Romeo should sue Yogi Adityanath's Uttar Pradesh government for character assassination

Romeo, wherever he is, would be in depression these days. To fall in love, be in love and die in love is one thing, but to be branded a criminal for love and have a police squad named after you is quite another. The Bard of Avon won’t be comfortable in his grave either. When he popularised the tragic story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, he would hardly have expected Romeo to be seen as an eve-teaser, roadside loafer or a potential molester by police in faraway India centuries later.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s idea of Anti-Romeo Squad is a bit odd on a couple of counts. It begins with the name itself. While one has no problem with the government coming down hard on men harassing girls and women on way to schools, college, markets and everywhere else and on buses, trains and all kinds of transport, one wonders why Romeo should be dragged into all this. His love affair with Juliet against the backdrop of feuding families in Verona was a serious one. Both died in the end without being together. Not without reason the sympathy for their experience in love continues to win hearts even now.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

Couldn’t the government have called its anti-women harassment squad something else? Of course, it’s not an original idea. We have had similar squads in other states too. But it does no justice to the tragic hero. It’s possible a generation of Indians would grow up believing Romeo was a sexual pervert of some kind whose only business in life was to harass women out of home.

Let’s accept the nomenclature and proceed. How does one define a Romeo? Is there a simple way of doing it? The broad understanding that he troubles women with a sexual intention is fine. Those targeting women in buses, trains and markets and near educational institutions or anywhere else are easily identifiable as ‘Romeos’. There are just too many of them and the police can act against them even without a dedicated squad.

But how do you categorise a young couple sitting together in a park, holding hands in public and going to a movie together? They may not be couples even; they can be siblings or just friends or casual acquaintances. Experience with such squads tells us that people like these become easy targets for policemen looking to make easy money. Young couples in love are usually secretive about their identities and this becomes a weakness to exploit by policemen. The burden of proof lies on the former – they have to prove who they are and the nature of relationship.

Worse, vigilante groups move in. They can target couples directly or be in cahoots with the local police to do so. This perversion of the original idea is one reason why such efforts have always ended up in controversies. Moreover, what does it reveal on our appreciation for the idea of individual freedom? It is not normal when men and women feel threatened to go out together. Their being together becomes open to interpretation of outsiders and their privacy open to intrusion.

It certainly is no reflection of a healthy state. Nobody needs it to be the guardian of public morality in such fashion. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath would be appreciated much more if he ensured temperance to the actions of the Anti-Romeo Squad and let young people be.

Coming back to poor Romeo, he would not like either his name or the idea of love vandalised. Neither would the Bard. He can sue the Uttar Pradesh government for character assassination if he pleases.

Updated Date: Mar 23, 2017 14:15 PM

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