Lucknow, April 4: Over 40 policemen of the anti-Romeo squad descended on a Moradabad house in eight beacon-flashing SUVs and stormed in, only to catch a tutor and his female student who had gone there to collect notes.
Eyewitnesses likened the Sunday night raid- which saw the team of over three dozen cops first surround the house - to an operation to "catch a terrorist or a big criminal".
"Instead, we saw some policemen push a youth and a girl out of the house. While the youth was begging the police with folded hands to leave him, saying he had not committed any crime, a cop caught him by his collar and pushed him into a van. They shoved the girl into another SUV and they were taken to Thakurdwara police station," an eyewitness said. Thakurdwara is the Moradabad neighbourhood where the events unfolded.
The policemen came after an alert from Dial 100, a centralised control room in Lucknow that responds to public complaints. Other eyewitnesses recalled some of the policemen as saying that they were only performing "their duty by catching them (the tutor and his student)".
Asked about the incident, Moradabad superintendent of police (rural) Akhilesh Narayan, said: "The man is a tutor and the girl his student. There were four men in the house but two had left by the time the police reached there. The girl had gone there to collect notes from his tutor. We released them after interrogation and handed them over to their parents."
The officer was silent when asked if this was the way the anti-Romeo squads - formed by the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government to check eve-teasing and crimes against women - would function.
The tutor, who didn't want to be named, said later that he was treated like a "criminal". "The police took me to the police station as if I were a dreaded criminal. In fact, they paraded me in the streets for a few minutes before pushing me into their vehicle. Later, at the police station, I overheard them talk to their seniors and all of a sudden, they asked me and my student to leave place."
This wasn't the squads' first brush with controversy. On April 1, three such cops were suspended in Shahjahanpur for torturing a youth and getting him tonsured over unproven allegations of teasing.
Chief minister Adityanath has warned against moral policing and issued three advisories since March 24 to the police.
Leading women's groups today called for disbanding the anti-Romeo squads and demanded that a case against lawyer Prashant Bhushan over a reference to Krishna in the context of such vigilantism be dropped without further ado.
In a joint statement, the groups said the squads were operating against the law and threatened the freedom of women. They disagreed with Allahabad High Court's judgement of March 30 on the issue, saying the verdict "uncritically legitimises these squads". "The squads are being encouraged by a State which reneges on its own obligations to maintain law and order."