The Love Commandos
“Falling in love in India today can be a dangerous business. Just last year, only in northern India, more than 900 young people were declared missing or dead”, says Ravinder Bawa, indian journalist. “These young people are the ones that refuse imposed marriages and prefer to live a life on the run with their loved ones, rather than spending their lives with someone they don’t love at all. With more opportunities of education and the information age, things are rapidly changing and the younger generations, especially in the cities, all know that marriages between people belonging to different classes, casts, or religions, are permitted by the Indian Law. They know they have the right to marry who they love, and they want their rights to be protected”, she adds. “However, the truth is that most families just won’t accept a marriage which is out of their caste, let alone with someone belonging to a different religion. It is the family, in fact, who chooses the bride or the groom and you don’t get married to a man or a woman, but to their families”.
The courageous ones who contradict this unwritten law and marry someone else, most times will sadly find themselves running away from the very people that should love and protect them the most: their parents and siblings.
“They will be chased by their relatives, and in the worse cases they will be hunted down by cruel assassins recruited by their own families..."
Sometimes it is the whole village who revolts against the families which are unable to solve the matter with their kids. In these cases, the community turns to the Khap Panchayats, the powerful Village Counsellors that substitute the local government throughout the country. Ultimately, these young lovers really end up with no choice other than the one to runaway.”
Today however, a new volunteer organisation fights against killers, resists police and battles against a centurylong practice that makes many families unreasonably violent, a tradition that sometimes enrages entire villages.
These activists call themselves “The Love Commandos”.
Lead by Sanjoy Sachdev and Harsh Malhotra, the team of volunteers help these couples by planning and carrying out their break outs, filing their cases in courts and protecting them from the assassins - in the name of Love.
Siddharth and Shubhangi are students from New Delhi. Siddharth studies law, Shubhangi studies Architecture. They fell in love afew years back and would like their families to marry them. Both come from well off families, but their families come fromdifferent casts. Shubhangi's family is a Dalit one, the young boy instead is a Sikh.
These fearless students are very much aware of the implied risks in getting married against their families will. However, asknowledgeable students and modern citizens, they are also very much aware of their rights. Together they want to build a futurefor themselves, as well as a better world for their children and for those who follow. "I will never be able to get the blessings ofmy parents but for me being with my love is more important" says Siddharth. "My feelings for her are really strong. I cannotimagine a future in which we are not together", he adds. "This is why we have decided to get married now and confront ourfamilies and the outer world today", comments Shubhangi explaining their decision. As smart people from the city, these youngpeople know their way around, nonetheless they would certainly have a hard time organizing a wedding. However, having heardabout the Love Commandos, the organization that helps the young couples in love, they have decided to seek for their help and
their protection. It is through the commandos leader, Sanjoy Sachdev, that their wedding is planned and celebrated. Shubhangihas decided that they should have a special blessing before the ceremony. She has become friends with a Sadu living close by thetemple where they will get married. The wedding is supervised by some of the commandos team - they say they have heardrumours about someone from the families knowing the wedding is going to be celebrated. "One of these two kids must have tolda cousin or someone else in the family that they were getting married, and the news must have leaked" comments one of theCommandos. "But we exist to make sure they are safe". "That's why we will keep keep them away for a while". Siddharth andShubhangi are aware that their choice could bare the burden of never going back to their families, that they could end up beingfugitives. The Love Commandos remind them that they will not attend university for a while and already, the future they hoped for, doesn't shimmer anymore.
For MehVish and Abdul Hakim, the Love couple of Bulandshehar Uttar Pradesh, a small village in north India falling love hasbeen a rollercoaster ride. ‘Yes there have been many ups and downs and we are still on the run. We have been hiding in Delhi forover three years. If it were not for Love Commandos we would not have survived. The khap panchayat, our village council hasannounced a reward of Rs 50000 for whoever kills us,’ explains Hakim.
