Gujarat’s anti-Romeo squads now also target Juliets
Setting up anti-Romeo squads to combat eve teasing was a major cornerstone of BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh, but similar crack teams first set up in Gujarat work only in fits and starts sans major success.
Launched in the late 1990s, the squads are formed, disbanded and again revived across 500 police stations of Gujarat depending upon the situation. They function mostly around festivities and besides Romeos, have also often targeted Juliets with the aim of preventing couples from cozying up in parks and other public places.
Though a much-publicised initiative for bringing about greater security for women, the squads are not backed by any legislation.
A senior police officer pointed out that the teams neither do have any definitive role, nor a dedicated force. “It is formed by the staff of crime branch or women police stations as and when required,” he added.
The squads are mostly seen in action during occasions like Navratri, Holi and New Year’s Eve.
“Our female staff in plainclothes patrol the venues and mingle with the crowd to prevent any eve-teasing or related incidents,” said Panna Momaya, assistant commissioner of police, women police station, Ahmedabad.
There have also been occasions when squads came up on public demand, such as when residents of Gandhinagar some years ago complained about the growing menace of eve-teasing in parks and cinema halls.
‘Generally, the squads of five to seven members are led by a sub-inspector,” said HM Gadhvi, inspector of the Rajkot crime branch.
In the run up to the just-concluded elections in UP, the anti-Romeo squads had become a major talking point after the BJP promised to set them up with a view to arrest what they said was a rapid slide in the law and order situation in the state. But the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the squads in the place of their origin: Gujarat.
Sudhir Sinha, a former police commissioner of cities such as Ahmedabad and Rajkot, argued the squads are as good as its members. “They are effective only when the team members execute their duty with dedication and commitment".
Women activists claim despite the publicity blitz, the situation for women hasn’t changed much in Gujarat. “The state is as safe or unsafe for women as it used to be,” said Jhanavi Andhraia, an activist.
National Crime Records Bureau data show that the number of eve-teasing cases in the state has been fluctuating: In 2011, it was 93, rose to 173 in 2014 before dipping to 73 in 2015. Same with the number of molestation cases: 756 were reported in 2001, 1352 in 2014 and 1164 in 2015.
Andharia argued that the statistics do not reflect the real situation. “Here, if you are attached to any particular political party, you can get away with anything,” she said. “We are against squads like anti-Romeo as they are nothing but moral policing,” she added.