In their half-a-decade existence, the group says it has helped over 42,000 couples.
Image source: Love Commandos/website

Sanjoy Sachdev is a busy man, juggling with practiced ease his profession as a journalist, which is his "bread and butter", and working as the Chairman of Love Commandos, an organisation which helps couples in love get married.

On a regular day, he is busy overseeing a few cases. One of the recent ones was about a 21-year-old woman from Jammu and Kashmir who eloped with a man to Ghaziabad last month and got married. However, when the couple approached lawyers seeking protection, the J&K Police caught them and, she claims, the couple were sent to Poonch, her hometown.

"They beat him up for two weeks in the police station. They even beat up the girl for nearly four days," Sachdev says.

The woman's family later took her home and got her married to a cousin at gunpoint. The husband is said to be still languishing in jail. The woman however managed to run away from home again a second time and is now being helped by Love Commandos.

The group’s journey started in 2010, when a young man in the national capital had been accused of rape and put behind bars.

"The girl was an adult and even stated that their relationship was consensual. The girl had also refused to undergo a medical examination. And yet, the Delhi Police lodged a case against the boy on the behest of the girl's father," says Sachdev.

It was while helping the man fight his case that Love Commandos was formed. 

Thanks to them, the man is now happily married to the woman whose father had accused him of rape. The couple are proud parents too.

As the group celebrated their fifth anniversary this July, not much seems to have changed as far as lovers in the country are concerned. From families not accepting their children's choice of partner, to moral policing and even honour killing, the issues that the group has to tackle are innumerable.

And yet, in their half-a-decade existence, the group says it has already helped over 42,000 couples.

On the first day of setting up a helpline, Sachdev recounts how they received over 7,000 calls. "We had a prepaid phone then, and this was even before the official launch of Love Commandos," he says.

Today they receive anywhere between 30 and 3,000 calls a day. "Each situation is different, with the threat perception varying from case to case," Sachdev says.

With nearly 18 lakh volunteers, many of them couples who have been helped by the organisation, and with over 400 shelter houses across the country, one major sticking point for the organisation is finances. 

"Running shelters is expensive. There's food, clothing, toiletries, bedding, water and electricity charges. We are neck deep in debt, so much so that people have refused to lend us money anymore," says Sachdev.

The organisation credits the media for not only spreading their cause but also helping them with funding.

Sachdev feels that youngsters today aren't familiar with the law, especially the police and lower judiciary, who can often exploit their gullibility.

Couples often try to convince their parents into accepting their relationship with their partners. However, when two consenting adults want to marry each other, there is no need for permission from their parents, says Sachdev.

"The Parliament had omitted the provision of guardianship in marriages way back in 1978. Our constitution permits us marriage by choice. The use of 'Mr and Mrs so-and-so invite you to the marriage of their son/daughter...' on wedding invitations is actually not valid," he says.

As a policy, Love Commandos does not communicate with the parents of the couples they are helping.

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A female student of LLB from Subharti University in Meerut was allegedly killed by members of her family on the night of October 10. Her body was then burnt and dumped in a water body. Her crime was that she was in love with a man her family did not approve of.

"She had gone home to persuade her parents into accepting her relationship," Sachdev says hinting at the irony.

Though honour killings are often seen as an occurrence common to north India, Sachdev says the situation is worse in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Fighting for love in a country, where a majority are still not comfortable with the idea of two people choosing their own life partners, has generated a backlash from certain quarters, which was only expected.

In the case of the Love Commandos, being ambushed, attacked, getting threats to life with some even putting a bounty on their heads, is something members and volunteers have got used to.

"We do inform the police of the threats we receive. We have also written to the PMO and Home Minister. But, at the end of the day when we step out to help or even save lovers, we don't really know whether we'd come back alive," Sachdev says.

Though the organisation fights for love, not all its members are die-hard romantics. There are ones like Sachdev who had an arranged marriage, because he did not have the "time for love".

"I had an Arya Samaj wedding and I took my and my wife's family for lunch in a chole-bhature stall outside the temple. My father-in-law gave me a suitcase. I told him, 'attaichi do ya ladki de do' (give me the briefcase or your girl). Finally we settled on Re 1 and a handkerchief."

And then there are those like Harsh Malhotra, the Chief co-ordinator of Love Commandos. "He married his wife six times. Must be some sort of a record," Sachdev guffaws.

Lovers in the country are reluctant to fight for their own rights, Sachdev feels. "They think Love Commandos will fight for them. But we are just a tool in their battle."

To make donations to Love Commandos, visit http://lovecommandos.org/

All photographs source: Love Commandos/website

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