In a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, the UP Government recently mobilised an “Anti-Romeo” squad, supposedly to prevent the harassment of women.
Let’s first admit that on the face of it, this is a noble initiative. For a country where women safety is appalling, any measure to protect them is welcome. In fact, I was sure this would be Adityanath’s “masterstroke” moment – that one achievement that he would use as ammo for years when questioned on anything else, like Modi with Gujarat’s development, Obama with Obamacare, and Uday Chopra with Dhoom.
Harassment To Prevent Harassment?
To sum up, the Anti-Romeo squad is a group of cops assembled to save women from eve teasers and molesters. Brilliant. Very tough to mess that up, right?
Sadly, they did. And they’ve been messing up big time. Like those men who were picked up for standing near a college. Or that ‘couple’ who was taken to the police station while they were buying medicine. (They were cousins, by the way, making me wonder whether Anti-Lannister squad would be a more accurate nomenclature.)
Videos that went viral showed many couples being told to do sit-ups, some others were blackmailed with calls to their parents, and everyone was shamed in public. Basically, the Anti-Romeo squad started their own form of harassment to prevent harassment.
Women’s Safety 101
There are many arguments to be made. Firstly, practically speaking, why target all young men without issuing guidelines in the first place? What defines a ‘Romeo’? Just anyone standing outside a college? Does actually waiting for a friend or a consenting partner make you a criminal? They have no answers to these questions, but the real problem is that they weren’t asked these questions before the squad was formed. It highlights a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy that the current Government seems to follow (read: demonetisation).
If you actually want to improve safety of women, there are many areas to start with, helplines, CCTV cameras, more policemen in all public places. Policing ‘couples’ or curbing healthy interaction between young boys and girls is counterproductive to this “women safety” agenda. In a nation plagued with “vigilante” moral police, the last thing we need is another group legitimised by the Government.
But the real problem lies deeper. The real problem lies in the way we ‘protect’ women. Protection of women is often the only kind of protection that’s actually condescending and harmful to women. Historically, women have had the rough end of the deal when it comes to being “protected”. Take for example, Sati – a practice which ‘helps’ widows stay pure by burning themselves alive till they die. Last week, a woman was raped in a temple – a place, by the way, that she wouldn’t be allowed to enter while she’s on her period, to ‘protect’ her from her impure self. Millions of women are forced into burqas (not counting the ones who choose to do so on their own) because it ‘protects’ them from the male gaze.
Before we even begin to think of their safety, let’s start thinking of their freedom. Nazi concentration camps were some of the safest places in terms of ‘protection’. Although a strong analogy, it goes on to highlight that the notion of safety does not come without the notion of freedom. Preventing a woman from making her own choices like clothes or partners in the guise of protection will only harm them further.
Hopefully, this moral policing ends and the “anti-Romeo squad” is given strict regulations under which to operate. Or else, we will come down to the ultimate hypocrisy our country seems to specialise in – protection of women becoming an excuse to oppress them.
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