A young man purportedly in love can be called a Romeo. The Bharatiya Janata Party, just like Juliet’s family, sees Romeo through a prism, the prism of family, clan, and er, maybe, religion, that distorts his image.
“We have decided to have anti-Romeo squad in every college to safeguard our girls,” said BJP’s star campaigner Amit Shah at a election rally in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, on Friday.
The BJP has definitely been nothing if not inventive in sniffing out conspiracies when it comes to the love lives of women in this country. The musical-sounding but dangerous "love jihad" was coined with a Hindu-Muslim marriage in Karnataka, and then entered the party’s politics in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 as the Lok Sabha elections drew near.
A number of inter-faith matches came under scrutiny and attack; Muslim men were falling in love, willy-nilly, with Hindu women in order to convert them.
|The last one heard universities were meant to spawn revolutions.|
This time around, anti-Romeo squads will be pressed into service, especially on campuses, most of which are already guarded by right-wing appointees in the form of vice-chancellors. Parents, who see the education of their daughters as not something that can extend to the choice of a life partner or, god forbid, a boyfriend, will only be happy. A Romeo for their Juliet must be family and caste-approved, and not a lover from another clan - one they mistrust.
We can only guess what havoc these squads or vigilantes will wreak at colleges, which routinely display a chaperoning and moralising streak.
Moral strictures, ridiculous gender segregation, and hostels that lock up female scholars almost like female inmates, already prevent girls from doing things that normal young women do all over the world.
Women at Banaras Hindu University face curbs on the use of mobile phones and a promise is extracted from them that they will not participate in any protests. In 2016, NIT Calicut threatened the inmates of ladies’ hostels with explusion if they were found roaming around with boy students.
Miranda House, a prestigious Delhi University college, warned students of the school of open learning, who attend class there, that they would face suspension if found “clicking selfies, combing her hair or modelling in the gallery”.
PinjraTod, a protest movement led by undergraduates of Delhi University, is aimed at getting campuses to relax restrictions on hostel timings for college-going girls across the country. The curfew is set as early as 7pm - with women scholars being locked up in their hostels lest they be molested.
These notices and structures indicate how “anti-Romeo” squads can only make campuses grossly “anti-Juliet”. They will end up restricting women even more, stifling their movement, or access to space and technology, in the name of safety and propriety.
The last one heard universities were meant to spawn revolutions. They are spaces where young people must enjoy freedom of thought and movement, not face anti-Romeo squads that move around threatening and thrashing aspiring graduates.
Strict segregation of genders, which our colleges already enforce in a puritanical way, cannot help solve crimes against women. Unfamiliarity with the opposite sex, instead of a feeling of camaraderie and friendliness, can surely only increase hostility, not lessen it.
Romeo and Juliet, for Shakespeare fans, represent love — sweet, tragic, young — that ends in death so that the audience can see the pointlessness of hate between families and clans.
Their story, balcony scene intact, has been told and retold in folklore, even in Bollywood — Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela being the latest hit adaption — for the powerful message it conveys of love winning over mistrust and hate.
For Amit Shah, though, Romeo needs a firm hand, preferably a slap across his face.