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Is Your Love Under Threat? Meet The ‘Love Commandos’ Who Claim To Have A Solution

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By Manira Chaudhary:

14th September 2011, Pahar Ganj, Delhi, India. The Love Commandos L-R: Sonu Rangi, Commando Coordinator; Rajesh Malhotra, Delhi State Coordinator; Harsh Malhotra ,Chief Coordinator; Govinda Chand, Delhi State Commando Coordinator; Sunil Sagar, Commando Trainer. The Love Commandos is a small organisation that was established in July 2010 and is based in Delhi. It is staffed by Indian activists devoted to providing help and assistance to Indian couples facing threats, violence, monetary difficulties and other problems associated with love marriages in India. Specifically they tackle the iniquity of so-called 'honour killings' that are still so common across the country. The Love Commandos have 2,000 plus volunteers from different spheres of life across the country. While founder Sanjoy Sachdeva is a journalist, his Chief Coordinator Harsh Malhotra is a garment businessman. They also have lawyers, doctors, daily wagers and others as volunteers. They have five centres in the national capital plus there are others in Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. So what do they do when they get a distress call? "Initially, we try to counsel the couple over the phone. If the matter is serious, then we send out a team to the area, which will take help from the local police to rescue the couple. Then depending on what they want to do, we either marry them off or give them protection till they reach a decision. Most police forces cooperate with us except for the Uttar Pradesh police, which is a shame, because we receive maximum number of distress calls from UP," Sachdeva says. PHOTOGRAPH BY AND COPYRIGHT OF SIMON DE TREY-WHITE + 91 98103 99809 + 91 11 435 06980 +44 07966 405896 +44 1963 220 745 email: simon@simondetreywhite.com
Courtesy: Love Commandos website.

The website says, “no more honour killings,” under their name – ‘Love Commandos’. Ours is a country where honour killings and violence against people who dare to go beyond entrenched conservative norms and decide to marry a person from another caste or religion are regularly reported in national dailies. An organisation like Love Commandos, thus, seems like the need of the hour.

The organisation claims to provide assistance and refuge to couples who do not receive support for their relationships from their families or, worse, experience threats for the same. Started in 2007, Love Commandos has a core team of six people under the leadership of Mr. Sanjoy Sachdev and claims to have about 20 lakh volunteers across the country. In a short period of time, the organisation claims to have rescued/helped over 45,000 couples.

As unwarranted threats of violence by some right-wing fundamentalist groups loom over couples on Valentine’s Day every year, we interviewed Love Commandos to understand how they go about their mission.

Why does Love Commandos do what it does? What is the inspiration and thought behind it?

We help the couples in distress or under threat of murder or violence in the name of so-called honour to get married and remain safe. We provide them free shelter, food etc. till they are safe. However, they need to bear the expenses on legal documentation, marriage at a lawfully valid place, registration under tatkal scheme and its legal documentation, with other district/state resident waivers, conversion (if needed) and protection.

The inspiration and thought [behind this] is that we believe that “love begets love” and only love can bring world peace.

Were there any objections that you faced from people initially, considering our society is still plagued with conservatism when it comes to love affairs?

Such objections are routine and keep on coming. Threats are always there but we are not worried as we know from the core of our hearts that love always blossoms.

What are the problems that you’ve faced from the families of people who reached out to you for help? Share some instances with us.

There are a large number of incidents, threats and attacks and it is not possible to describe them in a few words or single some of them out here. If reports in the media are to be believed, there are huge bounties on the heads of our leaders in the core team placed by Khap leaders, ‘caste leaders’ and fundamentalist outfits but we are not bothered as we believe that “Love shall rule the world one day.”

Why do you think people have to elope to get married? What is the biggest reason, in your experience, of the opposition they face from their families?

Because families expect respect from them but do not respect the feelings of love of their wards. It appears that [many] parents failed in love in their own time and are now punishing their wards for no fault [of theirs]. Love is [our] nature and none can stop nature from spreading, but families that think children, especially females, are their property and [commit all sorts of] atrocities against lovers.

No political party in the country has any agenda for the protection of lovers’ rights and that’s why families can resort to unlawful methods. Resolutions of our Parliament, articles of the Constitution and directions of the Supreme Court support lovers but the saddest part is that the administration and police all over the country are bent upon oppression and suppression of lovers.

There are some right-wing organisations who are staunchly against the celebration of Valentine’s Day and instead want to re-baptise the day as one to worship one’s parents. What do you have to say about that?

It is their right to say what they want but we do not agree with that. In our opinion, Valentine’s Day is the only secular festival in the world [since it is] is not linked to any religion, caste or creed even nation. It is celebrated the world over by young males and females whether they are Hindu, Muslim Christian, Sikh, Jew, Dalit, ‘Forwards’, ‘Backwards’, residents of villages, towns, cities, metros. It is the most important festival and none should attempt to derail this festival of nature and youth.

What does your day look like every 14th of February? Do more couples reach out for help on this particular day?

It is like every [other] day but definitely our volunteers all over the country are more alert to take on the fundamentalists. Youth can call our helplines 09313784375/09313550006 if they feel any threat or [are in] grave danger. The youth [present] at venues of Valentine’s Day celebrations should feel that they are volunteers of Love Commandos and if they find anyone troubling the celebrators, all [of them] should gather at once and chase away those anti-social elements bent upon spoiling Valentine’s Day.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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