The new “anti-Romeo” activism of the UP Police runs the risk of condoning — or promoting — vigilantism similar to the BJP’s earlier “love jihad” campaign, of which Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been an enthusiastic supporter. While DGP Javeed Ahmad has tweeted that “safety of girls/ladies is the sole intent of the anti Romeo squads”, and there would be “no moral policing”, Lucknow Police on Wednesday stopped a couple at a busy intersection, took the man to the local thana, and imparted “moral teaching to the woman”.
The BJP first decided to include the issue of “love jihad” in its agenda at the state executive meeting in Mathura in August 2014. At the meeting, a document was circulated to all members, which included references to an incident of alleged abduction, gangrape and forced conversion of a Hindu girl to Islam in Kharkhoda area of Meerut. Later, the RSS and its affiliates raised concerns over “love jihad”.
That September, at an election rally in Hamirpur, Adityanath said “jihad” in the name of love was unacceptable, and that forced conversions and marriages by duping Hindu girls could be stopped only by a BJP-led government. “Love jihad” had become a national and social problem, Yogi said.
He subsequently raised the issue repeatedly, including during the 2017 Assembly elections campaign. As the Sangh intensified its campaign against so-called love jihad, the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, launched a “Bahu Lao-Beti Bachao” programme in west UP districts. Starting February 2015, Bajrang Dal workers visited girls’ colleges to “make them aware” so they “did not fall in the trap laid by youths of a particular community”.
The Bajrang Dal also announced a programme to “protect Hindu boys who marry Muslim or Christian girls”, and to create awareness among Hindu families so they could “protect their girls from getting married to Muslim or Christian boys”. Bajrang Dal office-bearers at the time claimed their campaign was a response to the threat of “love jihad”.
“Anti-Romeo squads” made their appearance in the agenda of “Sashakt Naari, Samaan Adhikaar” in the BJP’s Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra, its manifesto for the 2017 elections. The squads, it said, would be formed in police stations located nearest to every college to prevent incidents of eveteasing.
“The word ‘jihad’ is associated with a particular community. Had that word been used in the manifesto, it would have given the message that the BJP was against that community,” said a senior BJP leader. “The anti-Romeo squads will take action against boys who are found outside girls’ colleges, and are involved in eveteasing and molesting girl students,” the leader added.
According to this leader, the promise of “anti-Romeo” squads had helped the BJP in western UP, where the VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP have been alleging harassment of Hindu girls by boys of a particular community. The riots in Muzaffarnagar which spread to adjoining districts in 2013 had been triggered by an incident of eveteasing that led to murders, the leader recalled. The promise of “anti-Romeo” squads had contributed to the polarisation of voters on religious lines in the elections, he claimed.
Senior BJP leader Ramapati Ram Tripathi, who headed the committee that drafted the election manifesto for UP, however, said “the promise of anti-Romeo squads was intended to create a sense of security among women”. The manifesto, he said, had been drafted under the supervision of party’s central leadership. “Incidents of eveteasing and molestation of girls had become common under the previous state government.” How was the word “anti-Romeo” chosen?
Someone from the committee suggested this word, and it was finalised, Tripathi said. “It was found suitable because it appeared attacking. These squads will identify Romeo-type persons, and will take action against them,” he said.