“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
This is a very well-known line from the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, the Shakespearean play. The Romeo that Juliet referred to in this line was a man that she was in love with.
This line is perhaps as misunderstood as it is famous. Many people have come to think that Juliet is calling Romeo here, asking where he is. She, however, is asking why her lover had to be him, a man from a rival clan.
This line isn’t the only thing from this legendary play that has been misunderstood by people, though. Unfortunately, in UP and elsewhere in India, the character of Romeo is also misinterpreted at least as much, if not more.
Romeo was a lover. Or at least that’s what Shakespeare’s original character in his famous play Romeo and Juliet, was supposed to be. However, according to the Uttar Pradesh police, Romeo was an eve-teaser.
One of the very first actions that the Yogi Adityanath government has taken has been the formation of ‘anti-Romeo squads‘ within the UP police department. The motive of these ‘squads’ is to “deter eve-teasing in the state.” The step received initial applaud by those who thought that it might actually be effective in tackling cat-calling, eve-teasing and harassment.
The work of these squads, however, has been largely controversial since their inception. These squads have been accused of harassing friends and couples. Even married couples have alleged to have been attacked by the squad. In one case, the squad allegedly shaved the head of a youth for talking to a girl. Now BJP-ruled Uttarakhand is looking to replicate this step, while the CM of MP, Shivraj Chouhan has also said that a “campaign against Romeo” will be launched in his state as well.
Recently, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan mentioned in a tweet of his that “Krishna was a legendary eve-teaser.” He faced flak for his tweet on twitter, and later tweeted that “he didn’t intent to hurt sentiments” and that his original tweet was “being distorted,” and went on to explain that he meant to say that lord Krishna will also be called an eve-teaser as per UP police’s logic.
Hindu mythology is filled with instances of an adolescent Krishna talking to, dancing and even flirting with dozens of women in what is called ‘Rasa-leela‘. However, Hindus believe that the character of Krishna is complex to understand, and that he did so with consenting women.
Many women’s rights activists believe that the anti-Romeo squads actually threaten women’s freedoms by enforcing the squads’ own morals on them. They also note that the issue of sexual violence and harassment in UP can’t be effectively addressed by these groups.
The anti-Romeo squads seem to know no difference between consensual and forceful. This mentality isn’t limited to the UP police though. “Roadside-Romeos” is a term used by many in India to refer to molesters. Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed lovers, and theirs’ is a tragic love-story, but Romeo has become a symbol for harassment in modern India.
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“Aspiring Diplomat. Laughs too much. Artfully pretentious. Pretends to care sometimes. Trying to create his own little space in the world. Talks about self in the third person like everyone else.”