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Last week in Uttar Pradesh, police squads were busy hunting “Romeos.” This came straight after the ban on buffalo slaughter, by the ruling Bharatiya Janata party. During their elections, they had promised a crack down on erotic young men harassing women, called ‘eve teasing’ in the subcontinent.

‘Romeo Squads’ comprising of rag-tag groups of young brigands; have started taking matters into their own hands, often with the blessing of local authorities. They call themselves culture warriors and protectors of “moral values”. They swoop down on boys and girls in public places and start thrashing them publicly if they don’t fit into their idea of “acceptable behavior”.

Rounding up young couples

The police themselves who have been assigned with this job do not know who to target and what to do when they catch a so-called ‘Romeo’. This crackdown is seen by critics particularly focused on mixed-religion couples, in line with UP’s, Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath’s fevered, baseless warnings that Muslim men are trying to seduce Hindu women as part of “love jihad”.

Read More: “Okay! We Won’t Eat Beef” Indian Muslims

There have been reports of policemen entering households based on reports of what they call “unacceptable behavior”. Recently, a squad was sent to a house in Moradabad district and forced a tutor and his female student to the police station. The officers let the two go when they realized that the female student had gone to the house to collect notes.

Keshav Prasad Maurya, Deputy Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, said the criticism surrounding anti-Romeo squads is unwarranted since according to him the squads are doing a good job on the ground.

“Women, especially, are supporting the move. The government is determined to protect a woman’s right to be safe as they have shown faith in Bharatiya Janata Party by voting it to the power,” he was quoted.

Yet, in his state, almost every day reports emerge of couples being thrashed, heads being shaved and people being dragged to police stations. While law and order, especially crime against women, is a problem, in many parts of India, not everyone is convinced this is the way forward.

Read more: Gujarat Law Minister: ”anyone who doesn’t spare cow, the government will not spare him…

Many argue that these “anti-Romeo squads” work outside the purview of law and threaten women’s freedoms, most public support to these groups have come from political parties, especially the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

“They are no solution for the pervasive violence against women and should be disbanded,” a group of about 20 activists from across the country said recently. “We are clear that maintaining law and order is the primary function of the state and nothing can be done contrary to the law while addressing the issue of women’s safety.”

It is more than just young couples being rounded up for transgressing social boundaries in India. Social activists, top lawyers, and even deities are being dragged into the country’s latest vigilantism argument on the “anti-Romeo” squads.

Prashad Bhushan, a social activist, and renowned lawyer has received a backlash from right-wing Hindus over his tweet when condemning the ‘Romeo squads’, he said, ‘By logic of Romeo Brigade, even Lord Krishna would look like Eve-teaser’.

He later deleted and was forced to retract his comment after the uproar against it and him. The ‘anti-Romeo squad’ has been deemed as a “Taliban-like” behavior by international papers.

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