In the past few months, social media has been flooded with the news of gang rapes and murders of women in Uttar Pradesh. In 2018, the state alone saw nearly 16 per cent of the total crimes committed against women in India. The law and order situation in UP is coming undone, in spite of chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s Encounter Raj. Amid all this, the CM has come up with ‘Operation Durachari’— just like he plastered the photos with names of the anti-CAA protestors in public, he will now put up the names and photographs of alleged sexual harassers, molesters and sex offenders on public posters. And this is how the Yogi government is going to fight against gender issues and sensitise the state.
This isn’t the first ‘masterstroke’ by Yogi Aditdyanath on sexual harassment. Remember the Anti-Romeo squads?
What happened to the Anti-Romeo squads?
The Anti-Romeo squads that were launched in 2017 — immediately after Yogi Adityanath took over as the UP chief minister — to ensure safety of women ran into controversies after they started moral policing and harassing consenting couples in public. We never got to know whether it was a success or failure. The squad mostly hit headlines when it indulged in giving some on-the-spot punishment to the ‘Romeos’ and co — made them murga (sit ups), shaved their heads and smeared faces of couples. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had to issue a directive to the UP Police, asking these squads to follow their own guidelines.
After the court’s order, Yogi himself had to intervene and issue fresh guidelines. However, the squad’s DNA did not change, forcing women rights activists to demanded disbanding of such units. Though, Yogi has defended the squad, the numbers don’t suggest that it made much of an impact in curbing gender crimes.
According to the NCRB’s 2018 report, across the country, 378,277 cases of crime against women were reported. UP topped the list with 59,445 cases. The state was on top of NCRB’s 2017 list, too, with 56,011 recorded cases of gender crimes.
Whatever Adityanath’s masterstroke is – the central principle appears to be public shaming. Whether it is dating couples, or sexual harassers or anti-CAA protesters. Public shaming has the potential to unleash dangerous social vigilantism and ends up circumventing the law enforcement and legal processes.
Men, who are convicted of sexual crimes, will anyway be in jail. Putting their names and photographs on posters won’t serve any purpose. If they are not in jail, they are accused and are fighting their charges in courts. Publicly shaming them before they are convicted is another form of Encounter Raj.
Is it a political tool to harass?
The Police should be encouraged to take the legal route to pursue the cases against habitual offenders. This is what it is expected to do, and not act as a moral guardian. The conviction rate of gender crimes in India is very low. According to the 2018 NCRB report, India saw just 11 per cent disposal and 27 per cent conviction in rape cases. This shows how police does not pursue cases involving crime against women in the courts. The UP government is giving them – police and vigilantes — authoritarian powers, which were misused in the Anti-Romeo drive. With this new initiative, they will have to worry less. They will become empowered to behave like a court and deliver ‘failsa on the spot’. They can play judge, jury and social executioner.
We cannot forget how the Yogi government used a similar poster strategy to harass the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters. The Allahabad High court had to intervene, asking the state government to remove all hoardings displaying personal details of the protesters. The court also said that the act of the government was “unwarranted interference in the privacy of people”.
Gender crime is a social and legal problem
The Yogi government has to understand that while crime against women is a social problem, lower conviction rate in such cases is a legal one. It’s definitely not a political problem. So, the solutions should be coming from a gender perspective — the hard work of social change can take time and won’t get you quick headlines, TV bytes and election returns, but will eventually serve justice. This is the reason women rights activists advocate for sex education and gender sensitisation at the school level. We are neither Iran nor China — countries that resort to extreme measures, instead of believing in gradual change. This public persecution will set a dangerous precedent and give police the power to harass the underprivileged, especially the Dalits and Muslims.
Introducing methods of ‘instant justice’ is not a reform. Neither is it justice. It is the tyranny of the State that believes in taking revenge for all it considers ill. The governments should focus on promoting gender sensitisation in their own wings, starting from thanas itself, so that no victim of sexual crime is frightened to enter a police station. This includes getting harassers convicted while treating victims with dignity.
Starting conversations around sex at the school level is another long-term measure that can yield results. But for that to happen, India’s ‘sanskari’ governments will have to stop taking offense around the ‘S’ word. A lot of the responsibility also lies on our social fabric that gets stained a little too easily and conveniently pretends that sex doesn’t exist.
Views are personal.