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Romeo in the age of Yogi

“Love really has nothing to do with wisdom or experience or logic. It is the prevailing breeze in the land of youth.” – Bruno Lessing

Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story written by William Shakespeare about two enthusiastic and passionate young lovers who committed suicide when they could not get married in the result of their feuding families. It is believed that the story of Romeo and Juliet is based on actual characters from Veroma and Shakespeare borrowed his plot from an original Italian tale.

Whatever may have been the circumstances in the lives of Romeo and Juliet, fact remains that they were the lovers in true sense and Romeo was accused neither of osculating in public, nor outraging the modesty of a woman or stalking. His woman did not lodge a complaint with the police against him and he was not the Don Juan either.

However, in the words of Josh Billings, “Love looks through a telescope; envy through a microscope.” This state of mind was recently seen in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath took over the charge of chief minister on March 19, 2017, and two days later he set-up the ‘Anti-Romeo’ squads across the State, apparently to prevent the ‘Public Display of Affection’ (PDA), eve-teasing, or in common parlance, crime against women. The overzealous U.P. police responding with alacrity, raided parks, malls, colleges and other public places with the mission to forge the cases of PDA, etc. against the innocent citizens.

However, the term ‘anti-Romeo’ is a misnomer, as the offences to be prevented do not match with the characteristics of Romeo; otherwise too Romeo is a proper noun and not the common noun to be used for multiple ruffians.

Whatever may have been the intention of Yogi to form such squads; prima-facie, it is the general expression of people that he is trying to create a fear psychosis among the citizens or else these dictates are aimed to muzzle the voices of the dissent. The reason behind such feelings seems to be the acts of high-handedness and harassment by the UP police. They were found to be involved in incidents of bribe- taking and shaving off the heads of young boys. U.P. Police was found blatantly perpetuating violence on the pretext of preventing obscenity in public places.

Yogi seems to have invested wide discretionary powers to police without following the procedural safeguards, which are being exercised arbitrarily and amounts to unreasonable restriction on the exercise of freedom and the exercise of fundamental rights.

The M.P Public Security Act,1959 had invested the government with wide discretion, uncircumscribed by procedural safeguards, to extern a person from any area and to intern him in  any specified place if his activities were threat to maintenance of public order. The Supreme Court held the provisions as unconstitutional.

The word ‘obscenity’ is derived from the Latin word ‘obscaena’. According to Merrian-Webstar, the word ‘obscene’ is defined as ‘disgusting to the senses’, ‘so excessive as to be offensive’, and ‘abhorrent to morality or virtue, designed to incite lust or depravity’.

Obscenity is a criminal offence across a variety of laws. In India Public Display of Affection(PDA) is regarded as unacceptable. Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) lays down punishment for obscene acts or words in public causing annoyance to others. It says, “Whoever, to the annoyance of others:
(a) Does any obscene act in any public place; or
(b) Sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place,
shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.

As the law does not explicitly define what would constitute an ‘obscene act’, it is blatantly misused by the police and lower courts causing harassment to couples. Therefore, it is entirely a matter of interpretation by the policemen to hold any act of the couple as obscene act. There is no fixed rule to constitute the offence of obcenity.

In the year 2007, actor Richard Gere had acted obscenely by kissing Shilpa Shetty during a performance of event in New Delhi. A warrant of his arrest was issued by an Indian court. People burnt effigies of Gere and Shetty for publicly embracing in a ‘sexually provocative’ way. Finally, the Supreme Court of India had observed that in this issue, ‘no case is made out’. Here are a few recent cases which would substantiate the allegation of arbitrariness and highhandedness of the UP police.

In Rampur policemen harassed a youth and his cousin whom they had detained. The policemen refused to let go the cousins even after their relatives approached them and clarified that they are relatives and not a couple. The policemen then reportedly took a bribe of `5000 to free them. The relatives gave the amount and also filmed the cops accepting the bribe.

In another incident, in Shahjahanpur, on March 22, one Qasim, 22, was stopped by a squad while he was going with a young girl from another religion. The squad allowed the girl to leave, but Qasim was held captive by the police and his head was shaved off under duress.

