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These 'commandos' rescue distressed lovers

Last updated on: October 22, 2010 21:25 IST

Love commandos to counter 'honour killings'

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Pyaar karna paap nahi hain, Virodhi humaara baap nahi hain" (Love is not a sin, we won't get bogged down by oppressors). With these lines, a group of likeminded individuals in New Delhi have united to help inter-caste couples tie the knot without fear of getting killed for 'honour' throughout the country, reports Sahim Salim

They call themselves the Love Commandos, and their popularity can be measured from the statistics. In just over three months, they have put together 2,000 volunteers, 12 helplines and have about two lakh pending membership applications. They have conducted over 6,000 inter-caste love marriages and counselled thousand others. 

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Image: Sanjoy Sachdeva, Love Commandos founder
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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'Helping lovers keeps me so busy, I can't even go to office'

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The founder of Love Commandos met this correspondent at their center in Paharganj, New Delhi. It is a very low profile office in the bylanes of a basti in Paharganj. The room is set up with a bed for seating arrangements and a desk that houses a pile of files and papers. There is an inter-caste couple living in the office, who the Love Commandos had rescued two months ago.

As we sip our tea, the founder, Sanjoy Sachdev, editor of an English daily, says that ever since the Love Commandos were born, he has not been able to do his daily job properly.

"I am the chief editor of an English daily called In Dino. Given my responsibilities at such a position, I have not been able to give a 100 per cent to my job. The helplines and helping lovers keep me so busy that I can't even go to my office daily," he says.


Image: The Love Commando identity card of founder Sanjoy Sachdeva
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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'On the very first day, we received 9,000 calls'

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His phone does not stop ringing. Sometimes, he is attending to calls from the Madhya Pradesh cops, who had requested him to give protection to an inter-caste couple or he is getting calls from distressed couples who seek their help. The commandos chief coordinator, Harsh Malhotra, says it is difficult to keep up with the volume of the calls.

"On the first day of Love Commandos (July 7, 2010), we received 9,000 calls. I tried to make a record of the numbers we received calls from, but gave up after three hours," he says.

He shows a notebook, in which he had recorded calls between 7.08 am to 10.18 am, which ran into a good five pages.

Nine years ago, Sachdeva, Malhotra and a string of others had met in Andolan Park in south Delhi to discuss the increasing attacks on young couples by Hindu fundamentalists on Valentine's Day.

"On that day, we recalled incidents in which a couple was forced to marry because they were seen holding hands and another couple was forced to take each other as brothers and sisters. In that discussion, we realised that Valentine's Day is the only festival which did not have religious connotations and it was a festival of the youth. We wanted it to remain intact. So Valentine's Peace Commandos were born. We launched a campaign called 'Nirbhay hoke manao Valentine's Day' (Celebrate Valentine's Day without fear)," Malhotra says.

The commandos then used to be armed with chilli powders and sticks to chase away Hindu fundamentalists from attacking young couples on the day.


Image: Harsh Malhotra, chief coordinator of Love Commandos
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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'Maximum number of distress calls from UP'

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We still send out our volunteers out into the field on Valentine's Day. In our meeting in August this year, a volunteer talked about the increasing number of honour killings in the country. We decided we needed to do something about it. That was when the concept of Love Commandos materialised. Within a month, we launched our helpline asking people to call us if they needed any help in getting married," Sachdeva says.

Chilli powder has now been replaced with jazzy looking pepper sprays and the number of helplines have increased to 12. There are 12 levels of call-receiving facility on the helpline. If the first is busy, by using the call forward facility, a call is forwarded to the second line and so on till it reaches Sachdeva's phone, which is the 12th.

The Love Commandos have 2,000 plus volunteers from different spheres of life across the country. While Sachdeva is a journalist, Malhotra is a garment businessman. They also have lawyers, doctors, daily wagers and others as volunteers. They have five centres in the national capital plus there are others in Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

So what do they do when they get a distress call?

"Initially, we try to counsel the couple over the phone. If the matter is serious, then we send out a team to the area, which will take help from the local police to rescue the couple. Then depending on what they want to do, we either marry them off or give them protection till they reach a decision. Most police forces cooperate with us except for the Uttar Pradesh police, which is a shame, because we receive maximum number of distress calls from UP," Sachdeva says.

The group has just succeeded in getting police protection for an inter-caste couple on the Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh border. Lokender Parihar, a Hindu from Jhansi and Femida, a Muslim from Datiya had tied the knot two years ago. Ever since, they have been on the run from their relatives. They have covered the whole of north India, trying to flee their relatives' wrath and finally approached the Love Commandos last month.

"They left for Madhya Pradesh just two days ago, after the director general of police there assured us that they will be kept in the protective custody in a central police control room till a compromise is reached," Malhotra says proudly.


Image: Chilli powder has now been replaced with pepper sprays to deter the anti-love brigade
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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'Love Commandos have been so kind to us'

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As we speak, a young couple enters the room. Sanjay, a Rajput, and Arti, a Thakur, had met and fallen in love at their basti in Agra. They had been rescued by the Love Commandos two months ago and ever since they have been living here.

"They have been so kind to us. We married in April this year and were living at the basti. Arti's relatives kidnapped and sold her at different redlight districts (in Agra, Mathura and Ferozabad) thrice in three months and each time I had to go rescue her. I got the helpline number of Love Commandos from a friend and immediately contacted them. They advised me to come here and here we are. Even the clothes we are wearing have been given to us by them," Sanjay says.

 

 


Image: Sanjay and Arti at the Love Commandos office (Their faces have been blurred)
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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'Commandos are receiving support from unexpected quarters'

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All in all, the Love Commandos have rescued 197 couples from Delhi and got them married. Across India, they have conducted over 6,000 marriages. And they have been receiving support from unexpected quarters.

One Vinay Sharma, who the commandos have never met, created a website called lovecommandos.org and put their helpline number in it. A woman named Anshu sent over 100,000 SMSes to people spreading the word about the commandos. And a courier company -- Professional Couriers -- has the commandos number on the back of their receipts.

"Gestures like these are overwhelming and make us believe our efforts are not going in vain. Our appeal to people who believe in love is that they should come forward and help us financially, socially and morally," Sachdeva says.


Image: A courier company has printed the Commando helpline numbers on the back of their receipts
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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