Romeo- True Love- Italy: this would be the normal trajectory of thought if the name of this famous Shakespearean character comes to our mind. On another part of globe, more specifically in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India- this may evoke quite contradictory thoughts. Apparently, to “ Check eve- teasing “ and “ ensure the safety of college going girls“; the UP government as promised in its manifesto has formed these groups to protect the women folk.
Not very long ago, the current ruling party BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party) claimed that Muslim men duped Hindu women into marrying them and converting them to Islam under the banner of “ Love Jihad“. This lead to a communally polarized environment, in a state where Hindu Muslim riots have been on a rise. Meanwhile activists, media and opposition categorically stated that “ Love Jihad“ is nothing but baseless religious propaganda.
The Anti Romeo- squads come under the jurisdiction of authorized, fully official police stations with two police men each. They are usually deployed in areas of women’s schools and colleges. They identify, nab and punish stalkers and eve – teasers in the crowd and are allowed to take steps as necessary.
Interestingly, immediately after the launch of these protectionist groups, several women and consenting couples were beaten up brutally throughout the state. Even married couples and pairs of brothers and sisters were also held and thrashed on the charges of having an illicit affair after failing to prove their relation to the squad members. News and videos of young people running in panic were circulated on news channels and television, and the distressed relatives of married couples could be seen rushing to police stations with official documents and marriage certificates.
The question which comes to my mind is- instead of SAVING women, why don’t the men focus on CHANGING themselves. The very existence of these anti Romeo squads confirms the failure of state institutions to provide women with security and free mobility as standard citizens. On the contrary, it confirms to the social constructs of women’s „honour“ and how it needs to be defended even by aggressive and violent means. This is legitimizing and promoting vigilantism which defeats the values of a free and democratic society. Prejudice and intolerance are the undercurrents of this group’s uncalled for aggression. Do women need more and more of these groups as protection or strict and quick legal action against the perpetrators of violence? This degree of moral policing does not protect women, instead it violates their basic rights of moving around freely or choosing a partner of their choice.
The anti Romeo squads are going to serve no purpose in the long run as long as regressive societal attitudes towards women don’t change. Patriarchal notions which place the “ honour“ of families and communities in a woman are actually doing no good to them. Until and unless the women and minorities are stopped being treated as second class citizens, Romeo- Tragedy – Uttar Pradesh, will be dominant line of thought.
TEXT Saman Khan