Uttar Pradesh's Anti-Romeo Squads to get support of ID card-holding right-wing vigilantes?
With the announcement of formation of Anti-Romeo Squads in the Uttar Pradesh Police came the risk of misleading of policemen by youth organisations affiliated to various factions of the Right, as well as some self-styled ones acting under the BJP umbrella
With the announcement of formation of Anti-Romeo Squads in the Uttar Pradesh Police — meant to be aimed at the young boys and men harassing or troubling women across the state — came the risk of misleading of policemen by youth organisations affiliated to various factions of the Right, as well as some self-styled ones acting under the BJP umbrella. Incidents of harassing of even consenting adult couples since then, especially by men from the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) — founded by present chief minister Yogi Adityanath in 2002 — have become common across the state, even though the media has only reported a handful of them.
After vigilantism by members of the HYV and some members of the Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh (VHM) — Adityanath is chairperson of the India chapter of the organisation, in one case beating up a Muslim youth in Meerut for allegedly being close to a Hindu girl, the chief minister has now appealed to members of the outfits to report such cases to the concerned authorities instead of taking the law into their own hands. Jayant Singh, a member of the HYV from Meerut, said, "We only acted based on complaints from the people of the (Shastri Nagar) locality (in Meerut) that Muslim boys were harassing Hindu girls from the locality. We want to assist the police in nabbing such culprits."
If sources in the government are to be believed, the wish of people like Singh might soon come true. "We are planning to offer people from civil society organisations roles of 'police sahayaks (helpers)' so that instead of taking the law into their hands they are able to aid the police if and when required and the police can take action based on their complaints thereafter," a senior BJP leader from western Uttar Pradesh said on the condition of anonymity.
In short, much like the dreaded Gau Sevaks in Haryana, who have been given identity cards-cum-licences in huge numbers authorising their illegal acts — such as indulging in frequent attacks on suppliers of meat, the members of various right-wing organisations in the state could very soon have licences or identity cards that would empower them to interfere in the daily lives of young couples anywhere in the state. While the police would eventually be called in, that the vigilantes will possess officially-approved identification cards will effectively give them extrajudicial powers.
This kind of encouragement, while still not approved and put on paper, has been giving the young vigilantes from the HYV and other smaller right-wing organisations like the Hindu Raksha Dal the opportunity to indulge in arson and violence across the streets of the state. In Noida, the HYV has already carried out several rallies around various colleges and educational institutions 'educating' them on Hindu culture and roughing up men they alleged were indulging in eve-teasing, although no woman ever filed a complaint against them.
The Hindu Raksha Dal has also indulged in stone-pelting in many areas of the city where it alleged 'Indian culture' was being insulted because liquor and meat were being served in bars and restaurants. "We have been keeping a tight watch on them and have curbed all their attempts to disturb the peace, but there are only so many policemen. We also cannot arrest them unless there are specific complaints or evidence against them, since arrest on suspicion will only invite a more violent response from them, especially in the current political scenario," a senior official of the Noida Police said.
A majority of the men who are part of these right-wing vigilante groups got their training under the BJP cadres during the 2012-2014 period when the party raised the issues of 'love jihad' and cow slaughter vehemently ahead of the Assembly polls in the state and later the Lok Sabha polls. These men were 'educated' on the strategies Muslim boys and men were using to 'lure Hindu girls' and convert them to Islam. Mohit Sharma, from Hapur town in Meerut, said, "We have had enough of Muslim boys kidnapping our Hindu girls or fooling them into converting to Islam only to increase their population in the country. The lack of proper policing has also led to spread of a hippie culture that is eroding Hindu values. We intend to put an end to all of it."
By his own admission, Sharma has indulged in attacks on Muslim boys and men (and in some cases even on Dalit men) in Meerut and Ghaziabad for many years when it was suspected that they were close to Hindu girls. He is a trained software engineer and worked with an IT firm in Delhi before quitting ahead of the 2014 polls to head the local social media team and the vigilante group of the BJP. He was personally involved in attacking several Muslim men in Hapur in 2013, when allegations of forced conversion of a Hindu girl to Islam at a local madrassa surfaced; the girl later said she had not been forced to convert, but the damage had already been done.
Apart from the men from these groups, the Uttar Pradesh Police has also deployed young men from the force who were earlier part of the police teams that dealt with complaints relating to the kidnapping of Hindu girls and alleged forced conversions in madrassas across western Uttar Pradesh.
A retired police officer who was in charge of a huge western Uttar Pradesh zone till last year, said, "These young (police) men are almost all Hindus and have a mental tilt towards aggressive Hindutva propagated by the right-wing organisations. The same men have now been put on such duties (in Anti-Romeo Squads) and are spreading terror in the streets as has been visible within the government's first month in power. A dangerous precedent is being set."
Sources in the Uttar Pradesh Police said that such men and senior policemen who also have a pro-BJP tilt have been chosen from across the state to be promoted or transferred to important posts in the state. While many transfers have already been made, many others are expected in the coming weeks, after which a call on managing of the youth organisations like the HYV will be taken. A large number of party leaders, however, have made it clear to their higher-ups that while it is important to not take law into their own hands, it will also be important to indulge them since they form an important voter base as well as the ground-level cadre that mobilises when required.
"Some of them are young and so can get carried away, but the fact is that they play an important role in keeping the environment in the streets and localities calm and safe. A majority of the leaders support the call that senior men from among them be given ad hoc recognition and power to act against perpetrator of a crime until the police can take over," the senior BJP leader quoted above said.
Sources in the party say that the chief minister is yet to give his nod to the proposal but that the senior party members and most of the ministers have already consented to it and that 'in-principle' approval has been given. "Yogi just has to take the final call on it now," added the senior party leader.
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