Imagine you are walking on a street in Lucknow and are suddenly stopped by a policeman from what is known as the ‘Anti Romeo Squad’, who asks why you chose to be on that particular street. That is what is happening in Lucknow. Young couples are being harassed. Be it parks, malls, markets, or any other public spaces. The entire police force of Uttar Pradesh has been let loose on these hapless couples who are being subjected to lectures on morality and cultural values and are being asked to stay at home.
Along with the BJP’s ‘cow protection’ measures, this move comes in the context of its deeply communal theory of ‘love jihad’, and has little basis in reality. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu groups affiliated with the RSS have defended this program. They have repeatedly argued that Hindu girls are being ‘lured’ by Muslim men as a way of spreading ‘Love Jihad’.
This theme has been a pet subject of Yogi Adityanath, the new Chief Minister of the state. The Modi-Shah-Yogi trio has proven to be the most divisive formation in Indian politics in recent years, and now especially so in Uttar Pradesh. It was Amit Shah who used the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 to the advantage of the BJP, resulting in the huge seat tally for his party, something that could not have been imagined even at the height of the Ram Mandir movement. As expected, he repeated the same ploy in 2017 elections to BJP’s benefit. The BJP and its leaders also realised that the Ram Mandir issue had suffered from the law of diminishing returns in the current climate, and shifted their discourse to what the media has come to refer to as ‘beef and beti politics’. Perhaps most significant is the fact that the ‘Love Jihad’ formula of Muzaffarnagar 2013 is being repeated by the BJP in Western UP, in spite of damning exposés of previous plots. The Cobrapost had caught many BJP leaders – including Sangeet Som and Sanjeev Balyan – on candid camera, admitting that no real case of ‘Love Jihad’ actually exists, and that it is merely a useful and cynical ploy to harvest the widespread hostility towards inter-faith relationships to polarise Hindus across castes against Muslims.
Thus, what is being done in the name of saving women from harassment is the interrogation and moral policing of friends or couples in consensual relationships. While sexual harassment and violence against women are real problems, the Uttar Pradesh government is using this excuse to carry out its communal agenda. Combating violence against women requires the adoption of gender-sensitive measures by law enforcement agencies, for instance in keeping with the recommendations of the Verma Committee. We find that this is not the case. There are delays in or even refusals to file FIRs when women decide to turn to the police, there are no measures to train law enforcement officials to deal with modified laws and to combat misogynist tendencies within the police.
There is no initiative to pursue the cause of greater gender sensitization of the public – and this seems too much to ask given the CM’s own views on women – and laxity in the adoption of new legal frameworks to combat violence against women. Instead, the UP government, under the leadership of the Yogi, is pursuing the BJP’s divisive and communal agenda using the excuse of the safety of only Hindu women, and deploying large sections of the police force for the purpose.
What is more worrying is that once TV cameras stop following these squads after few days, the Hindu brigade will take over these operations, having created a culture of legitimization of vigilantism in the name of Hindu culture. This will not only lead to greater polarisation between communities, it will give currency to instances of greater violence against women in the name of protecting them from a non-existent threat from young Muslim men. The presence of these squads should serve as a sample of things to come in the state, and the unethical deployment of police forces for the ruling party’s divisive agenda needs to be watched critically by the media and civil society.
(Kumar Dhananjay is a senior journalist with 17 years of experience in TV and print media. He is a political observer. Currently, he is Consulting Editor with the magazine Urban Update)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author.