Police in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh have begun deploying "anti-Romeo squads" who conduct surprise checks in public areas to curb sexual harassment and taunting of women, officials said on Wednesday.
The move comes days after Hindu hardliner and priest Yogi Adityanath took office as state chief minister with the Bharatiya Janata Party scoring an emphatic victory in assembly polls.
The campaign was launched on Tuesday and up to 15 men were rounded up in the state capital Lucknow and other districts, police spokesman Rahul Srivastava said. Boys standing outside girls' schools and colleges were also hauled up and questioned.
"The idea is to reclaim public spaces and make them safe for women," state police chief Javeed Ahmad told broadcaster NDTV, following instructions by Adityanath to improve law and order in the state.
Anti-Romeo squads were a key promise in BJP's election manifesto in the recent elections.
India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is also among its most lawless. Government data shows the province reports the maximum number of cases of crimes against women, including sexual violence.
"The crackdown aims to weed out hooligans, lumpen elements and roadside romeos who hang around malls, colleges and coaching centres, tease or stare at girls, thus making public areas insecure for them," Srivastava said.
But it was not clear whether clear guidelines have been issued for the police squads. The domestic media has raised concerns about harassment by police and whether the drive may transform into moral policing.
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