By Maya Palit
A group of women activists have got together to voice what we were all thinking: that Uttar Pradesh says bye bye to its anti-Romeo squads, the vigilantes that have been harassing people while patrolling the streets in an apparent attempt to combat sexual harassment. Lawyers Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover, and activists like Aruna Roy, president of the National Federation of Indian Women and feminist activist Kalyani Menon Sen were among those that issued a statement yesterday demanding that the squads be disbanded because they were creating havoc and operating outside of the law.
The activists were reported critiquing the “aggressive and arbitrary” moral policing encouraged by the squads, as well as their infringements of women’s privacy and personal liberty, which end up putting further restraints on women’s freedoms, which are already in jeopardy. They declared that the squads would certainly not help to tackle extremely serious instances of violence against women. The statement reflected on the Allahabad High Court’s March 31st judgement agreeing to anti-Romeo squds, which refused to acknowledge that there might be instances of moral policing occurring as a result, and instead chose to term it ‘preventive policing’. It also expressed their disappointment in the clampdown on lawyer Prashant Bhushan, against whom an FIR was recently filed for his comments about the god Krishna being more notorious as an eve-teaser than Shakespeare’s character Romeo.
It’s not like the women activists don’t have concrete alternatives to offer. They suggest that the state government instead put in place long-term policies to prevent violence against women, and say that the court should have asked the state government to ‘present a grievance redressal mechanism’ which would examine both sexual harassment and the brash actions of the anti-Romeo squads. Here’s hoping that UP wakes up and listens to these women.