India police target Uttar Pradesh courting couples

A couple in a park
Image caption Public displays of affection are considered taboo in India

Police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have launched a controversial campaign against couples displaying affection in public places.

Led by a female officer, police raided parks and handed out instant punishment, forcing the boys to do sit-ups, in Sahibabad, not far from Delhi.

Officials say their aim is to "save innocent girls being trapped by boys with evil motives".

Similar campaigns in Uttar Pradesh in the past have been denounced.

'Operation Majnu'

The woman police officer leading the campaign, Alka Pandey, says she just wants to ensure the safety of young girls.

She has been randomly inspecting town parks looking for young couples who are sitting and chatting in remote corners.

On Tuesday, television channels showed footage of her approaching couples, grabbing the boys by the collar and forcing them to do sit-ups as punishment.

Public displays of affection between men and women are still widely considered a social taboo in India.

The new drive, "Operation Majnu", refers to a legendary medieval lover, although the term is now generally used to describe roadside Romeos.

Image caption Some groups oppose Valentine's Day celebrations

Police officials in the area told the media they launched the campaign after receiving a lot of complaints of young girls being harassed by boys.

Superintendent of Ghaziabad district, Raghuvir Lal, says he receives many complaints of men hanging around cinema theatres, shopping malls and girls' schools, looking to harass them.

"The idea was to stop 'Eve-teasing' at all levels," he told the Times of India newspaper.

Eve-teasing is an Indian term referring to sexual harassment.

He admitted some police officials could have made mistakes in tackling the matter but that the larger issue was ensuring safety for women.

There has been some support for the police campaign.

One young mother, Nandini Sharma, told the media that it was difficult to stand in front of her daughter's school as young men would speed past on bikes to try to impress girls.

"But the situation has improved in the last three days," she said.

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