Another 19 year old boy mentions, “I was standing outside DN College to meet a friend, and the police gave me a warning. They wanted to call my parents….they did not even know if I was there to meet a girl or a boy. For them, any young boy in public on a bike is a “Majnu”. After the boy’s father was contacted, he said, “It is not the police job to decide where boys can stand and where they cannot. My son is 19, and is an adult. It makes no sense to call up his father to say that his son is loitering around.”
One more 22 year old boy, Uddeshy Pandey said,”My female friend and I took a rickshaw to reach a multiplex in Hazratganj….when the rickshaw reached a crossing, policemen stopped us and started questioning me. The male SHO asked about my whereabouts while a policeman questioned my female friend. I told him that we were going to watch a movie but he refused to listen. After questioning me for half-an-hour, I was taken to the police station.”

Reacting to such incidents, noted advocate O.P Saxena,who is also the President of Lawyers Forum for Civil Liberties, said, “There are a plethora of factors, which need to be identified and addressed to prevent PDA and allied problems in the legal framework, instead of blindly misusing the large and hard baton of the colonial-shaped police. It’s more a socio-cultural phenomenon rather than the criminal factor. It varies from culture to culture. The term ‘physical affection’ has been defined as “any bodily touch intended to arouse the feelings of love by giver to the recipient. Physical affection includes: holding hands, embracing, cuddling, caressing or osculating, etc.”

Saxena further said that in the light of Indian culture and law, the mixing-up of boys and girls sitting together in parks, meeting surreptitiously in restaurants, seeing movies together in film halls, walking closely holding hands is not legally objectionable. However, going beyond this limit PDA is illegal and punishable under Section 294 of IPC. Saxena added that in many Muslim countries PDA is prohibited and sometimes it culminates into proscription based on Islamic jurisprudence. However, in countries like USA, Canada, New Zealand, Europe and Australia, PDA is not considered to be a serious issue.

Saxena further clarified that in the light of the abovementioned detentions made by the U.P. Police, no case is made out as there has been no violation of law as defined in sections 294, 354-D, 509 IPC. Moreover, the police acted unreasonably, excessively and arbitrarily without the cognizance of the crime or acting upon a complaint from any victim or otherwise.

Frivolous cases of harassment even by police are likely to be quashed by the higher courts. Say for example, in the case of A and B Vs. State through NCT of Delhi and Another (CRL. M.C. 283/2009), a couple, A and B, was sitting outside Dwarka court complex on 18th September, 2008, taking pictures of each other when some policemen showed up and arrested them for allegedly kissing in public. The FIR no. 581 of 2008, was registered at PS Dwarka, under Sections 294 read with 34 IPC. The case was pending in the Court of ACMM, Dwarka Court, New Delhi. However, the couple moved the High Court of Delhi.

In his order dated 25-05-2009, Hon’ble Justice S. Muralidhar mentioned, “ The present case arose out of a seemingly innocuous act involving the petitioners, a young married couple, outside the Dwarka court complex on 18th September, 2008. Pursuant to the orders of this Court, the conscientious Commissioner of Police had the case again inquired into. The result is that the misconceived prosecution of the petitioners for the offence under Sections 294/34 IPC is by this judgment brought to a close.” The Hon’ble Court also observed that “It is inconceivable how, even if one were to take what is stated in the FIR to be true (namely, that the couple kissed in public), the expression of love by a young married couple … would attract the offence of ‘obscenity’ and triggered the coercive process of law.” The Hon’ble Court recommended for disciplinary proceedings against Investigation Officer S.I. Vidyadhar and Rajinder Singh, ACP/ Dwarka. The Hon’ble Court appreciated the gesture of the Delhi Police Commissioner in offering to write a letter of apology to each of the petitioners.

Viewing this scenario with clairvoyance, a scholar, Dr. Syed Ali Azam said, “ U.P. Police is exclusively focusing on curbing the physical side of eve-teasing; whereas, about 1.7 billion users are of Facebook and over half a billion are Twitter users; through which a large number of users have been making many people feel uncomfortable, annoying or teasing.”

