The anti-Romeo squad, constituted by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to check incidents of harassment and passing of comments on them (women and girls), has already received mixed reactions with accusations of moral policing and harassment in the name of safety being alleged.
The police campaign aimed at ensuring the safety of women, especially young girls, has reportedly been marked by some stray cases of harassment of innocent youths amid concerns that it could spawn moral policing.
Two days after Yogi Adityanath took over as chief minister, Nakul, 23, was accosted by a posse of policemen in the western city of Meerut for loitering around the RG PG College on Kacheri Road.
Nakul, though, wasn’t a Romeo as the police suspected him to be. He happened to be waiting for his sister taking her Class 12 exam inside. Detained and interrogated, the cops let him off after a while, but not before leaving him shaken.
Neeraj, sitting on his motorbike in a lane, is hauled up.
“Why are you sitting here? Is this a picnic spot?” a police officer demands as five others circle the 22-year-old.
“I work at a nearby restaurant” mumbles Neeraj, explaining that his shift had ended and he was taking a breather before heading home.
“No need to sit around unnecessarily!” barks a policeman who checks the man’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.
Neeraj is left more than a little shaken and refuses to talk to us. A little later in the “anti-Romeo” drive, things take a more aggressive turn.
At a block of shops, the policemen descend on Saad Khan, sitting on a bench. He tells the policemen he is with his wife Nazira, who is in a women’s garment shop.
“Why aren’t you inside then?” questions a senior officer. Before the man can answer, his wife Nazira rushes out of the shop.
“Let’s go,” she tells her husband.
The policemen leave, but Nazira is furious.
“This is complete harassment,” she tells us.
“He can’t follow us inside every shop. This is a ladies’ shop. You can’t ask him why he is here. If he is decently standing outside the shop, what is the problem? ” she adds.
Anti-Romeo squads, a poll promise of the BJP that won a remarkable victory in the Uttar Pradesh election, started on a wrong note on Wednesday when visuals on TV suggested harassment and humiliation of young couples and men even in groups. New Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath then directed that couples should not be targeted.
According to The Times of India, local police squad in Meerut in a startling admission, claimed to be capable of identifying the Romeos by just looking into someone’s eyes. “Ab kisi ke chehre pe to nahi likha hota ki kaun Romeo hai. Par humari itne saal ki duty hai ki hum ladkon ki ankhon se, unke chehre se aur unke khade hone ke andaz se pehchaan lete hain ki kaun sharif ghar ka hai aur kaun Romeo hai (While people’s faces don’t have ‘Romeo’ written on them, we have been in the police force for so many years that we can identify them just by the look in their eyes, their face, and the way they stand),” a male constable told The Times of India.
The local police in Meerut have reprimanded boys for standing outside girls’ colleges to meet their friends, a school boy at a parking lot, and there was even an instance of a woman being questioned for standing outside a bookstall to buy school books for her young son, who was with her, according to The Times of India who accompanied an anti-Romeo squad in a police jeep on a one-day expedition.
The constables of the anti-Romeo squad made a slew of arguable comments, a bunch of them being, “Boys and girls can never be friends”, “Our culture cannot accept famous lovers like Romeo and Juliet”, “We are only ensuring the safety of the city. It is not our intention to harass innocents and couples,” The Times of India reported. Not to mention, they even discussed the origins of the character Romeo, with the debate ranging from Britain to Greece.
From Gorakhpur to Meerut, anti- Romeo squads of policemen have fanned across Uttar Pradesh on the orders of new chief minister Yogi Adityanath, fulfilling a pre-poll pledge of the BJP to check eve-teasing.