CURBED: Not content with policing what women wear in the name of tradition, Hindutuva supporters have appointed themselves moral guardians and are more interested in harassing young women who do not meet their self-prescribed norms of behaviour

The name of the anti-Romeo squad in Uttar Pradesh has been changed to the Nari Suraksha Manch. However, questions persist on whether it is meant to protect women or blackmail them

By Sonali Kokra

DEAR The-Powers-That-Be in Uttar Pradesh,

Thank you. Thank you on behalf on every nosy neighbour who has rolled their eyes at the sight of me with a human of male species. Thank you on behalf of landlords who almost insisted I write in blood that I won’t get boys to my rented apartment. Thank you on behalf of every bua ji and mausa ji who whines that ghumna firna with men who won’t become my husband is bad for my health and that of the family. Thank you for using an entire state’s police to enforce what some of us women have been trying to break out of. It’s called patriarchy.

Strange that a government move to ‘protect’ women should feel like that — like it is an inescapable punishment.

Because as it stands now, this band of people — who claim to have powers that let them identify ‘Romeos’ by looking into a man’s eyes — isn’t exactly one I feel safe around. And don’t tell me my fears are unfounded. Since a majority of India, especially men, is not willing to accept the radical notion that women have brains and they often use them to choose the men they want to hang out with in public, any man in the vicinity of a woman could get picked up by the ‘anti-Romeo squad’. Take for example, on Thursday, they picked up cousins who had gone to a shop to buy medicines. They locked them up for five hours and allegedly took a bribe in exchange of their release.

After that ordeal, if I were in that woman’s place, I would be terrified of being seen with any man in public again. Suppose I am out for a movie with a male friend, and your police’s third eye recognises him as a ‘Romeo’, I couldn’t possibly use logic to counter that, right? You know what else sparks such fears in women? A criminal activity called blackmailing. Strange that a government move to ‘protect’ women should feel like that — like it is an inescapable punishment.

Let me tell you who you are really scaring away here, alongside stalkers, if at all. Women. It might be news to you, but the women in our country anyway have it very difficult. “Why are you going out now?” “What are you going to do?” “When will you return?” “What are you wearing?” “What kind of a girl wears this?” “Is this boy your boyfriend?” “No? Then why are you at a movie with him?” “Yes? When are you getting married?” “Do your parents know?” Each day in our life starts with a question and ends with one, with some dozen others lobbed in between.

When you pick up a boy seen with us, that’s a sinister way to tell us, “Beti, go back to your ghar and make some rotis instead. Now you can slap some butter on them, or ghee if you want. See, there, you do get to choose! Just not men.”

All of which makes me wonder, what exactly is your intention? Because in the absence of a clear policy, it seems that what you’re really trying to do is curb women’s fundamental rights and freedoms and stop them from exercising their right to move around at will with whoever they damn well please.

Please don’t harbour any delusions that we’re not on to you. Even college-going students can see through this rather un-clever ruse, as was amply pointed out by the students of DN Raghunath College in your state.

But why so much confusion and chaos? Surely noble intentions should have noble outcomes? Your use of anti-Romeo, instead of anti-harassment must have confused my simple womanly mind. Unfortunately, it also seems to have thrown off the police, who, in the absence of clear directives and orientation in what exactly makes a man a ‘Romeo’, is taking its cue from Sooraj Barjatya films from the 80s. Ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte, is what these two youngsters from Lucknow were told, after being randomly picked up for questioning because they were travelling together in a rickshaw to a movie theatre.

Ever since you established these squads, social media and the news have been rife with videos of police personnel enthusiastically patrolling places frequented by young people, brandishing their dandas and threatening to tattle to mummy-papa. Which makes me wonder, if so many police officers are out on the roads in such large numbers, ostensibly “protecting” women, who is taking care of the other business? Did you hire more officers? Or did you “restructure” the police operations in your state by pulling them off of other violent crimes, like murder, dacoity, kidnappings and robberies — all of which UP tops in, according to 2013 crime statistics?

It is no secret that your state has a long, lovely tradition of fudging data and under-reporting crimes that fall under the purview of the Indian Penal Code to paint a rosy picture of the law-and-order situation of the state. Actually, why should you want to fix this instead? Getting the law enforcing machinery to implement the existing laws well would need a good rap on the knuckles, right? And how cruel it is to expect these people to work hard.

For example, I know it is extremely difficult to recruit more policemen and women police personnel. It is another headache to have public spaces and long empty stretches of roads be actively patrolled. It is quite an uphill task to sensitise the police and then ask them to take prompt action when women complain against harassment and molestation, instead of jumping on the ones snuggling up to boyfriends in parks and gardens.

It would take ten lifetimes to treat molestation victims who report the crime with respect and not ask insinuating, invasive questions. And oh my dear, how can you ever have cases like these fast tracked and the guilty punished without the victim having to wait forever. Tightening the existing system and improving sensitive policing is just too much hard work. That would set a better example but it’s one life you guys have after all. Not fair to make you work that hard, naa? It is easier to get ‘Romeos’ to hold their ears and do sit-ups in public, like what the police decided in in Gorakhpur, Pilibhit and Ghaziabad, among many other cities.

There is this peculiar thing about language and the usage of words. Words mean something. And language conveys intent.

Even if I wanted to give you the benefit of doubt and assume that your intention really was to improve women’s safety situation in the state, it becomes practically impossible to do it when one of your own, another self-appointed guardian of Hindutva, admits that one of the objectives of the squad is to prevent so-called ‘Love Jihad’.

When you take something dead serious like sexually motivated harassment or violence and shove them under the cute little blanket of Romeo-giri, it confuses and worries people, especially women, whom you have a history of disparaging.

It might be difficult for you to fathom, but women don’t need protection from Romeos. Because Romeo is one half of the enduring and iconic love story in the world. And a lover is someone one takes by choice — and yes, that choice is sometimes a Muslim boy. And no, you DON’T get to have a say in it.

In case you were interested in knowing, what we do need protection from is men who coerce their way into our personal spaces, rob us of our autonomy, violate our physical beings and invade our right to move around at will. And right now, all of this is being done by your people; the adorable-sounding squads deployed by you to protect us.

If you’re serious about protecting women, start with calling them for what they are: sexual predators. So that there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind about the grossness and severity of the crime and who needs punishing.

So please, next time, choose your words more thoughtfully and with care. Just like you and your men are constantly threatening the rest of the country to do.


A very fed up Indian woman

Courtesy: Huffington Post

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