In the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a newly formed squad to tackle sexual harassment has been issued new directives after its initial operations have turned questionable.
When Shakespeare penned down one of the world’s most iconic love stories, he hadn’t imagined the central male character would be eponymous with sexual assault in India in the 21st century. In India’s densely packed state of Uttar Pradesh, ‘romeos’ are being dealt with great attention, with specially designated police outfits who have been formed to curb sexual harassment of women in the state. With reports and fears of harassment of consenting lovers among others within days of its launch, the anti-romeo squads remain problematic despite finding clearance by the High Court of Allahabad in the state.
Uttar Pradesh, which recently underwent elections has seen the anti-Romeo squads beig formed in over 10 districts. Part of the promises made by the Bharatiya Janata Party during its campaign, it has swiftly been introduced by the party after it won the election. As news reports across platforms including social media emerged on the excesses of police, a petitioner to the High Court of Allahabad yesterday sought a direction curbing invasion the privacy of couples or adults on the pretext of addressing sexual violence. Presenting a video before the court where police officials were seen harassing a couple, the petition was declined with the court observing, “We are unable to gather any lawful or otherwise constitutional defect in the attempt made by the state government and its authorities in proceeding to form the squads for the purpose of such policing.”
Even as the Lucknow bench named the state action as constitutional, it issued a directive to the state government and the state police seeking that they abide by the prescribed law and guidelines. Director General of Police Javeed Ahmed also issued a letter with guidelines for the squads to avoid a repeat of such incidents. “There should be no hair-shaving, blackening of the face or murga punishment,” he stated, adding “Couples sitting in public places should not be asked for IDs, questioned, frisked or humiliated.” Addressing concerns of vigilante groups popping up, the letter stated that private individual or self-appointed groups going around rounding up young couples or men sitting alone was unacceptable. “The squads will be screened and assessed by officials and briefed by senior policemen before set out each day,” the police chief said.
Police goes above and beyond
Even as citizens across India have reacted to this newly formed squad with suspicions of moral policing, there is much confusion on its implications. The court bench that held is constitutional validity refused to accept that the act of the state amounted to “moral policing,” adding instead that it was a step in “preventive policing.”
Social media has been abuzz with videos and images capturing the deeds of the anti-romeo squads.
Young couples being humiliated like hell in UP in name of women safety. Is this how Yogi Adityanath plans to save women? Disgusting!!!
— Deepika Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) March 24, 2017
Anti-Romeo squad getting ready for Valentine’s Day. pic.twitter.com/1peUpR4Glq
— PhD in Bak*****!! (@Atheist_Krishna) February 13, 2017
Some have hailed this move as a necessary step for curbing the acts of roadside sex offenders who deny the right of safe access to public spaces for women. However, for the consenting lovers, cousins who were detained by senior police officials and numerous others who have been subject to arbitrary measures, the idea of an anti-romeo squad is not quite desirable. A country that has failed to look at societal, educational or economic reform and empowerment as a road to gender equality, India is now strengthening the role of and dependence on custodians who are not necessarily as responsible as it imagines them to be.
New Rules of Indian Taliban State pic.twitter.com/zD4vmbECm4
— James Wilson (@jamewils) March 24, 2017