Anti-Romeo Squads: Saffronization of Culture

Anti-Romeo Squads: Saffronization of Culture

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The election of Hindu extremist Yogi Adityanath in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has raised concerns over the rise of Hindu Fundamentalism in India. These concerns have been vindicated through the reign of terror and violence unleashed by Hindutva groups across the country. While the main manifestation of this Hindutva terror has been the Gau Rakshaks or Cow Protectors who are largely active in rural areas.

However, the rise of Yogi Adityanath has led to the formation of new police squads known as Anti-Romeo squads. In its election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh, the BJP promised to create Anti-Romeo Dals (or squads) near colleges to “ensure the safety of college-going girls” and “check eve-teasing”.

Each team will consist of two policemen compromising one male and one female of the ranks constables, head constables, ASI and SI. Two to three teams could be deployed in the jurisdiction of one police station and the number of teams deployed would depend on the number of schools and colleges in the area. They will move around near schools and colleges where there are larger number of women and their task is to identify eve teasers and troublemakers in a crowd. They will move around in uniform and in some cases in plain clothes. The Anti-Romeo squads have a wide range of powers from letting off miscreants with a warning to the initiation of criminal action depending on the seriousness of the case.

This idea seems to have been taken up by neighboring Haryana who has initiated “Project Durga”. Haryana police are planning to launch a fortnight long crack-down, beginning May 1, on illicit liquor, narcotics and weapons, crimes against women, drunken driving and over-speeding. Haryana director general of police (DGP) BS Sandhu said, “Operation Durga, aimed at checking eve-teasing in the State, would be carried out at places like schools, colleges, bus-stands and railway stations. It would be a continuous movement. He clarified that the Anti-Romeo Operation would not be an act of moral policing and the innocent would not be humiliated.’’

There are several vigilante groups in India that claim to protect India’s culture. They assert to defend against cultural concepts that they reckon to be imports of foreign cultures.  Violent attacks have been waged against bars and pubs, art galleries, social gatherings and even public functions. Some examples are:

The 1996 Miss World pageant, which was held in Bangalore, faced criticism from protestors who claimed that the event was demeaning women and India’s culture. More than a few of them made self-immolation threats. About 1,500 protestors, including several from the BJP were arrested by the police. One man died in a self-immolation attempt.

On 24 January 2009, members of the Sri Ram Sena burst into the pub “Amnesia — The Lounge” in MangaloreKarnataka, and assaulted a group of young women and men. They gave the reason for their actions that females should not be drinking in a public place. On 28 July 2012, activists belonging to the Hindu Jagarana Vedike attacked a birthday party at an unlicensed homestay in Mangalore, Karnataka. The 12 people at the party, including 5 girls, were allegedly beaten, stripped and molested. The faces of some girls were blackened. The activists claimed the youngsters were consuming alcohol and were involved in “some indecent activities”.

On 23 October 2014, a restaurant in Kozhikode was attacked and vandalized. The attackers claimed that eatery was facilitating immoral activities. The attack came after a local Malayalam-language TV channel broadcast a report claiming that some coffee shops and restaurants in Kozhikode had become centers of “immoral activities”.

The use of non-state actors and now state actors’ ties in the sociopolitical phenomenon of moral policing; moral policing is a tactic often used by state and non-state actors to solidify their power through sociocultural and sociopolitical influence. Hindutva groups are particularly active in this regards. The Shiv Sena has used moral policing as a means to set up a parallel legal system.

Recently on March 9,2017, Shiv Sena activists caned couples sitting at the Marine Drive walkway in Kochi. The harassment took place in the presence of policemen and media persons. A police sub inspector was suspended and eight constables were transferred for their failure to prevent the harassment.

With the ascendancy of the RSS through its political arm, the BJP in North Western India where the major portion of Indian power is located, moral policing has become a means to solidify Hindutva rule. Now, though sociocultural engineering which will be enforced through the law enforcement agencies, the cultural concept of Hindutva will be enforced. While minorities predominantly the Muslims will be under the knife, it is the domestic political and cultural opponents such as the secular parties and progressive elements that are being targeted.

The growing presence of such cultural concepts in Hindutva ruled states is with the goal to sanction their ideological existence in mainstream thought. It is to authorize violent enforcement of certain ethical codes under the guise of ‘moral policing’. The increasing attacks of Saffron organizations are actually part of a war on a liberal, democratic and progressive culture. In essence, this new form of enforcement is actually Saffron terrorism being carried out by the Indian state against its own citizens.

Jawad Falak
is an M. Phil scholar in the discipline of International Relations at the NDU. Previously he has attained a Gold medal in M.Sc IR and wrote a thesis on the evolution of Militant Hindutva. He is also an ACCA member. Currently Jawad looks after the academics of the CSCR.

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