There is a piece of good news. Uttar Pradesh, a state that usually is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to health, education, infrastructure, has finally broken out of the BIMARU mould. This means the state administrators may just have some time to spare. Not anymore for the political leaders have hit upon a novel idea of using their time much more fruitfully: Chase ‘Romeos’. So the new BJP state administration under Yogi Adityanath has started ‘anti-Romeo’ squads to check “eve-teasing”, which is a gentler term for sexual harassment. A day after his taking over, ‘anti-Romeo’ squads of policemen fanned out across the state. The campaign, which was a BJP pre-poll promise, was, as expected, marked by harassment of innocent youths.
While we are all for women’s safety (regular readers of this paper would know), we are against such dubious squads, even if they comprise police officers. Here’s why: In India, there are very few public spaces for women/couples. With such an offensive, they will now have to let go of these spaces too; second, there are enough pro-women laws, which, if implemented properly, can bring down crimes against women. Their proper implementation coupled with sensitive policing would be enough to assure women and force men to think twice before harassing them; third, such squads legitimise moral policing, and already a few cases of such extra-vigilance have been reported. Who gives anyone the right to stop a man from talking to a woman, or go for a movie? Why should a young man answer a police officer on his personal life as long as he is not breaking the law? Fourth, Yogi Adityanath may think otherwise but stopping men and women from interacting freely will not bring down crime rates.
In fact, allowing better interaction is a healthier approach to develop gender sensitivity. Even the central government’s gender sensitivity programmes are increasingly accepting that men must be involved for them to succeed. Fifth, we fear that this programme will finally lead towards revitalising the dangerous love-jihad programme, which had the Yogi’s support. The BJP’s national co-convenor Sunil Bharala, in the run up to the election campaign, was quoted as saying: “In love jihad, innocent girls are targeted and lured. To ensure their safety, anti-Romeo squads will be formed”. Last but not the least, the BJP tried this programme in Gujarat but it did not have any major success. So why do a re-run in UP?