Meet the love commandos
Calling themselves 'Love Commandos,' a group of volunteers including lawyers, journalists and human rights activists offer counsel through a helpline, provide shelter to lovebirds seeking a safe nest and even help them get married.
Most of the calls come from western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, from where many honour killings have been reported. On getting a call from desperate lovers, the volunteers inform the police and activate their legal cell in that area. If the police don't respond, they move the courts seeking legal protection for the couple.
The group believes love is a means towards creating a classless society.
"In a love marriage, evils such as dowry and ostentation are rooted out," says lawyer Pradeep Chowdhary.
So, Love Commandos (LC) encourage marriages and alliances that challenge conventions of caste or religion.
For instance, Sanjeev Kumar, a Dalit lecturer of Maths in Una, Himachal Pradesh, eloped with Lavangna Joshi, his Brahmin student, in 2010. They got married and went to Jammu. When the girl's parents intimidated her and threatened to get their marriage annulled, they sought refuge in an LC centre for two weeks.
"It was a home away from home. They also helped us get a police protection order after getting the Home Ministry involved," says Kumar.
Similarly, in Khammam, Andhra Pradesh, when engineering student K Anitha Reddy converted to Islam to marry MA Mujahed, all hell broke loose.
"We escaped a number of attacks from her relatives," says Mujahed.
After marrying in January 2011, they hid at a Love Commando centre in central Delhi for 25 days.
"During this time, they contacted the director general of police in Andhra Pradesh and got us a protection order. Still, the attitude of a majority of cops is callous," he says.
On July 7 last year, a group of like-minded friends launched Love Commandos as a movement against honour killings, with a telephone helpline, recalls chief coordinator Harsh Malhotra.
"We got the first call at 5.52pm. The phone hasn't stopped ringing since. I didn't realise the problem of lovers in distress was so widespread."
The group now claims to have 5,00,000 members from across the country. The helpline is free and the operation funded by an annual contribution of Rs 100 from the volunteers. The movement helps girls above 18 and boys above 19 years get married. They also provide services of priests, imams and pandits to conduct wedding ceremonies.
"We prefer not to call ourselves an NGO, since we don't seek funds from the government," says their chairman Sanjay Sachdev.
Volunteers often get threatened by angry relatives and local politicians. So, they maintain secrecy about the location of their helpline centre.
One of the callers to the helpline was an Indian boy working in Australia who married a girl in Dera Baba Nanak, Punjab.
"The girl's family hid her at her aunt's home in Amritsar," recalls Malhotra.
"We approached the police and they promptly rescued her at 6am the next morning. The girl, 22, wished to stay with her husband. Now she is set to join him in Australia after her studies."
Over the last year, claims Sachdev, his group has helped more than 5,000 people get married. The commandos built bridges with lawyers, who pitch in with legal aide for distressed lovers.
"They are working for a noble cause. So we have no qualms pitching in with pro bono assistance," says advocate Navkiran Singh, a human rights lawyer with the Punjab and Haryana high court.
The most common complaint that the commandos get on the helpline is that the couple's parents are threatening to kill them. Many times, says Malhotra, the police look the other way.
"Still, after a year, they've come to realise that we are working for a good cause. Now, even the cops have begun to help us."
Last heard, they helped a love-struck Delhi Police constable marry the daughter of a sub-inspector in Uttar Pradesh.
Lovers in distress can call the helpline at 9313784375.