ANY blossoming romances on the streets of Uttar Pradesh could face obstacles from the most unlikely of sources.
The state’s new Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has ordered the deployment of hundreds of police squads to target young men loitering outside women’s colleges, schools and public spaces, in a bid to protect women from sexual harassment.
But the measure has been drawing criticism, with some labelling it “moral policing” following the arrests of several couples and innocent men.
According to the Star, an estimated 1,000 men have been arrested by the police outfit – commonly dubbed as “anti-Romeo squads”, named after the “roadside Romeos” who harass women on the roads in India.
The National Crime Records Bureau’s 2015 Crime In India report, shows Uttar Pradesh was the state with the highest levels of crimes against women, accounting for 10.9 percent of the national total. The state registered 35,527 in 2015, 3,025 of which were rape cases.
Adityanath’s policy was hoping to combat the pandemic of violence by fulfilling an electoral promise made by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to set up squads for women’s safety.
On the face of it, the measure appears to have had the desired effect with the usual swarms of boys outside women-only colleges all but gone.
Sukhwinder Kaur, a student at the Raghunath Girls Post Graduate College, told the Times of India she “feels safer with the police around.”
“We had complained earlier about boys on bikes blocking our path, touching us inappropriately as we walked on the street, but no action was taken. Now they have all disappeared,” she said.
Ismail National Mahila College principal Sadhana Sahay also spoke about the reassurance she and her students felt. “Students have a sense of self-confidence there is protection for us. Cases of eve-teasing or stalking have come down,” she said.
But despite this seemingly positive outcome, police have come under fire for allegedly harassing consenting couples and hauling up youngsters and men who are just out for a stroll.
On Saturday, three Uttar Pradesh policemen were suspended after they detained a young couple at a Ghaziabad park as part of the drive.
According to the Hindustan Times, the couple were taken to a police station even though there was no women police personnel present, which is mandatory practice in India when detaining a woman.
Photographs and video clips of police forcing youngsters to do sit-ups as punishment have also fanned anger.
Footage emerged on Indian television of police accosting a man who was waiting outside a shop where his wife was buying items, querying him on what he was doing and why he was not with his wife.
The criticism forced Adityanath – who rolled out the drive immediately after assuming office – to order new guidelines to avoid the risk of police overstepping the mark.
On Friday, he directed the state’s top officials to chalk out clear guidelines to avoid “unnecessary harassment” of innocent people.
The creation of the “anti-Romeo squads” was a key campaign promise for the BJP who pulled off a sweeping victory in the March elections, taking 325 of Uttar Pradesh’s 403 seats, the biggest majority for any party in the state legislature in 40 years.
Adityanath was a controversial choice for the chief minister job as he has repeatedly come under criticism for his hardline Hindutva views and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
His appointment to the role has left many Muslims in India’s most populous state nervous their rights may be in jeopardy under his administration. Adityanath, however, promised on taking the oath he would not discriminate against any minorities and vowed to create a “new structure of progress” in Uttar Pradesh, taking all sections of the society with him.