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22 Sep, 2010 07:05

Love Commandos defend potential honor killing victims

A group of Indian men are tackling the problem of honor killings in the country by protecting those who have married against their families’ wishes.

A newly-formed helpline called Love Commandos is taking calls from distraught couples.

The Love Commandos include lawyers and social activists, and claims to have attracted 140,000 volunteers across India.

They have helped rescue many couples from death by forcing police to intervene.

Those in danger can now get instant help by simply dialing a number and telling their life is threatened or a girlfriend has been held captive.

The founder of Love Commandos, Harsh Malhotra, shares that “Whenever we get a call that a couple is being threatened, we contact our commandos and tell them to go there immediately to help them. If they face any problem, we inform the police. Our team of lawyers also reach there so that the couple is not attacked, threatened or mistreated.”

Sanjay and Aarti are a young couple in love who ran away from Agra. With their families against their marriage, they had nowhere else to turn.

“We made five complaints to the police, but no one took action. When I heard of the helpline I felt some hope. They [the Love Commandos] helped us right away and we are staying in their safe house now.” Sanjay Kateria says. “They are heaven-sent. Without them we may not have survived.”

The helpline started following the recent upsurge in “honor killings” in northern India. In some villages, local councils pass death sentences against couples for marrying outside their caste or within the same clan.

Love Commandos co-ordinator Sanjoy Sachdev would like to remind that “parents today have forgotten that they too were young at some point".

“They were also attracted to people and tried to fall in love. Not all were successful, of course. I think they take that frustration out on today's youngsters,” he says.

Anonymity remains a priority for the volunteers, who have been targeted by angry relatives and village councils. The helpline operates from five secret locations in the capital, and visitors are carefully screened.

The Love Commandos founder acknowledges that “The work we do, we have to do it quietly. If anyone asks us our address, we don't just give it to him. We first ask him to reach a public spot near our center. We check to see whether he's a troublemaker or hoodlum.”

“Only once we're sure that he needs help, then we take him with us,” Harsh Malhotra says.

Love can sometimes be a dangerous thing in India, especially in rural communities. But with the Love Commandos just a phone call away, a last there is a glimmer of hope for the many couples endangered by their feelings for each other.