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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 December 2005, 10:02 GMT
Policewomen slap dating couples
Courting couple in Pune, India
Courting couples often meet in parks, despite dating taboos
Two policewomen have been suspended in the northern Indian city of Meerut for slapping and punching couples who were dating in a public park.

Police were carrying out "Operation Romeo", which they said was to target the sexual harassment of women.

Anti-police protests erupted after TV pictures showed officers punching and pulling the hair of young women.

Police chief Rajiv Ranjan said the drive was to tackle obscenity but the officers had "clearly gone overboard".

Shamed couple

Mr Ranjan, a senior superintendent of police in Meerut, in India's Uttar Pradesh state, told the BBC: "We took prompt action against two policewomen soon after we received complaints about their behaviour. We have ordered an enquiry into the incidents."

Is falling in love wrong? Who gave the police the right to beat and hit people and misbehave in such a manner?
Meerut woman

He said the police action was part of a drive undertaken at periodic intervals - often at the behest of the parents of young women - to "cleanse" parks and other public places of people indulging in acts of public obscenity.

But he made it clear that there was no law which banned men and women walking together in public places or sitting in a park.

He said police personnel had no business bothering, let alone beating up, couples sitting together in public.

The police action led to angry protests in the city.

Students chanted "down with police dictatorship" and burned effigies of officers.

One couple told the Aaj Tak television channel they were so humiliated by the TV pictures they had not returned home.

Indian media gave the pictures wide coverage, with many complaining of "moral policing".

"Is falling in love wrong? Who gave the police the right to beat and hit people and misbehave in such a manner," one woman in Meerut said.

Although pre-marriage dating is frowned upon in much of conservative India, couples often meet in parks and other public places.

Local lawmaker SP Agarwal said: "Nobody should be allowed to bother them as long as they are not indulging in obscene acts."

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