Dr. Azam quoted the case of Sunil Kulkarni, who had introduced a ‘Facebook Cult’ for trapping the young girls between 18-25 and captured their mind to such an extent that they could not possibly think beyond him. Two sets of parents of girls have approached the Bombay High Court seeking help to get their daughters back and action against the master mind Sunil Kulkarni aged 55, who had ‘trapped their daughters’. Their plea states that the Facebook page contains provocative images and sexually explicit messages.

Dr. Syed Ali Azam also feels that the idea of Yogi is not bad but the approach is wrong, as it has been vaguely planned with no holistic approach. The police should not be permitted to abuse its power. It is also a fact that at times, it becomes very embarrassing for families with little children to go to a park or a public place where the young couples indulge in indecent and objectionable acts. The youngsters need to introspect and strike a balance between togetherness and exhibitionism without interference of police or public rebuke.

Dr. Azam suggests that the government should erect hoardings/ notice boards at conspicuous places of parks and other public places with warnings that ‘obscenity at public place is a punishable offence’.

A young post-graduate student of Delhi University, Eman Sakina feels that it is a cultural problem which has to be tackled socially. Eman holds the Indian films, electronic and social media responsible for cultural invasion. Eman Sakina asks Yogi, what he has to say about threats of violence and abuses given to women through cyberbullying, when women are trolled, which makes them tougher to deal with. She also quoted Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, where speaking at an event in Goa, she had said that romance in Hindi or regional films start with eve-teasing. Maneka Gandhi blamed the films for men believing that they can get away with indulging in violence against women. In support of her statement Eman Sakina quoted a wise man, “Where crime is taught from early years, it becomes the part of nature”.

Commenting on ‘moral policing’, Eman says that the need for moral policing arose with the advent of satellite television, where on 24×7 basis dirty scenes of films and serials have been negatively impacting the youth who considering them as role-model feel pride in emulating their stupid actions including the PDA.

Supporting Eman’s views, O.P. Saxena, cited an example of one Sandesh Baliga, who was working in Australia as security guard and had been stalking two women- one for 18 months and another for four months. Baliga was arrested. He was however acquitted when the defence lawyer argued that he was influenced by Indian movies to believe that doggedly pursuing a woman would eventually cause them to fall in love.

The court in Hobart in the State of Tasmania said, it would not recommend a conviction against Sandesh Baliga citing his cultural background. Saxena feels that leaders like Yogi Adityanath must identify the root cause of the problem and as such should throw their weight on ‘nautankiwalas’ (film-makers) to stop the excessive and exclusive exhibition of sex and violence in the films.

These leaders should also compel the authorities to wipe out the porn sites on internet which is another causal factor behind ghastly crimes against women. The problem of crime against women has to be studied patiently, logically and holistically, feels O.P. Saxena.

Moral policing to some extent is too needed but in a sophisticated and legal manner by police and not by the vigilantes, feels Dr. Syed Ali Azam. He pointed out that in April this year, a bevy of television and film actors conglomerated at NSCI Dome, Worli, Mumbai, to attend Colors Golden Petal Awards 2017, where particular incident shocked the audience. The hosts called upon nominees of the Best Actor to come on stage for a ‘challenging task’ for which the men were directed to get kisses from the audience and whoever managed to get the maximum number would be awarded the Best Actor.

The next moment, men hurriedly ran towards the seated audience and began collecting kisses; where Sidharth Shukla kissed his ‘Dil Se Dil Tak’ co-star Rashmi Desai in full public view. As such these film actors are abetting and perpetrating bad things to be emulated by immature minds.

Dr. Syed Ali Azam cited another example of PDA,“ in November, 2014, a group of youngsters in Kochi (Kerala) organized a protest called ‘kiss of love’ against moral policing by mass kissing in a public place. It involved about 50 odd men and women, more than 1000 onlookers. However, before the protesters could start kissing, they were taken to the police station and charged with unlawful assembly and disturbing peace in a public place.”

In view of the above discussion, it appears that the intention of Yogi Adityanath was not bad but the action was ill-planned and the police of Uttar Pradesh spoiled the show by habitually walking on the wrong side of the track. For his subsequent steps Yogi ji has to keep one thing in mind that a surgeon too makes cuts and incisions but his intension is to save a life.

“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit.” -Shakespeare

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