In 2016 the Indian government reported an astronomical surge in officially recorded honor killings. Official government statistics on honor killings showed a year on year increase of almost 800%. That’s an increase of 223 honor killings in just one year from 28 in 2014 to 251 in 2015. So, in desperate times, who you gonna call? The Love Commandos of course.
The Love Commandos, headquartered in Delhi, are an NGO set up in 2010 by Sanjoy Sachdev and Harsh Malhotra. The organisation helps young couples escape abusive families by providing safe houses, food and in some cases helping to arrange marriages.
“We do not agree that this arranged marriage is tradition,” states Sanjoy Sachdev, co-founder of the Love Commandos.
“Making an arrangement that means forcing marriage upon one. And forced marriage is an international crime.”
“If an 18-year-old boy can choose the prime minister of the country, why can’t he choose his life partner?”
The Love Commandos place themselves in harms way daily and are at the forefront of a hidden and sometimes deadly battle with fanatical families throughout India. These stalwarts dubbed ‘warriors of love’ are in direct opposition to those who are trying to maintain the archaic markers of caste, clan and religion that have dominated Indian society for centuries.
With over 11,000 volunteer Love Commandos spread throughout India the organisation is growing to meet the increasing demand it faces. Love Commandos have also set-up 24 hour telephone lines, provide legal help and even organize marriages themselves. That’s fairly incredible for an organisation that operates on an extremely tight budget and survives on donations.
The heart of their network is based in Delhi where they have a chain of safe houses dotted around the city. The phones ring constantly and volunteers could be asked to provide protection, safe passage for couples or even help with arranging marriage documentation. It’s only when a couple get married that they secure legal rights.
Harsh Malhotra is the other co-founder of Love Commandos. Discussing what happens when young couples find the organisation he states:
“When they get here they’re really scared,”
“They are like children for us. These couples come here because their parents didn’t give them enough love and affection.”
Sadly, Sanjoy Sachdev divulges, past threats have been so serious the organisation has had to relocate premises.
“Many want to kill us,” he says. “The caste councils and clan councils (khap panchayats) have put huge bounties on our heads.”
“India is sitting on a volcano,” he laments. “The youth has lost faith in the system.”
“The caste system and society’s conventions should change with time,” he says. “If water stays stagnant at the same place, it starts getting polluted.”
“To save this country,” Sachdev says, “it is most important to save love, lovers and love relationships.”
What are the Indian government doing to tackle the honor killing problem? Well, they’ve started to count honor killings separately from other crimes. Well, whoop-de-doo, those politicians are really grabbing the bull by the horns aren’t they.
What reason could the politicians have for not taking more affirmative action? Some cynics suggest that the voting influence and huge power of village councils (khap panchayats) are preventing stronger action. Village councils, referred to locally as khap panchayats, are widely acknowledged as instigators of policies and proclamations that maintain the traditions of honor killing.
Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Centre of Social Research, a non-profit organisation based in New Delhi believes progress is being made, albeit very slowly.
Kumari has been campaigning for a specific law which recognizes honor killings as illegal and subject to the same penalties as murder.
“I’m sure we will have a law eventually where people at least can go for some recourse,” said Ms Kumari. “”Slowly, slowly it has become an issue. They have started recording it, the figures started coming from all over the country and you see the data has really swelled.”
2015 was the first time that honor killing stats had been recorded separately. In fact a 2010 study by legal experts Anil Malhotra and his brother Ranjit Malhotra states that this figure is more likely to be closer to 1000 killings per year.
“These figures show that the government has to take this as a priority,” said Sudha Sundararaman, head of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. The AIDWA group published research in 2011 projecting annual honor killings of around 900 per year.
Sudha Sundararaman believes the lack of separate laws covering honor crimes distorts the true figures. Although the police are meant to count honor killing separately, they are still recording them against the larger murder classification.
In recent years the Indian government has launched a scheme to provide financial assistance to young couples who find themselves cast adrift.
The government scheme offers financial aid of 5 Lakhs (roughly $7,700) for successful applicants. However it has received withering criticism due to poor awareness and the extremely low amount of beneficiaries.
Meanwhile Sanjoy Sachdev, Harsh Malhotra and the Love Commando volunteers continue to fight the good fight.
“We have far too many problems in India to worry about someone choosing to love another,” states founder Sanjoy Sachdev, who married his wife because he chose to.
“How can society object to love relationships?” he questions. “Our young boys and girls have rights. India has become the country of killers of love.
“Every couple that approaches us is under so much pressure, so much stigma, where they feel they may be killed any minute.”
The Love Commandos accept donations via a number of different methods. If you’d like to help their cause visit their website.