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India’s Love Commandos – The Vigilantes Protecting Young Couples Against Prejudice

Marrying for love is still taboo in many parts of India, especially outside the boundaries of caste or religion. But there are people who do sympathize with young couples, like the Love Commandos, a four-man activist organisation based in the nation’s capital, New Delhi. Their mission is to help couples elope and start a new life together, safely away from the wrath of their families.

“The main function of the Love Commandos is to allow people to do this in safety and in accordance with the laws of India, and to prevent honor killings happening to young couples,” Belgian author Hans Theys wrote in the introduction to photographer Max Pinckers book Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty on India’s Love Commandos, a project that won him first prize in the Photographic Museum of Humanity competition in 2014.

And that’s exactly what the Love Commandos are all about. They encourage lovers to reach out to them via a telephone helpline, or their website, for any kind of assistance – including accommodation in safe rooms and shelters across India. They’ve even sent out rescue teams to protect newly-weds running away from enraged relatives. The group boasts of having helped over 40,000 couples in nearly six years of existence. Of course, they couldn’t have done it without the help of hundreds of volunteers and priests who agreed to organize and perform the clandestine marriage ceremonies and getaways.

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Photo: Love Commandos

The group was founded on the belief that falling in love is not a sin, which contradicts the beliefs of many Indians. “We do not agree that this arranged marriage is tradition,” said Sanjoy Sachdev, one of the group’s founders. “Making an arrangement that means forcing marriage upon one. And forced marriage is an international crime. If an 18-year-old boy can choose the prime minister of the country, why can’t he choose his life partner?”

It’s easy to romanticize what they do, but there’s nothing glamorous about the Love Commandos or their work. They certainly don’t look the part – they aren’t suave suit-clad gentlemen with fancy gadgets, or well-muscled warriors who inspire awe. They’re just regular Indian men who do dangerous work on a shoestring budget, spending most of their time in a room answering phone calls from lovers in distress. They use the same room to house couples seeking shelter until future plans are made. “Some stay with us 14 months, others 14 hours,” Sachdev said.

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Photo via Sacred Cows

“When they get here they’re really scared,” added Harsh Malhotra, another founder of the group. “They are like children for us. These couples come here because their parents didn’t give them enough love and affection.” So the Commandos ensure that the couples receive counselling during their stay at the shelter. If they want to get married and are legally of age, then a ceremony is arranged right away.

With each phone call answered and every couple helped, the Love Commandos are increasingly putting their lives at risk. Although they aren’t doing anything illegal, arranging a wedding without parental consent is considered a serious affront to a family’s honor, often leaving the relatives of the couple thirsty for revenge. “Many want to kill us,” Sachdev explained. “The cast councils and clan councils have put huge bounties on our heads.” The couples aren’t safe either – they’re at constant danger of being killed by their own families for daring to go against tradition.

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Photo: Love Commandos/Facebook

“Because of caste, religious, economic, or social status issues, many times parents still oppose their children’s relationship,” Sachdev said. “A lot of young people try to convince their parents to accept their marriages, but that often ends with girls having their education stopped and being illegally detained. It can even end with honor killings.” That’s what happened to 21-year-old Bhawna Yadav – her parents and uncle are believed to have murdered her and disposed of her body after she eloped with a man of a different caste.

The Love Commandos want to put an end to this barbaric practice. The threats haven’t dissuaded them from continuing their work as they believe that Indian society has reached a tipping point where the youth are no longer willing to live by archaic dogmas. “India is sitting on a volcano,” Sachdev said. “The youth has lost faith in the system.”

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Photo: Love Commandos/Facebook

New Delhi couple Manouj and Kavita, for instance, were in grave danger after they ran away from home to be with each other. “My family does not approve of inter-caste weddings,” said Manouj, 22. “They said that if I go ahead they will kill me.” 19-year-old Kavita’s family “hit and scolded” her when she she revealed her intention to marry Manouj. Then they got her engaged to a “suitable” groom of their choice. The college sweethearts had no choice but to leave home and turn to the Love Commandos for help.

“The caste system and society’s conventions should change with time,” Manouj said, after the wedding. “If water stays stagnant at the same place, it starts getting polluted.”

 

“To save this country, it is important to save love, lovers, and love relationships,” Sachdev added.

 

Sources: The Guardian, CBC, DAWN

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