Group helps lovers who run afoul of India's caste system
Published Sunday, January 8, 2012 10:23PM EST
In a country where class trumps love on marriage matters, a group of self-styled Indian love activists have come to the rescue of couples who rebel against the ancient -- and sometimes deadly -- caste system.
The volunteers call themselves Love Commandos and they've set up a Delhi office and hotline to respond to couples who run afoul of the rigid class rules. They provide police protection, legal advice and shelter if necessary.
Arranged marriages are common in India, a highly stratified society divided along class lines known as castes.
Cross-caste dating and marriage is frowned upon. Couples who breach the rules risk being ostracized -- even killed -- by family members. In some towns, local councils have passed death threats against couples for marrying outside their castes.
For Rahul and Puja, it was love at first sight. But their union spelled trouble with their families, who rejected their plans to marry. Puja comes from a higher class than Rahul. They eloped and now they're in hiding, helped by the Love Commandos.
"If they find us, we won't run, but we won't go back either," Rahul told CTV News.
Indian courts have enshrined the right to choose a marriage partner, but police often side with parents involved in marriage disputes with their children.
The Love Commandos began as a casual organization of volunteers. A spike in honour killings in northern India earlier this year prompted the ad hoc group to set up the national hotline. The group includes lawyers, academics, activists and students.
They have no real budget and rely on small donations by members. The group provides legal advice, notifies police if needed, and arranges shelter if a couple is in imminent danger.
"Couples can't stay in their hometown," said founder Sanjoy Sachdev. "Even if they are working we have to shift them elsewhere."
The group has grown to about half a million members and they claim to field hundreds of call per day, including threats from angry family members.
Couples who've turned to the Love Commandos for help say they're grateful. Puja told CTV that all she wants is a happy married life.
Is that possible?
"I think there is hope," she said.
With a report by CTV's Janis Mackey Frayer in New Delhi