What is the one greatest concern that India has been battling for a while now?
If you just said corruption, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, sit back and think again. Remember Nirbhaya? Remember the hundreds of thousands of rapes, murders, domestic violence cases, kidnappings, and other crimes reported against women ever since?
India is one of the most populated countries of the world with over 1.3 billion people calling this country their home. Women make up about 48.5 percent of the population and yet, they remain among the most vulnerable groups. According to a National Crime Records Bureau, almost 26 crimes against women are reported every hour. This figure has doubled since the past decade.
Uttar Pradesh has been right at the top of the list of states in terms of crimes against women. In 2015, Uttar Pradesh reported 35,527 crimes against women, Maharashtra registered 31,126 reports, and West Bengal reported 33,218 cases. It is not surprising, then, that the BJP’s election campaign came well peppered with promises to initiate women’s safety measures.
“In Uttar Pradesh, every college will be provided with the anti-Romeo squad. Our girls will be safeguarded. These anti-Romeo squads would allow the girls to study without fear in college campuses…if the BJP comes to power, we will safeguard the honour and chastity of our girls”, promised Amit Shah, the President of BJP in his February rally in Meerut.
Almost as soon as Yogi Adityanath took charge of the Chief Minister’s office in UP, he implemented this idea and sanctioned “anti-Romeo” squads to check sexual harassment of young women and girls in colleges and public places.
How Anti-Romeo Squads Operate?
Across the largest state in India anti-Romeo squads have now been launched. Each squad consists of a pair of policemen – one male, one female. These members could be constables, ASI, or SI-level police personnel.
The number of squads operating depends on how many schools, colleges, malls, and shopping centres are there in the area. Typically, there are about three squads under each police station. They are meant to keep a look out at places where women generally congregate and identify eve-teasers and mischief makers.
They move around in plain clothes, or in uniform, at times. Once an offender is identified harassing women, the squad takes action depending on the severity of the offence.
Policing To Moral Policing
While the idea of safety squads is great for women’s protection, we also understand that there is a fine line between policing and moral policing. News reports of brothers, fathers, boyfriends, and even innocent bystanders being harassed are already pouring in.
In response, the UP CM, Yogi Adityanath has asked senior police officials to lay down clear guidelines for the operation of these anti-Romeo squads. He has asked the police not to harass young couples who are meeting consensually.
At the same time, serious offences such as acid attacks and molestation should be dealt with strictly and these cases should be reviewed by senior officials, said the CM.
The deployment of anti-Romeo squads across the state of UP has raised a number of concerns –
- How effective is this in terms of curbing the crimes against women? Anti-Romeo squads do nothing to prevent dowry deaths, domestic violence, forced labour, trafficking, and abduction. All it can prevent is eve-teasing and harassment at public places. Is it worth deploying a number of policemen and taking away manpower from other work for such an exercise?
- What are the safeguards taken by the government to ensure that innocent people are not harassed, that moral policing of couples in the name of “sanskriti” is not the outcome?
- Indiscriminate deployment of police personnel at public places – those empowered to search and book just about anyone without due process – could become an affront to liberty and will certainly be the start of a corrupt practice.
While we wait to see how Yogi Adityanath, his government, and the UP police deal with these concerns, for now let us hope that the anti-Romeo squads do keep a number of girls in the state safe from harassment.