The 'love commandos' protecting young Indian couples
9, June, BBC
In India, "love" is still considered by many to be a dirty word with
most marriages arranged by parents along religious or caste lines. But a
group of "love commandos" are increasingly stepping in to protect Cupid
and his targets.Rajveer Singh is a handsome young man of 23. He has
large, earnest eyes and hair that falls over his forehead. He is
well-built, quiet, thoughtful.
When Rajveer was 12, a new family moved into the house across the
narrow alley. The first time he saw Madhuri, who was then 14, he says he
fell in love.
"I thought to myself 'this is the girl I want to marry'. She was
mischievous, she had a beautiful smile, and I knew she would look after
me."Madhuri, a petite, bright-eyed woman with a winning smile, says she
felt the same.
Over the years, as Rajveer and Madhuri went to school together and
shared their best hopes and worst fears, they fell utterly in love.You
know what happens next.
This is India, where parents vet a potential marriage partner like
Nasa scientists checking a space shuttle before
family,eating habits,Love just does not get a look in.So when Rajveer
and Madhuri told their families they wanted to marry, the answer was a
resounding "no". Rajveer's family are Thakurs, or landowners. Madhuri's
are Banias, or traders. Apparently incompatible. But they were
undeterred. As Madhuri's family took her back to the village to forcibly
betroth her to a more suitable boy, Rajveer hatched a plan. He called
the Love Commandos.Perhaps you are picturing them now - tall, chivalrous
men in tights, wielding swords and roses. Well, not quite. A group of
aging businessmen and journalists, the Love Commandos began 10 years ago
as a movement to protect lovers from harassment by both Hindu and Muslim
hard-liners.One of their co-founders, Sanjoy Sachdeva, is a rumpled,
white-haired hack whom I met after a series of phone calls. "Come to the
Imperial Cinema. Come alone. One of my commandos will meet you."Down a
fly-blown alley in Paharganj, near New Delhi railway station where
backpackers sip mixed fruit juice at cheap open stalls and disembowelled
televisions are repaired on the street, I met Sanjoy in one of the Love
Commandos' secret shelters.
It had all the charm of a broom closet. But in India, where falling
in love is a provocative social and political statement, a safe broom
closet can come in very handy.Sanjoy explained that the image of a
commando is central to the helpline he and his colleagues operate.
Indian lovers need protection and they need to believe that they will
receive it.Madhuri managed to escape from her relatives' house in the
village, and met Rajveer at the train station, knowing they were
guaranteed sanctuary back in Delhi. That same evening, they arrived at
the Love Commandos' shelter to find flowers, clothes and some simple
jewellery for Madhuri. More importantly, they found smiles of
encouragement and good wishes.Within hours they were man and wife.
On paper it is very Romeo and Juliet - or the eastern equivalent
Laila and Majnu - but in reality, rescuing lovers is expensive and
difficult. In Delhi alone the Commandos' monthly operation costs up to
$5,000.After pontificating about love over a cigarette, Sanjoy pins me
with his green eyes and says, plaintively: "We need money.