When BJP chief Amit Shah made the grandiose promise of forming anti-Romeo squads across UP if the state voted his party into power, we weren’t really sure about the specifics. What were these squads expected to do? How were they going to make women feel safer? And were they to become the state’s officially sanctioned moral police?
A decisive mandate and a controversial CM pick later, the formation and first few days of functioning of these squads have thrown up a few answers, but even more questions.
The Quint travelled to Meerut in western UP, a city at the crossroads of modernity and traditionalism, to separate the fact from the fiction – and find out what the anti-Romeo squads of Uttar Pradesh are really up to.
Cops admitting to moral policing, college principals arguing that having a boyfriend is against Indian culture, the Hindu Yuva Vahini ecstatic that CM Adityanath is fighting ‘love jihad’ and the youth divided over all of it – here’s what Meerut had to say on their new government’s flagship move, and the row on moral policing it has left in its wake.
Moral Policing: Constables Debunk Top Cop’s Claims
Speaking to The Quint, DGP UP Javeed Ahmad categorically stated that the anti-Romeo squads are not indulging in any kind of moral policing. “If a boy and a girl, who are friends, are going out, there is no objection whatsoever.”
Ajay Anand, IG of the Meerut Zone and Alok Priyadarshi, SP (City) echoed the police chief’s assurance to consenting couples.
We are very clear on this. Couples will not be harassed, which is why strict instructions have been given to the anti-Romeo squads to not enter parks and shopping malls.Alok Priyadarshi, SP (City), Meerut to The Quint
But police officials on the ground have a different story to tell. On being asked whether the anti-Romeo squads question couples as well, a constable responds:
No boy and girl roaming together are “just friends”. Of course we question them. Who are they? What is their relation to each other? What are they doing there?
Another constable, who is out on duty with an anti-Romeo squad, has no qualms in saying:
In the course of our rounds over the past few days, we have spotted several couples in public places. We strongly warned them, “Don’t roam around together in public places. It creates a bad effect on others.”
Yet another constable adds, “If they are in love, they should go to each other’s homes. Or even a good restaurant. Why hang around in public? That is not what public places are for.”
So is the police chief’s message to not harass consenting couples really percolating down to his officials on the ground?
A Day with Meerut’s All-Women Anti-Romeo Squad
At half past eleven, as Sub-Inspector Anjana Chaudhary leads a team of seven policewomen into the streets of Meerut, The Quint follows them to find out how the all-women anti-Romeo squad fares on its fourth day at work.
The squad first stops outside the gates of Meerut College. Chaudhary steps out of her police vehicle and briskly walks across to three young men sitting on two bikes and having a chat.
“What are you doing here?”
One of them mumbles something about just having come there. They start their bikes and leave immediately.
Sub-inspector Chaudhary looks around to see if there are others loitering around. There aren’t. With an evident look of satisfaction, she says:
Three days of the anti-Romeo squads have instilled fear in the minds of those who were accustomed to standing outside colleges and coaching centres and harassing women students. People we caught apologised and said they won’t do so again. Look, they are nowhere to be seen today.
Later in the day, the squad stops outside Raghunath Girls College. The cops ask a young man standing outside the gates his reason for being there. He says he is there to pick up his sister. He is then further questioned about what his sister studies, which year she is in and so on. Only after he manages to answer those questions do the police let him be. One wonders to what extent the police could go to verify his version. In this case, they stop short of asking for ID proof. The moment the police step away, Danish makes a call.
Sister, come out soon, the cops are here asking me what I’m doing outside your college.
Speaking to me right after he made the call, Danish said he supported the move to institute the anti-Romeo squads, yet was left flummoxed when we told him that the most common excuse for boys outside girls' colleges is that they came to pick up their sisters!
The students of Raghunath Girls College are all praise for the anti-Romeo squads. Fareen Malik, a 2nd year BA student, compares how things are better than before.
There were lots of boys who stood outside our college gate at all times. The moment we left the campus, we would be subjected to harassment, jeering and lewd comments. It was so bad that I once had to reconsider whether I should even come to college anymore. Both parents and students are happy that this is being put to an end by the anti-Romeo squads.
Fareen doesn’t mind the police questioning couples either. “Couples should be warned because they shouldn’t be standing together in public places, especially outside colleges.”
Final year BA student Anam Chouhan agrees, “The police should definitely question couples as well. College-going girls should study, not do all this.”
‘Bharatiya Sanskar Doesn't Allow Girls to Have Boyfriends’
The Principal of RG College, Sneh Gupta, goes one step further. Speaking to The Quint about her students, almost all of whom are above 18 years of age, she says:
This is not the age for love. There are elements who want to distract the girls. Let them finish their studies first. If a boy and a girl want to share notes, that is okay. But how can a girl have a boyfriend outside college? Indian society doesn’t permit for boyfriends and girlfriends. Yeh bharatiya sanskar ke khilaaf hai.
She even exhorts the police’s anti-Romeo squads to ensure that if a boy and girl are found together, their parents be called and complained to.
‘College Girls Need to Be Protected From Their Immaturity’
Dr Sadhna Sahay, the Principal of Meerut’s Ismail National Mahila PG College, thinks along similar lines.
The extreme prevalence of crimes against women prompted the anti-Romeo squads. It is a positive step for women’s safety. Young girls should not be roaming around outside. Why should a girl spend time in the park? If she is a student, she should be at home studying. Even Facebook friends are dangerous.
