These Commandos of Love Help Couples Cross Culture Divides All Over the World
Love Commandos, an organization based in Delhi, has resolved caste and culture issues to help couples in 40 countries come together.
Last month, tensions were high in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir when Shifah, a Ladakhi woman formerly called Stanzin Saldon, married Murtaza Aga of Kargil.
The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) wrote to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to annul the marriage by threatening communal unrest. Saldon converted to Islam in 2015 and took the name Shifah. The 30-year-old woman married Aga, 32, in 2016.
“Young girls are being lured by Muslim boys to marry and finally convert them to Muslim… we have repeatedly asked the Muslim community leaders… to sensitize their communities to stay away from such wicked and depraved act which otherwise will lead to communal unrest, and the district administration will be solely responsible,” the letter dated Sept. 7 said, the Hindustan Times reported.
Shifah and Aga got married after much opposition from both families. But theirs is a case among several hundreds that come to light each year, says Sanjoy Sachdev, the chairman of Love Commandos. The non-governmental agency, founded in 2010, is involved in helping such couples not only in India but also abroad. Till date, they have helped 40,000 couples, Sachdev says. Every year they get requests from 200-400 couples who live in different countries and need help to get married. The organization tries to work out things for them if one or both the partners are Indian.
The group catapulted to fame when Bollywood actor Aamir Khan interviewed them during his television talk show, Satyamev Jayate, that discussed social issues like honor killing, perhaps the most serious aftermath of inter-faith couples falling in love. While the issue is getting increasingly highlighted, instances of religious bodies across faiths interfering in something as personal as marriage fail to surprise most people now. The widely-held belief that a marriage is not between two people but between two families often results in opposition for the alliance, forcing couples to either bow down to their expectations or elope. In some cases, one partner or both are killed, in case of honor killing, or commit suicide.
The fear which engulfs most couples is evident from the fact that the Love Commando helplines — 931378437 and 09313550006 — ring incessantly. The message boards on their websites spill with cries of help. One such message reads: “Sir my GF and me love each other but her parents don’t want to listen to her. They are not giving her chance to see any boy and forcefully marrying her. She wants to elope with me and do court marriage. But her parents has link with police officials. Please advise us what we can do.”
The NGO, with branches in Delhi and many other cities, has close to 1 million volunteers. Some of the volunteers are couples who got married with the help of the organization. It provides shelter to couples, who stay anywhere between 14 hours and 14 months.
Sachdev admits that not all cases are easy to resolve, recounting the story of a man working with an Indian chief ministers who is in love with a woman in Pakistan. They are not sure if they would be able to help the two considering the circumstances between the two countries, Sachdev tells Little India.
He goes on to talk about an Indian couple living in London where the girl’s uncle is a key member of the Shiv Sena party in Maharashtra, and the boy is Muslim. They wrote to the foreign affairs office in the United Kingdom to help the couple and the matter is now in process.
The organization also came to the aid of a Dutch girl who wrote to them for help. She had been in a live-in relationship in the Netherlands with an Indian man from Punjab, who left her when she got pregnant and returned to get married. Love Commandos, however, helped them get reconciled and the two will get married soon.
Sachdev says the agency has helped people from 40 countries so far, including Australia and Switzerland. These couples in turn give shelter to others abroad.
“Indians who live outside have taken the caste issue abroad and are spreading fundamentalism there. We want to appeal to people to believe in love,” said Sachdev.
Caste is a major issue that the group faces. In a video posted on the Love Commandos Facebook page, a woman named Rajkumari narrates her experience. “I am from Mathura. My husband and I were in a relationship for five years. We were from different castes. Our parents did not approve. My parents threatened to kill me, my husband and his family,” she says in the video. “We eloped and married, and asked the Allahabad court for help. But we didn’t feel safe and went to Nainital. After watching Satyamev Jayate’s episode on inter-caste marriage, where we heard of Love Commandos for the first time we were inspired to speak to them. We sought shelter with them and received it.”
The organization was started by Sachdev when a friend’s son was jailed under the charge of rape in 2010 even though the girl said she had given consent to the relationship. Her father had filed charges against the man, but Sachdev and others intervened, and he was released. Today, they are proud parents.
Their work does not get them only gratitude though. Their mission of spreading love, and stopping the cycle of arranged marriages, which Sachdev says is a business and forced exercise in most cases, has been a difficult one. But they have no intention of giving up despite threats to their lives. Bounties have been announced on their name by Khap panchayats.
“Our group has been attacked but we are not going to get scared,” Sachdev says. “We will keep working.”