Lucknow: In the heart of Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow, at the busy and upscale Hazratganj market, an anti-Romeo squad - a team of about 30 policemen - swings into action at around 4 pm. Five women constables are also part of the squad led by a Deputy Superintendent of Police. Walking around, they look for potential troublemakers or "Romeos" - the term many use for men who harass women.Young men sitting alone, or even in groups, instantly grab their attention.
- Anti-Romeo squad is a team of about 30 cops
- It was one of the main poll promises of BJP in UP
- 'Romeo' is a term that many use for men who harass women.
Neeraj, sitting on his motorbike in a lane, is hauled up.
"Why are you sitting here? Is this a picnic spot?" a police officer demands as five others circle the 22-year-old.
"I work at a nearby restaurant" mumbles Neeraj, explaining that his shift had ended and he was taking a breather before heading home.
"No need to sit around unnecessarily!" barks a policeman who checks the man's Aadhar card. Another policeman, in plainclothes, takes a photograph of the boy on his mobile phone. Satisfied that there is no 'mischief', the policemen move on.
Neeraj is left more than a little shaken and refuses to talk to us. A little later in the "anti-Romeo" drive, things take a more aggressive turn.
At a block of shops, the policemen descend on Saad Khan, sitting on a bench. He tells the policemen he is with his wife Nazira, who is in a women's garment shop.
"Why aren't you inside then?" questions a senior officer. Before the man can answer, his wife Nazira rushes out of the shop.
"Let's go," she tells her husband.
The policemen leave, but Nazira is furious.
"This is complete harassment," she tells us.
"He can't follow us inside every shop. This is a ladies' shop. You can't ask him why he is here. If he is decently standing outside the shop, what is the problem? " she adds.
Anti-Romeo squads, a poll promise of the BJP that won a remarkable victory in the Uttar Pradesh election, started on a wrong note on Wednesday when visuals on TV suggested harassment and humiliation of young couples and men even in groups. New Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath then directed that couples should not be targeted.
It is still not clear, however, how the police plan to catch "Romeos" in public places. For now, says a police officer, the idea is to "question, check group of boys or boys alone near colleges and other places, and create fear among potential harassers."
The group of policemen spends around 30 more minutes in the market. No "Romeo" was found, none detained.
Shivram Yadav, the seniormost police officer in the team, tries to explain why he zeroes is on men found alone. Is it wrong, we ask.
"Is it wrong to ask someone why he is roaming around alone?" he counters, adding, "If he has come to shop, it is okay. But why roam alone? I do not understand why you would want to just sit alone. Have you come for a purpose - shopping etc?"
Is it right to swoop down on every lone straggler? The officer replies, "How can we tell who someone is before speaking to him?"