The boys are back outside while the girls are busy taking their exams inside. The scene in the immediate vicinity of RG Girls’ PG College on Meerut’s Kacheri Road seems every bit the same as it used to be a month before with men – some of them possibly eve-teasers – loitering around seeking out their next target.
Almost a month after Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister Yogi Adityanath launched his ‘anti-Romeo squad’ initiative to crack down on sexual harassment of women at public places, Meerut has slipped back to its usual self.
Adityanath took over as the CM on March 19 and two days later, he announced the formation of the squads amid much fanfare and publicity. The police too in at least 11 districts of the country’s most populous state responded with alacrity: raiding parks, malls and colleges to deter eve-teasers from their favourite pastime.
RG Girls’s College was one such place where a posse of policemen led by the city superintendent of police Alok Priyadarshi had descended on in the immediate aftermath of the CM’s announcement. On March 22, the police detained 15 ‘Romeos’ from across the town in western UP.
But revisiting the same spots that witnessed the crackdown nearly a month later revealed no traces of the frenetic police activity. April 21 will mark one month since Adityanath announced the measure to bolster womens’ safety.
Not a single policeman was spotted at RG Girls’ College on Monday, though some men sauntered around rather suspiciously. Some said they were there to buy grocery, others said they were simply passing by.
The absence of police drew snide remarks from some of the college students. “Do din ka khumaar thaa bas (It was just a hype of two days),” remarked Sajida Qureshi, a BA student. Her friends pointed out that policemen are normally not seen since the initial frenzy fizzled out. “They (police) visit when exams are held, otherwise they are not be seen,” said Heena Sheikh.
But there is consensus among the students that the crackdown has had some positive effect on the ground. There is fear of the police and even brothers of students are dropping them at some distance from the college to avoid being interrogated and detained by the police.
The Government Girls’ College in Zakir Colony and the Star Plaza market on Begum Pul Road – two other spots that HT had visited last month in hot pursuit of the raiding policemen – also bore the same look. There were no hawk-eyed police officials around.
The overzealousness displayed by the police last month had come in for criticism from many quarters. A couple headed to a movie were stopped and the man was hauled to the police station. A teeanged boy was forced to do sit-ups at a park.
Ironically, the police are being forced to defend their decision, now that they have scaled down the anti-Romeo operations.
Meerut police officials say the crackdown is still on, though it is less visible. “After the first two days, there were written orders from the top to act only when a complaint is received. The squads do exist but they act only after a complaint. We have been told not to act against random youngsters or couples,” a top official said.
Priyadarshi, the SP, said incidents of eve-teasing had come down in the wake of the crackdown. Each police station still has at least one ‘anti-Romeo squad’ comprising two police personnel – a man and a woman. They are ready to respond to complaints and act quickly, though not a single ‘Romeo’ has been detained since March 23.
Residents of Meerut, meanwhile, are debating how effective the crackdown has been.
“The idea is good but the approach is wrong. Instead of harassing innocent couples, police presence outside colleges should be ensured. That is enough for Romeos to stay away,” said Ashish Mishra, a resident of Hill Street.
Ruchi Kumar, whose daughter studies at a girls college in Lucknow, is all for the anti-Romeo squads. “Eve-teasing is a reality. Initiatives like the one started by Yogi Adityanath will at least serve as a deterrent,” she said.
(With inputs from Rohit K Singh, Lucknow)