of women.”