Photo Credit: Indian Express
A couple of weeks ago, I visited India for a 10 day wedding shopping trip. As my sister and I strolled the alleyways in my home village to pick up clothes, we encountered some teenage boys loitering around mid-afternoon on bikes. The sight of two young women dressed in jeans, a top and a hoodie, was enough for one of the boys to start running his hands through his hair in an attempt to impress. I rolled my eyes and whispered to my sister that some loafers were looking to get attention. Unfortunately for them, they were threatened with a ‘what are you looking at?’ Rattled, they beat a hasty retreat back to their homes. Clearly they hadn’t encountered Indian girls from the West who confused them with angry eyes and were not going to put up with their nonsense. I watched something the other day on sexual harassment and a woman spoke out about how such men want to see how far they can push the boundary with women. They love the idea of having power. Once you confront them, they very quickly become powerless.
Had we not stood up for ourselves, we would have been cat called and stared at. In our village, where everyone knows everyone, chances are slim of things getting out of hand. However, there are a lot of women in India who face harassment on a day to day basis. Whether it’s going to school, college, work or shopping, eve teasing can be a frightening experience. This is especially the case for girls who are on their own and don’t have the confidence and courage to confront the men or are not trained with self-defense martial arts. Last week the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, introduced a police campaign whereby ‘anti-Romeo’ squads of policemen were placed in the public to keep an eye out on potential ‘Romeos.’ The idea is a thoughtful one to ensure the safety of women, especially young girls. Given the innumerable rape and sexual harassment cases that are reported, it seemed like a good way of curbing the problem until I saw the below video.
Coming under fire for moral policing, there are rightful concerns around the campaign targeting innocent young men and couples. In one incident, a brother and sister were wrongfully detained. Some groups of men have gone so far as to stopping young, mature couples in relationships from meeting in public. Other young men have been frisked and arrested. Some have been barred from entering shopping malls. The man in the above video emphasises how important it is to preserve Indian culture, prevent the polluting of streets and ensure people engage in acts of affection behind closed doors. Does that mean that two people in a relationship can’t even meet in public now? Who are these people to stop a couple from holding hands? For such groups, the ‘anti-Romeo’ squads are an excuse to dictate how men and women should behave according to their regressive principles and tradition. For them, Romeos and Juliets should cease to exist according to their religion and culture.
The BBC have gone out to investigate the policemen implementing this campaign on the streets. As reporter Justin Rowlatt shadows the work being done, it becomes clear that innocent by standers are being stopped and questioned. At one point, a policeman apologised when a woman spots him being unfair to her husband. ‘This is not the way to develop your country’ she tells Rowlatt. I understand her concerns.
India has a lot of issues that need to be dealt with but how the people with power are going about fixing the problem leaves a lot to think about. Women are not safe in the country and I have personally felt it walking in the streets. While the chief minister Aditynath has thought well for the country, it does give an excuse for vigilante groups like Hindu Yuva Vahini – who were on the periphery but now take centre stage – to misuse their powers in such a way. Let’s hope that genuine Romeos and those yet to experience a bit of romance in their lives don’t get labelled as the ‘Romeo ruffians’ the cops are out to get.