The setting up of “anti-Romeo squads” was an election promise of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. They were meant to ostensibly curtail eve-teasing and provide greater security to women. However, reports reveal the chilling reality behind the grandstanding: A young woman and man, out in a rickshaw, going to meet friends to watch a movie together, were stopped in Lucknow and questioned by the police. The young woman, interrogated by policewomen, was released after being given “moral teaching”. The young man was taken to a police station, questioned further, released after hours.
Thus, at the end of the UP police’s foray that claims to make the state safer for women — a woman traumatically detained, her friend harassed, even policemen reportedly admitting that the “anti-Romeo squad” had no legal jurisdiction to stop the two. If the police can’t tell the difference between molesters and amicable couples, the squads portend humiliation, extortion and violence on innocent young people in public places. Such bullying couldn’t be more out of step today when, across India, walls between the genders are breaking. More and more young women are in schools, colleges, workplaces and recreation spots, frequently with male colleagues, boyfriends, friends who are boys. The squads picking on such couples will cast a pall of darkness in public places. They will make it unsafe for women to step out with men of their choice, inhibit families, foist retrograde notions about the sexes meeting, and brutally pull back India’s youth into a shackling medieval repression.
Is this what Prime Minister Narendra Modi was referring to, after the UP win, when he spoke of a “new India”, where “the dreams of the under-35s” would materialise? In UP, after his party took over, the nightmares of the under-35s would appear to be coming true, threatening to empty malls, coaching centres, etc, of young people frightened to venture out. UP experienced tumult earlier over “love jihad”, its new chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, having used the term to describe mixed-religion marriages as a conversion ploy. Then, aggression targeted minorities; now, it has expanded to a hatred of all young people who aspire to an afternoon, an evening, a moment of togetherness and freedom. PM Modi has spoken about “maximum governance, minimum government”.
Is this mai-baap sarkar, which accords itself a khap panchayat-like claim to “moral teaching”, and aims to control young citizens, minimum government? The weight of this farce could make the PM’s slogans flip, creating what Shakespeare described in Romeo and Juliet as “a fool’s paradise”, where young people’s lives “shall pay the forfeit of the peace.”