It’s on a crisp, sunny morning that seven young men on motorbikes begin doing the rounds of Dehradun schools in a self-imposed mission to hunt down suspected “eve-teasers”.
They stop “shady-looking boys” in the narrow bylanes of the city and warn them against being seen in the vicinity of schools. “Manchalon ko sabak sikhana bahut zaroori hai (It’s important to teach eve-teasers a lesson),” says Ashu Chauhan, one of the team members.
Both Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are ruled by BJP governments. While Uttar Pradesh has anti-Romeo squads comprising policemen who stand vigil near parks, schools and colleges to nab potential molesters (and, in some instances, discourage amorous couples), Uttarakhand doesn’t have any official teams of the kind. Its state capital has to make do with the Jatayu Dasta, allegedly extralegal vigilante squads formed by the Bajrang Dal – youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad – to “take care of” girls being targeted by eve-teasers.
Even as these squads roam the city in search of “Romeos”, city police seem all but clueless about their existence.
About the group
Named after Jatayu – a mythological character from the Ramayana who fought demon king Ravana to rescue Sita after her abduction – these teams set off on their two-wheelers daily, about an hour before the schools start, and later, once the classes get over. “We have around 16 volunteers between 20 and 40 years of age, who take some time out from their businesses for the sake our sisters and daughters,” Vikas Verma, Dehradun coordinator of the Bajrang Dal, tells HT as he plans the day’s route with his team.
Having more than a dozen schools and colleges on their radar, the vigilant teams carefully ‘cover’ what they refer to as “manchalon ke adde” (haunts of eve-teasers) near schools over the next one hour. “With our experience, we can easily recognise troublemakers… we warn them and inform the police whenever required,” Verma says, soon after stopping to warn two boys found loitering near a girls’ school in Khurbura area. One of the teams zeroes in on a girl and a boy chatting near a school in Laxman Chowk area, but lets them go after they identify themselves as cousins.
“Besides regular patrolling, we also act on alerts from people,” says Shyam Sharma, a volunteer.
Samaj sewaks, all!
“For us, this is like samaj sewa (social service),” declare volunteers Saurabh Dhiman and Sandeep Thakur after scanning a narrow lane for eve-teasers. “Hum baad mein mombattiyan jalane ki jagah abhi kuch karna chahte hain (We would rather prevent girls from being harassed than light candles afterwards),” says Ashu Chauhan, another member.
Sanjeev Baliyan, a colleague in the Jatayu Dasta, agrees. “After all, it could be our daughters’ turn next,” he says.
Dehradun police say that while people are free to alert the police about harassment cases, nobody has the right to form groups that infringe on the personal freedom of residents. “If any incident of eve-teasing takes place in public, they have the right to inform us (the police) and hold on to the culprits till we arrive at the scene. However, they cannot go about stopping girls and boys,” superintendent of police (city) Ajay Singh tells HT, adding that they will look into the matter.
Even girl students aren’t impressed by the Jayatu Dasta’s actions. “We’re all for women’s security… but what’s the need for them to play moral guardians?”asks Archana Naithani, a graduation student.
However, Bajrang Dal coordinator Vikas Verma defends the actions of the self-appointed anti-Romeo squads. “We have complete respect for the law. We have never done anything to make the police or any section of society point fingers at us,” he says.