Women’s activists, in a joint statement, have taken strong exception to the Allahabad High Court judgment dated March, 2017, which, they say, “uncritically legitimizes” UP’s controversial anti-Romeo squads on the basis of the state DGP’s guidelines.
If the DGP said women policemen in plainclothes would be “posted to help the anti-Romeo squads” so that they could get “correct information” about what is objectionable, the Allahabad High Court justifies the state government saying, “the time has come when they also have to rise to the occasion to act in the aid of the Constitution by educating and informing their children to observe moral discipline”.
Comments women’s activists’ statement, the “rather benign resolve” would only encourage certain “citizen’s groups to “begin moral policing and form vigilante groups in the name of disciplining children.”
“We would like this rectified by the court”, the statement insists, adding, “The court instead could have asked the state government to present a grievance redressal mechanism both for instances of sexual harassment of women and excesses committed by the ‘preventive mechanism called anti-romeo squads’.”
Among those who have endorsed the statement include Aruna Roy, President National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW); Syeda Hameed, Muslim Women’s Forum; Indira Jaising, prominent lawyer and human rights activist; Uma Chakravarti, feminist historian; Kavita Srivastava, feminist activist with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties; Vrinda Grover, senior advocate and human rights activist; Kavita Krishnan, general secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association; and Shabnam Hashmi, convener, Anhad.
Calling anti-Romeo squads “policemen and women and vigilante groups, operating outside the purview of law, with the support of the UP government, the statement says, they “threaten women’s freedoms.”
“The serious issue of violence against women and routine sexual harassment of women in Uttar Pradesh cannot be addressed by setting up anti-Romeo squads”, the statement says, adding, “These squads impose their own aggressive and arbitrary code through moral policing.”
The statement further says, “It has already come to light that in many cases, these anti-Romeo squads have become an even greater source of harassment and fear for women and men, which has even been acknowledged by the DG Police UP in his order of March 22 and 25, 2017.”
“However”, the statement underlines, “the DGPs order of the March 22 also opens up the doorway for moral policing as it talks of leaving alone couples in public spaces if their conduct is well within the traditional code. The term traditional code is ambiguous and not defined which once again allows police and public interference into the people’s privacy and the excesses thereof.”
Disapproving this form of policing, including its outsourcing to private actors in some cases, the statement adds, “We are clear that maintaining law and order is the primary function of the State and nothing can be done contrary to law, while addressing the issue of women's safety.”
Simultaneously, the statement says, it is deeply disturbing that “a tweet by well-known Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan has led to vigilantes attacking his home and the police registering a FIR against him, under Sec. 153A and 295A IPC, in P.S. Hazaratganj, Lucknow.”
“As feminists, our viewpoint on the subject of the tweet is different from that of Advocate Prashant Bhushan.”, the statement says, though adding, “The FIR registered against Bhushan is a clear case of abuse of power, as no such offence is made out on the basis of the tweet in question.”