The Underground Railroad For Taboo Indian Couples

By Nolan Moore on Thursday, February 6, 2014
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“Marriage is destinie, made in heaven.” —John Lyly, Mother Bombie

In A Nutshell

Northern India can be a pretty dangerous place for young lovers, especially if they want to follow their hearts rather than tradition. If couples violate certain cultural taboos, like marrying outside of their castes, their parents might actually murder them. When faced with death, these sweethearts can either break up . . . or call the Love Commandos. Led by Sanjoy Sachdeva, the Love Commandos protect young lovers from their parents and see to it these couples get stay together.

The Whole Bushel

Dharmender and Nidhi were crazy about each other. Growing up together in the Jat community of northern India, the two fell in love and wanted to get married. However, not everyone was thrilled with their wedding plans. According to their parents, marrying someone from your own community was on par with incest. Horrified that Dharmender and Nidhi would besmirch the family name, Nidhi’s relatives decided to take action. In September 2013, Nidhi’s parents and brothers publicly lynched the young woman. Then, after breaking his arms and legs, they chopped off Didhi’s head for all the neighbors to see.

The number of Indian honor killings has skyrocketed in the last several years, particularly in the north of the country. As India embraces more and more liberal ideas, old traditions are fighting back, especially where marriage is concerned. Arranged weddings are still the norm in Indian culture, and potential suitors must meet very strict guidelines. How dark is their skin? How tall are they? Where are they from? How much do they eat? What is their family like? What about their horoscope? Most importantly, what caste are they in? As far as parents are concerned, everyone must marry within their own group. Couples who break these taboos are putting their lives in danger. While there aren’t any official statistics regarding honor killings (largely because most are hushed up or reported as natural deaths or suicides), the US State Department said there were about 900 honor killings in northern India alone, just in 2012.

India’s Supreme Court has tried to crack down on honor killings, but so far, the legal system hasn’t stopped the khap panchayats, village councils who rule northern Indian communities and sanction hits on young lovers. So what’s a couple supposed to do when their family wants to murder them, and the village elders agree? They call the Love Commandos. Founded in 2010 by Sanjoy Sachdeva, the Love Commandos are committed to protecting sweethearts from parental reprisals. While none of the Commandos are exactly Navy SEALS (the organization is run by middle-aged businessmen and journalists), they have 11,000 members across the country ready to defend the star-crossed suitors physically and legally. Lovers on the run are guided through an underground network to one of seven hidden Commando centers where they’re given shelter, supplies, and even gifts like flowers and clothes. On occasion, the Commandos will even perform wedding ceremonies. Afterward, they’re kept safe from paid kidnappers and even police officers as infuriated family members often report their children as abducted.

Sadly, the Commandos are high in demand. They receive close to 300 pleas for help per day. Not only that, they’ve incurred the wrath of some powerful people. Khap panchayats around the nation have put a collective bounty of $40,000 on the Love Commandos. Despite the danger, the group has helped 30,000 couples get married as of 2013. And even though it’s an expensive operation, founder Sanjoy Sachdeva says it’s totally worth it. He believes that romance is the key to Indian equality. If young people fight against outdated ideas, then one day their grandkids will live in a world without honor killings, a world without prejudice. Sure, it’s risky, but it seems that lovers are up to the challenge. “Falling in love in India is not easy,” Sachdeva says, “but more couples are choosing to brave the consequences.”

Show Me The Proof

BBC News: The ‘love commandos’ protecting young Indian couples
NY Times: Letter to the Editor: Honor Killings in India
Another ‘Honor Killing’ In India: This One Even Features A Beheading