They lived in the same village and went to the same school. Love happened when they were teenagers. The trouble started whenthe families came to know about them. Hakim recounts, ‘Mehwish could not continue her education after they came to knowabout us. They discontinued her school. The only way to be in touch then was through letters and sometimes phone calls.’ It waswhen her marriage was announced that they had to take a bold step. ‘I was to get married on 11 November 2010 and for me itwas like a death sentence. I somehow managed to call Abdul. We eloped on 29th October 2010. And just the next day the villagecouncil resorted to violence against Abdul’s family,’ remembers Mehwish.
The village elders beat up Hakim’s parents and till today his family has been facing the brunt of the step their son took. Theywere chased out of their home and till now they are living in a rented place in another village, which is close-by. ‘My husbandwas a patient of heart disease and he could not bear all the shame that came upon the family so he died. My other sons had to
leave the village with their families. Our business got affected and today we are all uprooted,’ sobs Hakim’s mother, BegumHakim.
The two have been in the hiding since they left the village. They have lived with friends, some relatives and for the longest timenow in the shelter provided by Love Commandos. They have a small daughter now and still Mehwish’s family is not willing toaccept the reality. ‘I am dead for them. I have spoken to my mother a few times but she says that even the little daughter of minewill not bring any smiles on their faces. It is very tough and I miss my family at times. It hurts to know that they hate us,’ achesMehvish.
Taj Mahal, popularly as the symbol of love world over, inspires us to keep our love alive. We are lucky to be staying behind thishistorical monument of love. Everyday when I look at it, my love for Aarti deepens,’ smiles Sanjay Kateria Thakur, a man offrom lower caste who married Aarti Kashyap, a woman from an upper caste. The bond was unacceptable to the families and thetwo eloped to start their life.
They have been married for over two years now. It all started when they exchanged glances across the street. Kashyapremembers, ‘we were neighbours and slowly over a period of time we started noticing each other. There was a mutual attraction.It was after months that Sanjay sent me a love-letter through a friend expressing his emotions.’
Kashyap and Thakur then met for the first time in the historical park near the Taj Mahal. ‘I was shy and nervous. But because I also liked him I agreed to meet him in the park. It was the most memorable moment of my life when looking at the Taj Mahal weexpressed our love for each other,’ recalls Kashyap. But this was just the beginning of troublesome times for them.
Somehow the girl’s family came to know about their relationship. Since Thakur came from a lower social caste they threatened tokill them. This kind of an inter-caste, inter-class marriage is unacceptable in India. When all their threats fell on deaf ears,Kashyap’s mother tried to sell her three times. ‘She thought it better to sell me off than bear the shame of me being in a love witha man of lower caste and class. I was first sold for Rs 10,000 to couple for extra martial relations. I protested and they sent meback. But at home they beat me up for returning and locked me up in a room,’ recollects Kashyap.
She was then sold to man who promised to unite her with Sanjay. ‘When he tried to rape me I escaped and saved my life toreturn. My mom almost gave up and got us married. But in a few days she changed her mind and sold me for a third time thistime in a village in Uttar Pradesh. I managed to escape from there and contacted Sanjay. We both then got in touch with LoveCommandos who saved our lives,’ spells out Kashyap.
‘I fell in love with her at first sight. I got attracted to her eyes and could not foget them even for a moment after I saw her,’ smiles Rajbir, 23. It allstarted when they were teenagers and Madhuri, 20 had moved into the house opposite to his with her family. The played together, went to schooltogether and in the process they fell madly in love with each other.
It was two years back that they announced their love to the families only to hear a negative answer. ‘The reason was silly, we were not from the samecaste. We are Thakurs, landowners and they are Banias meaning traders. Of course we were both hindus so we could not understand the logic behindtheir argument,’ explains Rajbir. So for a while the two were separated. The girl was locked up in the house and later taken to thenative village in the state of Uttar Pradesh to get her married off. ‘When I heard that they had brought me to marry me off, I somehow managed to call Rajbir. We made a plan and decided to elope. Rajbir came to the railway station close to my village and I met him there. We eloped,’ remembersMadhuri.
They knew that if caught they could be killed and so they took the support of Love Commandos. ‘They made arrangements for our marriage. I wastouched to see that they had arranged new clothes, jewelry and flowers for the ceremony and we were husband and wife,’ smiles Madhuri.
