The Uttar Pradesh government has rebranded the much hyped “anti-Romeo” squad to crack down on sexual harassment of women at public places and will now be known as Nari Suraksha Bal or women’s protection force in its “new, refined avatar”, a minister said on Thursday.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath announced the formation of these anti-Romeo squads in March just days after he assumed office. The police responded with alacrity in at least 11 districts of the country’s most populous state by raiding parks, malls and colleges to deter the so-called Romeos.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court in March upheld the UP government’s move to set up the anti-Romeo squads. The court, however, cautioned against overreacting and said the police must act only as per law and not do anything “outside its purview.”
The move, however, invited criticism from several quarters following allegations that the police were invading private space of citizens. The opposition even sought central intervention into what they alleged “violation of the Constitution” in Uttar Pradesh by allowing “anti-Romeo” squads to “ridicule democracy and the freedom of youngsters”.
“Behen betiyon ka samman sarkaar ki prathmikta hai. Ab anti-Romeo squad ka naam ‘Nari Suraksha Bal’ kar diya gaya hai (Protecting the honour of our sisters and daughters is the top priority for our government. Anti-Romeo squad would now be known as Nari Suraksha Bal),” Rajendra Pratap ‘Moti’ Singh said at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office in Lucknow.
The minister didn’t give any reason for the change in the name but some police officers admitted there was a feeling that the anti-Romeo squads that the BJP promised in its election manifesto were attracting negative publicity due to their “wrong branding.”
The name change also comes amid sensitisation workshops that are now being held for the members of the women protection force that drew criticism, not just nationally but even in the international media, for being heavy handed and engaging more in moral policing.
After state director general of police Sulkhan Singh said the anti-Romeo squads would be sensitised, officials of the force were asked to attend sensitisation workshops that are being held across the state.
“The training programme is aimed at sensitising police personnel about their work profile, communication skills, gesture and legal aspects of the campaign,” inspector general of police (IGP) Navniet Sekera said.
Sekera said it was being explained to them that they did not have to get involved in moral policing or troubling couples. Their mandate was to ensure that nobody troubled women at public places, outside schools and colleges and in market places, he added.