The anti-Romeo squads should warn the parents of the couples they find. Why should a girl lie to her parents and meet a guy? These girls need to be protected from their immaturity. Women who have boyfriends are not pure anymore. In the past, our college would send the guards to check nearby parks. If they found a girl student there, she would be brought back and her parents called. Unfortunately, we had to stop that practice. But with the anti-Romeo squads, that climate of fear should be back.Dr Sadhna Sahay, Principal, Ismail National Mahila PG College
A professor of English at the college, Dr Parul Tyagi, defends her principal’s statement.
If something bad happens to the girl, then the college is blamed and the teachers disreputed. So we do our best to ensure that the girls do not become like that. It is to prevent crimes against our girl students that we want them to stay away from parks and such places.
When asked why the girl, her college or her teachers should be blamed if she faces molestation or sexual harassment, the professors present in the room all said that that is just how it is.
And when we asked Dr Tyagi if the ideas of the love stories she taught in literature class were meant to be confined to the classroom, she replied, “If you read Romeo and Juliet, you will realise it is about the philosophy of life. Why do you have to look at it from the angle of love? Here, we teach the students spiritual and platonic love.”
'Anti-Romeo Squads to Fight Love Jihad'
The Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organisation formed in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, is celebrating their founder’s ascension to the post of Chief Minister. The Quint met Sachin Mittal, the Vahini’s leader in the Meerut region, to ask him how his organisation viewed the anti-Romeo squads. Mittal did not mince his words.
The Yogi Adityanath government has formed these anti-Romeo squads with the intention of fighting love jihad. It is a huge problem in these parts. Whenever the police spot a couple, they must call the parents of both the boy and the girl. What if the girl is being trapped by a deshdrohi, an anti-national, a terrorist? The girl’s life can then be saved. This moral policing is much needed.
“Informing the parents is essential. They can then advise their kids as to what is best – to marry or leave the boy. If the parents do not know about a relationship, then it is obviously wrong.”
The Quint asked Mittal, if an adult woman could vote and choose her elected representatives, decide on whether to join the armed forces and get married without breaking the law, could she not be in a relationship with a man of her choice?
Even if a girl is 20 or 21, she may be mature but she is prone to attractions and therefore, likely to make mistakes.Sachin Mittal, Hindu Yuva Vahini
We ask Mittal – what if the boy and the girl refuse to give their parents’ contact details to the cops?
The police should keep the couple in the police station if they don’t agree to give their parents’ numbers. Keep them there till as long as they do. The police must attempt to create an environment of fear so that such things do not happen.
And would the members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini indulge in forming anti-Romeo squads of their own?
“No, the Vahini has nothing to do with the anti-Romeo squads and neither will we form any of our own. Reports suggesting the same are based on interviews with previously expelled Vahini members.”
Student Community Divided on Issue of Moral Policing
19-year-old Mukesh Chowdhury is an ice cream vendor who sets up shop outside the gates of Meerut College. The cart he sells from is proudly titled ‘Mewad Prem Ice Cream.’ He laughs when asked if the prem is missing outside college nowadays.
“There are usually several couples here who hang around just outside the campus. But since the police have started coming and shooing them away in the past few days, there is almost no one here today. Obviously, that isn’t great news for me!”
While almost every student in Meerut that The Quint spoke to welcomed the police’s crackdown on those harassing women, they were divided on whether the cops should also question and warn boys and girls spending time together in public places.
The police should not interfere in the personal lives of couples. They have no right to do so.Bharat Joshi, a final year MCom student at Meerut College
If the police finds out that it is a couple, they should not continue questioning them.Neha Jawla, 2nd year BA student at Meerut College
But Kumari Swati, another 2nd year BA student, strongly disagrees with her batchmate Neha.
If the boy and the girl are from different castes, of course it is wrong. If the police find out, they should call the parents and inform them. They have a responsibility to do so.
On hearing Swati say this, her friend Priyanka comments, “Pyaar toh dekh ke nahi hota hai.” Neha Jawla adds, “Love is love. Caste and religion should not come in between.”
It is a conversation that encapsulates the flux between social conservatism and liberal thought that Meerut’s youth are caught in. The same crossroads that have divided principals, professors and even police personnel.
Love in the Time of Anti-Romeo Squads
Anubhav Chowdhury, a 21-year-old Meerut resident, questions why anyone should have a problem with couples hanging out at public spaces. “If a boy and a girl are going somewhere together, why would Indian sanskriti have a problem with that?”
Ashish Verma, an MBBS student at the city’s Subharti Medical College, feels that the anti-Romeo squads will make it a little problematic for him to go out with his girlfriend henceforth. “If the police is questioning consenting couples, it is unfair of them to do so.”
There is so much confusion regarding these anti-Romeo squads. The government should clarify what the exact purpose of the squads are and whether they are there to question couples along with fighting harassment of women.
Lastly, In Defence of Romeo
When William Shakespeare wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’, little would he have imagined that his protagonist would be the butt of all accusations of harassment in faraway Uttar Pradesh, more than four centuries later.
Interestingly enough, taking strong exception to the name ‘Anti-Romeo squads’ is none other than a sub-inspector in Meerut.
Anti-Romeo is a wrong name. Romeo was a lover. We are catching harassers, not lovers!
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