UP govt's drive against eve-teasers

For those raising the issue of moral policing, the performance audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on empowerment of women in UP during the period 2010-11 to 2014-15 can serve as a valuable guide.

There are times when a government has little choice but to adopt unconventional methods while dealing with deep-rooted problems in society. The creation of anti-Romeo squads by the new BJP government in UP is one such unconventional measure aimed at checking the alarming rise in crime against women in the state over the last several years. The state government's decision to create such squads has not come as a surprise since the party explicitly talked about such an initiative after coming to power in its Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra - 2017, the BJP manifesto released before the Assembly election.

Considering that the objective behind the creation of these squads is to make the state safer for women, one would have expected the initiative to attract widespread support. However, that has not been the case. A few differing voices, including the self-proclaimed liberals, are up in arms, claiming that the task assigned to the anti-Romeo squads amounts to moral policing. This viewpoint is rather difficult to understand and seems to be a weak ground for opposing the initiative, especially since UP has gained a reputation for being unsafe for women. Ideally, in such a situation, any measure aimed at preventing crimes against women should receive unconditional support from all quarters.

Of course, there can be differences of opinion over the name assigned to these squads. Some people may argue that linking the character of Romeo from William Shakespeare's famous play Romeo and Juliet to units set up for apprehending criminals with a perverse bent of mind is not appropriate. After all, Romeo is a highly likeable character in the play with his idealism and passion overshadowing the traits of impatience and immaturity. That though is a minor issue. What matters is the intent behind the setting up of anti-Romeo squads, which is zero tolerance towards misdeeds against women.

For those raising the issue of moral policing to oppose the creation of anti-Romeo squads, the performance audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on empowerment of women in UP during the period 2010-11 to 2014-15 can serve as a valuable guide.

Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, there was a 61% increase in the incidence of crime against women, the performance audit reported. It also revealed that there was a 43% rise in rape cases, 21% increase in cases of kidnapping and abduction of girls and women during 2013-14 as compared to the previous year. Shockingly, 59% of rape victims and 71% of the victims of kidnapping and abduction were minor girls. The audit also found that cases of assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty increased from 2,989 in 2010-11 to 7,972 in 2014-15. A total of 35,527 cases were registered under crime against women during 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

These figures clearly show that conventional policing methods had failed to check the consistent rise in crimes against women in the state over the last several years.
So, what is the harm in adopting an unconventional method of setting up anti-Romeo squads if it can bring down cases of eve-teasing and molestation?

Given that these squads, consisting of both male and female police personnel, in uniform as well as plainclothes, operate with an element of surprise and swiftness, the possibility of catching eve-teasers and stalkers is considerably high. Besides, the squads have already succeeded in instilling a sense of fear in miscreants since their members can turn up anytime, anywhere, unannounced.

In the last few days, there have been a few cases where anti-Romeo squads, perhaps over-enthusiastically, mistakenly picked up innocent people. In such situations, the police personnel involved were promptly disciplined by the government. In a bid to ensure that such mistakes don't occur in the future, strict guidelines have been laid down for operations against eve-teasers.

In the coming period, the government is expected to take some more steps in the interest of women's safety. These include setting up of three new women police battalions, a special investigation section consisting of women officers for dealing with cases of crime against women, new fast track courts, three women police stations in every district and deployment of more women officers in police stations.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When it comes to the law and order situation in UP, it can't get any more desperate. The need of the hour is to support the government in its crackdown on criminals, without being judgmental.

(The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of this newspaper.)
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