Amit Shah at the BJP elections
Lucknow: BJP President Amit Shah addresses during the party manifesto release for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in Lucknow on Saturday. PTI Photo by Nandkumar

As the campaigning for the Uttar Pradesh elections was underway, Bharatiya Janata Party supremo Amit Shah was quoted during an election rally in Meerut, saying that the BJP will form “anti-Romeo squads to protect girls in Uttar Pradesh.”

What this statement underlines is a total disregard of the state’s apparatus whose job it is to tackle such cases of sexual assault. What will the police and law enforcement apparatus do, if we are to vest authority for their tasks with an extra-constitutional group of men?

As activists are well aware, women prefer not to report sexual assault because of the terrible way these concerns addressed when a victim does reach out to the state for redressal.

That the “protection and safety of women” always trumps all other considerations is well established. Our media and discourse are rife with stories and articles alluding to the lack of women’s “safety”. The latent unstated fear is that women will be sexually harassed or assaulted and it is from this that they must be kept safe.

Why protection only of women, Mr Amit Shah, and from whom?

At the core of this mindset lies the assumption that women need “protection” because, god forbid, what if they exercise their right to choose their own partners for love or for marriage? The horror!

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Don’t forget that there is a specific group of people who pose a threat to these “girls” who are really grown women. It is only reasonable to assume an adult should be able to take care of herself. But calling an Indian woman just that is nothing short of an insult. Till the time she’s married, a woman continues to be addressed as “girl”.

This statement of Amit Shah’s is nothing but dog-whistle politics, signalling to his supporters the bogus “love jihad” claims of his party. A fake phenomenon cooked up by the Sangh Parivar, yet another stick to beat minority men with, especially Muslims. This piece of propaganda that has been around since the days before Indian Independence. Charu Gupta writes in the Economic and Political Weekly, in detail about the unproven allegations that Muslim men were abducting Hindu girls in the 1920s. Yet it is a bogey that refuses to die down.

Good Hindu upper-caste girls are expected to remain virgins till they are married to men of their parents’ choice. This custom underpins the caste system. Caste is built and maintained through purity of the bloodline. Ensuring the paternity of the offspring to whom property will be passed on, is crucial. It is paramount to ascertain the virginity of the bride.

The worst form of dishonour that a Hindu man can imagine is that his daughter chooses a partner of her choice. Had it been really women’s rights or their safety that our political leaders or elected representatives cared about, hundreds of crores of money allotted to the Nirbhaya Fund wouldn’t lie unused, year after year.

Besides, once the genie of vigilantism is unleashed with groups of men taking the law into their own hands, who knows where this will lead? It’s a slippery slope best avoided. Violence or its threat as solutions to social ills have always failed. Instead, it creates newer cycles of violence and retaliation. It’s high time we call out our politicians and representatives on their attempts to curtail women’s autonomy in the name of safety. We are adults and we are free! Get used to it, uncleji!

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