But they have not been living happily ever after. Last year Rajbir was taken away to an unknown spot by four men and beaten upbadly. They left him when they thought he was dead but somehow he managed to reach the police station and with the help ofLove Commandos he was able to register a complaint. ‘I think my family is behind this incident. I could not sleep that wholenight as he was taken hostage while he was talking to me and I had no idea what happened to him. His phone was switched offand I almost died,’ narrates Madhuri. Even today they live in fear of being caught. While Rajbir’s parents have accepted theirmarriage, Madhuri’s parents are yet to come to terms with it.
India is a land of various religions and it always boasts of unity in diversity. But this unity is in the face of it. When it comes tointer religion marriages there i no tolerance whatsoever. You might think that this happens in uneducation conservative familiesbut in INdia this intolerance exists at many levels. Even for a well-educated, independent women’s rights activist the path of loveis not easy. Reena, a hindu girl had the nerve to go against her family and marry Virendra, a sikh boy. It has been four months,they have set-up a sweet home but there is no peace. Reena’s phone keeps ringing, she gets warning calls from her brother toleave her husband. "Our love grew over a period of time. We used to work together and slowly we started spending a lot of timewith each other. We realised that we were good as a team and decided to marry,' explains Virendra. While Virendra's family wasa part of their marriage, Veena's family opposed this relationship and till date they are trying all they can to separate them. However, these youngsters are ahead of their own culture and have both become grown up professionals, easily rebuildinga new life away from their families, although at the painful cost of not seeing them again.
Chanchal and Sunil are a modern couple. She is a writer and he works in finance. Sunil and Chanchal fell in love a few years back and wanted theirfamilies to marry them. Both were adults coming from higher classes, but the families come from different religions. Chanchal's family is of muslimreligion. Sunil instead is a Sikh.
Just after they got married, Sunil was falsely implicated of sexual violence and sent behind bars. Chanchal was forced back to her family but she wouldnot sit still. Her aim was to get Sunil out of the jail. She discovered that the accusations for which her husband went to jail came from her own family.She was shocked. Through some contacts, she was able to seen Sunil in jail. During one of these meetings, Sunil told her she should have contacted theLove Commandos for help.
Without hesitation, she seeked for the aid of the organization. The Love Commandos managed to prove that the accusations were false and to bail Sunilout almost immediately.
Chanchal, ashamed of her family's behaviour and afraid of future retaliations, expresses the desire not to be recognized in the portrait.
‘I fell in love with her at first sight. I got attracted to her eyes and could not forget them even for a moment after I saw her,’smiles Bittu, 24. It all started when they were teenagers and Sangeeta, 18, had moved into the house opposite to his with herfamily. The played together, went to school together and in the process they fell madly in love with each other.
It was two years back that they announced their love to the families only to hear a negative answer. ‘The reason was silly, wewere not from the same caste. We are Thakurs, landowners and they are Banias meaning traders. Of course we were both hindusso we could not understand the logic behind their argument,’ explains Bittu.
So for a while the two were separated. The girl was locked up in the house and later taken to the native village in the state ofUttar Pradesh to get her married off. ‘When I heard that they had brought me to marry me off, I somehow managed to call Bittu.We made a plan and decided to elope. Bittu came to the railway station close to my village and I met him there. We just ran awaywithout thinking’ remembers Sangeeta.
They knew that if caught they could be killed and so they took the support of Love Commandos. ‘They made arrangements for
our marriage. I was touched to see that they had arranged new clothes, jewelry and flowers for the ceremony and we werehusband and wife,’ smiles Sangeeta.
Today, Bittu and Sangeeta have 3 children. They have moved from the outskirts of Delhi to the area of Jind, and from Jind theyhave moved to the border with the Punjab region. "The Sikh farmers are nice people here, they are different from the ones of thebigger cities", says Bittu. "We feel protected and more stable here", adds Sangeeta, "and we can grow our children safely andharmlessly". Bittu has found work for a family of Sikh landowners and cattle farmers, who provide them with shelter, food, agood pay and take care of their children's education. "Oddly enough, these Sikh farmers not from the city have a very openattitude towards people from other casts, religions or countries, and seem to know much more about real life than the ones I knowfrom the big cities", comments Bawa.
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