Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Love Commandos help at-risk Indian couples

AFP, NEW DELHI

Abhishek Seth, 21, talks about his wife, 21-year-old Bhawna Yadav, whose parents and uncle are accused of conspiring to kill her after she married in secret, outside the Presidential Residence where he works in New Delhi on Dec. 18 last year.

Photo: AFP

Vandna left everything behind when she fled her parents’ home in India to be with the man she loved, giving up family, friends and the studies that she hoped would help her become a teacher.

It is thanks only to the Love Commandos, a New Delhi-based organization that helps desperate couples who have defied their families, that the 22-year-old and her new husband have a roof over their heads.

The organization is the brainchild of former journalist Sanjoy Sachdev, who launched it in 2010 after coming to the aid of a young man falsely accused of rape by the family of the woman he wanted to marry.

Since then, the Love Commandos have helped thousands of desperate couples in the socially conservative nation, giving them sanctuary in safe houses and access to legal advice.

The organization operates seven apartments in the Indian capital, but can also call on 300 couples to take in lovers fleeing relatives’ wrath for a short period.

“Some stay with us 14 months, others 14 hours,” Sachdev said.

Like many young women in India, Vandna was expected to marry a man chosen by her parents, who were furious when they discovered her relationship with Dilip, whom she married in July last year.

They first stopped her from going to college, where she was studying business and accounting, and then hastily arranged a marriage to a male relative.

That was the final straw, she said, and she fled the family home a day before the marriage was due to take place.

“I have not called my parents or my friends since I left,” Vandna told reporters, sitting beside her new husband in the modest apartment provided to the couple by the Love Commandos. “I want to be a teacher and my husband wants to set up his business, but we do not know when that is possible.”

India might be modernizing rapidly, but Sachdev says that violence against young people who choose their partners against their parents’ wishes is still a big issue.

“Because of caste, religious, economic or social status issues, many times parents still oppose their children’s relationship,” he said. “A lot of young people try to persuade their parents to accept their marriages, but that often ends with girls having their education stopped and being illegally detained. It can even end with honor killings.”

India has for centuries seen killings that target young couples whose families or communities disapprove of their relationships.

The killings are carried out by close relatives or village elders to protect what is seen as the family’s reputation and pride.

That was the fate of 21-year-old Bhawna Yadav, whose parents and uncle are accused of conspiring to kill her and dispose of her body after she married in secret.

Her family had wanted her to marry a man from the Yadav caste to which her husband, Abhishek Seth, did not belong. When they learned of the secret marriage, Bhawna’s parents asked Seth to let her go back to the community for a celebration, which he agreed to do on the advice of friends. Shortly afterward, he received a call from Bhawna’s cousin, who said that his wife had been killed and her body burned.

“We had so many plans,” Seth said. “She wanted to go to Goa on holiday and for us to have our arms tattooed with a heart and our initials” — a promise that he has kept despite his wife’s death.

Sachdev said horrific incidents like these often go unreported, with even police officials sometimes happy to turn a blind eye. He said that authorities need to do better at protecting young couples, and even calls on political parties to come up with an “agenda for the protection of lovers’ rights.”

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