In the beginning of the play Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is madly in love with a woman named Rosaline but the instant he lays eyes on Juliet, he falls in love with her and forgets Rosaline. Shakespeare gives us every reason to question how real Romeo’s new love is as Romeo goes to extremes to prove the seriousness of his feelings. Come to Uttar Pradesh, where not only Romeo’s integrity but his entirety has been challenged by the BJP Government. The popular symbolism of the romantic Romeo has been tarnished. Romeo is no longer the epitome of love; he is the creep with cheap sunglasses in Uttar Pradesh. The anti-Romeo squad, a pre-poll promise in the manifesto of the BJP plans to stop eve teasing and sexual harassment by thrashing and shaming the youth indulging in unethical means like circling around girl’s colleges, teasing and making remarks on them.Although the motive to ensure women safety is welcoming, the move is hysterical and extreme.
Senior BJP leader Ram Tripathi who headed the committee that drafted the manifesto for UP said someone from the committee had suggested the name “anti-Romeo”.The idea is to “identify Romeo-type persons and taking actions against them”. The move has taken the state by a jolt as colleges and parks have seen fewer rushes of so-called “Romeos”. Boys indulging in eve teasing and disturbing females are caught by the squad and given an instant judgment of “lathi”. Sounds perfect and a happy ending, isn’t it? Well just wait.
Incidents like forcing young men found with young women to do hold ears and do sit-ups in public have emerged. Many young men in the cities of Lucknow and Gorakhpur have been questioned.A DNA report suggested that among the youth halted by the police near colleges and malls in Gorakhpur were even a few brothers who had come to pick up their sisters. Reports alleged the creation of “anti-Romeo” squads to the greater linkage of “Love-Jihad” which the BJP MLAs of UP take seriously, especially the new Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath. The decision has come under severe criticism as innocent couples have also been harassed in this frenzy. Though, Yogi Adityanath has assured that consensual people will not be harassed. "Girls and boys on moving around or sitting at any place should not be troubled if it is with their consent," Adityanath said in his address at the Maharana Pratap Inter College in Gorakhpur. Where should one submit the certification of consent? Do they need the Aadhar Card to register?
According to National Crime Records Bureau UP 2014 report, UP shares 16.8% of country’s women population and has reported nearly 11.4% of total crimes committed against women. The list includes rape, attempt to rape, insult to the modesty of women, kidnapping, and abduction.
The state needs stringent measures to curb this menace. The intention to curb eve teasing and sexual harassment must be appreciated. The problem with the anti-Romeo squad is the breach of civil liberty as the law enforcements become moral enforcements. In a country like India blessed with cultural constraints dating in itself is complicated. There are pieces of evidence of public shaming with cases of parents being informed restricting the privacy of the couples. It also increases state intervention and vigilantism to another level.
The interference of the administration through a police force which is untrained and without any guidelines is troublesome. The liquor ban in Bihar and the anti-Romeo squads are the new tendencies of authoritarian measures, potent to the motivation for obedience. However, it makes the issue of eve teasing and sexual harassment only illegal, not unethical. This differentiation is always failed to be understood by the Government. To control alcoholism, target the alcohol. To curb drug menace, criminalize the addicts. Hence, there will always be a gray market. Such utilitarian mindset by decision makers is misleading as it fails to address the core issue of women safety and instead makes it an event of celebration. Lastly, will the slim fitted pants and high collar studs riding the Bullet amend their ways once the anti-Romeo squad retires?
Do we have an answer to that or just as Bob Dylan said, “The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind. The answer is blowin' in the wind.”