Dhaka, Bangladesh
Clever ruse

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Clever ruse

Shakespeare’s Romeo was not a molester. His, and Juliet’s, was a consensual love foiled by a feud between two families that divided society. The anti-Romeo squads in Uttar Pradesh, are, in contrast, aiming to divide society. Even though the squads have allegedly been constituted to “reclaim” public spaces - from whom? why Romeo? - and make them safer for women, the police and vigilante groups target ‘suspicious’ looking pairs, be they tutor and student, as happened in Moradabad, brother and sister or any boy and girl who seem too close for the comfort of the official rescuers of damsels in distress. It all began with the Gujarat model: anti-Romeo dals were set up there as far back as in 2001. Now that anti-Romeo squads are on unchecked rampage in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana has launched Operation Durga, by which 107 people were arrested in two days. Jharkhand has started its own storm troops and Uttarakhand is thinking of doing so. The police, given charge of imparting lessons in morality, are giving up their more conventional duties. In UP, two women were kidnapped in broad daylight in Meerut and Shamli, and a woman was chased into a police post by a group of men and shot dead. But criminals are not harassers, just kidnappers, rapists and killers, hence not on the anti-Romeo squads’ horizon. Enforcing the law in a regular way has become less important than vigilantism, official and unofficial. In the name of keeping women secure, the State has sanctioned the surveillance and policing of private domains. The ideological roots of such protectionism cannot escape notice. Mixed-faith couples are increasingly being heckled. Again in Meerut, the Hindu Yuva Vahini - a brigade Yogi Adityanath formed to fight against what has been labelled love jihad - reportedly barged into a house, beat up a Muslim man and issued a warning to the woman from another religion who was there. The anti-Romeo discourse thus justifies not only infringement on citizens’ privacy and the denial of their right to choice but also divisions between faiths. While singling out the Romeos, the squads also deny Juliet any agency in love. This paternalistic vigilance, instead of addressing the real concern about sexual harassment, will further limit women’s freedom. Anti-Romeo and similar movements cannily pretend to fight violence against women while quietly reasserting patriarchal mores of protection, control, segregation and dominance. —The Telegraph, Calcutta

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