“Pyaar karna paap nahi, Virodhi hamara baap nahi” (It’s not a sin to fall in love, if somebody opposes it, he’s not your father) chants Sanjoy Sachdeva, the chairman of the Love Commandos. Twenty years ago, he learnt the risks firsthand when a crossed connection on a phonecall led him to fall in love with the woman who now – after opposition, blackmail and beatings from her family – is his wife.
In India, where 90% of marriages are arranged by families and 40% of brides are minors, love doesn’t stand a chance. The country’s complex caste system, social prejudices and a knack for believe any drivel that holy men preach, means that there are a number of factors that could cause a couple’s families to reject their plans of marriage. First, there is the matter of caste, then subcaste, followed by the family’s origin, their eating habits, the bride’s skin complexion, and then the clincher – whether their horoscopes match. The problem is, that a family doesn’t just reject the suitor or abandon the couple – they often hunt them down and kill them. The terribly-named ‘honour killings’ are on a rise in India, with over 1000 young lovers being killed by their own families every year.
Enter the Love Commandos, a motley group of ageing businessmen and journalists in Delhi who fight to protect the country's lovers. The Commandos have set up a 24 hour helpline, a legal wing to help couples with paperwork, and seven secret hideouts where they take couples who they have rescued from the clutches of their families. The hideouts are no bigger than broom closets, but have housed grateful couples for up to two months while the hunt for them subsides.
The commandos claim to be "the world’s only volunteer force that protects lovebirds". It's probably true, considering that there aren't many places where even 'lovebirds' need protection.
Image: The Love Commandos with movie star Aamir Khan. Source: The Love Commandos.