Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Thursday said the Bharatiya Janata Party will create UP-like “anti-Romeo squads” in West Bengal to protect women, reigniting a controversy over the groups that several politicians and activists have accused of thuggery and invasion of private spaces. All “Romeos” from Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress will be put behind bars, the BJP leader also said at an election rally in Hooghly district.
Accusing chief minister Mamata Banerjee of running a “corrupt” and “anarchist” government, her UP counterpart said, “West Bengal has always been a land of culture. It has been the land of the revolution for India’s freedom struggle. It is unfortunate to see an environment of anarchy in Bengal. Today, I would like to assure you all that after May 2 when the BJP will form the government, we will create Uttar Pradesh-like anti-Romeo squads in Bengal to safeguard the interests of our sisters and daughters. We will put all TMC Romeos behind bars.”
The UP chief minister’s words intensified the smash-mouth debate that has been the feature of the rancorous campaign by both parties for the ongoing eight-phase assembly polls in West Bengal, with the BJP looking to unseat two-term chief minister Mamata Banerjee in the politically crucial state. Five more polling days remain: April 10, 17, 22, 26 and 29. The votes will be counted on May 2.
Escalating his attack on Mamata Banerjee’s alleged appeasement politics, Yogi Adityanath said, “It was shocking to see that the TMC supported those who have created mayhem across Bengal during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). However, in Uttar Pradesh we have acted sternly against such anti-socials. In my state, we put up hoardings with photographs of rioters and confiscated their properties. But in Bengal, Didi (Banerjee) can’t afford to take action against the rioters because of vote-bank politics.”
What are ‘anti-Romeo squads’?
A crackdown on “Romeos” — a term loosely used for molesters — was a pre-election promise of the BJP in UP in 2017. Yogi Adityanath asked the police to implement it days after he took oath as the chief minister of the state in March that year.
The teams were formed to stop men giving unwanted attention to women in Uttar Pradesh, particularly near colleges, schools, and other public places.
As per a senior official in the chief minister’s office in Uttar Pradesh, each squad comprises two policemen, a male and a female, of various ranks (constables, head constables, ASI and SI). Most squad members usually keep watch in their respective areas in plain clothes. They can let off harassers with warnings, penalties and in some cases they inform the offender’s parents. In serious cases, where physical assault is involved, the officers can initiate criminal cases as per law.
The move had triggered controversy after some people complained that they were being unnecessarily harassed in public places. This prompted CM Adityanath to intervene and request squad members to act sensibly. Several activists have said that the groups are nothing but a ruse to impose restrictions on women’s mobility.
When Mamata hit out at Yogi during 2019 Lok Sabha polls
On May 17, 2019, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee hit out at the Yogi Adityanath government for allegedly harassing young couples in public places.
While campaigning during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Diamond Harbour, South 24 Parganas district, she said, “I am liberal on this because it may be possible that a boy and girl can also be just good friends. Even in case of an affair, what is the problem? Even my nephew married a girl with whom he was having an affair when he was studying in Delhi.”
Her statement drew mixed reactions. While some said it was her political strategy to woo first-time voters, others supported her, maintaining that public display of affection in ‘liberal Bengal’ is common and never seen as a crime.
Reactions to Yogi’s statement from Bengal
A renowned author and Indologist, Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, termed Yogi Adityanath’s remarks ludicrous.
“Harold Joseph Laski (an English political theorist and economist) had said that in a democratic fight most of the people who win are ‘stupid’. They don’t believe in democracy. They believe in ‘rajtantra’ (monarchy). They talk about ‘anti-Romeo squads’ but what about Bhima (the second of the Pandavas) who married Hidimba? Was he a ‘Romeo’? What about Arjuna (the third Pandava brother) and Chitrangada (a warrior princess who became Arjuna’s wife)? Was he a ‘Romeo’?” he said.
Terming Bengal a place of liberal-minded people, Trinamool Congress MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said, “First of all there is no question of the BJP coming to power in West Bengal. Secondly, for his ‘anti-Romeo squads’, Bengal will come out with anti-Yogi Adityanath squads soon.”
Another TMC MP, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, said the people in Bengal are progressive in their outlook and believe in women’s emancipation. “We believe in modern techniques of policing and therefore we have set up 68 women police stations,” she said. “We have zero-tolerance on crimes against women and there are fast-track courts in the state. We don’t need his (Yogi’s) regressive ideas.”
Professor Suranjan Das, vice chancellor of Jadavpur University, said, “I can only say that I value individual liberty to the fullest as our democratic right. When I am talking about individual life and individual liberty then it means it should be within the existing norms of the Constitution.”