Anti-Romeo Squads in Uttar Pradesh: Lawful Policing or Moral Policing?

The Allahabad High Court on 30 March 2017 declared that Anti-Romeo Squads are legal and they are here to stay. The verdict was given by the Court while quashing a Public Interest Litigation that challenged the legality of Anti-Romeo Squads of the Uttar Pradesh Police Department.

By delivering on its poll promise, the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP Government issued an order on 23 March 2017 regarding the formation of Anti-Romeo Squads. Anti-Romeo Squads are special teams to make public places safe and secure for girls and women. These squads consist of police personnel, majorly women constables, and are deployed in chowks, market places, malls and parks in plain clothes.

Though the idea behind the formation of Anti-Romeo Squads is to improve the security of women by keeping an eye on stalkers, the practise has been branded as “Moral Policing” and attracted criticism from certain sections of the society.

Lack of Operational Guidelines: It has been argued that the concerned G.O. and the operational guidelines have not defined the term “Romeo”. Hence, the squads are prone to misuse their authority due to the opaqueness and, as a result, ‘may’ book innocents.

Issue of Spot Punishments: Though the communication from the DGP of the State explicitly barred lower-level personnel from resorting to spot punishments like tonsure, blackening faces, sit ups and “murga pose”, occurrence of such incidents (as visible on social media platforms) led to the questioning of the legitimacy of Anti-Romeo Squads.

Violation of Fundamental Rights: This is the major criticism against the Anti-Romeo Squads. Critics argue that the activities of these squads are against the right of freedom of movement and expression of lawful youth couples, which are guaranteed by the Constitution.

Why the word ‘Romeo’?: Few critics contend that the usage of the word ‘Romeo’ is itself objectionable. The usage of this word confuses the efficacy of the squad as ‘Romeo’ denotes a romantic character in the William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, while stalkers are psychopaths.

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