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New Delhi: In the face of a spurt in the number of reported honour killings in the country, couples marrying against their family wishes and khap panchayat norms have a ray of hope as a novel civil society initiative is reaching out to protect them.
Dubbing themselves 'Love Commandos,' a motley group of volunteers comprising lawyers, journalists, professors, actors, students and human rights activists are through a telephone helpline offering counsel and safety to love-struck couples facing the wrath of families and village elders.
"We receive calls from lovers from all over the country," says Harsh Malhotra, a social activist and Chief Coordinator of the helpline that has been operating out of a secret location.
Active from July 7, the helpline had on the first day itself received hundreds of calls mostly frantic couples who rang up seeking help.
The group requires member 'commandos' to be above 18 years of age and without any political party affiliation. It currently has over 90,000 members and the numbers it claims have been swelling.
Around 2000 commandos are working round the clock at present for the helpline.
Most of the calls received come from the areas in western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, regions from where most of the honour killings have been reported.
"Upon receiving a call from the desperate lovers, Love Commandos inform the police and also activate their legal cell in the area. If police do not respond, they then promptly move court seeking legal protection for the couple," Malhotra said.
The Love Commandos also help the lovers, who have crossed the age-limit of 18, for girls and 19, in case of boys, in getting married. The group also provides the services of priests, imams and pandits to conduct marriage ceremonies.
Khap panchayats are local caste councils in northern India which are against inter-caste and same gotra (sub-caste) marriages.
'Honour killings' have not been a new phenomenon in India, but in recent times such killings are being reported at a much frequent pace.
Some of the recent high-profile cases of alleged 'honour killing' include that of Delhi-based 23-year-old journalist Nirupama Pathak and Punjab University's 25-year-old research scholar Shama Shukla.
Some stories with happy endings have already started to pour in after the efforts of the Commandos. In one such incident, they managed to rescue a girl from a village in
Rewari district in Haryana after she called the commandos for help.
Facing strong resentment from her family over her choice of groom, a girl, Shruti (name changed) rang up the helpline around midnight asking for help.
"Commandos contacted the police and after the proper proof was furnished to the police that her life is in danger, she was rescued by a police team at 2:30 in the morning," says Malhotra.
However, in this battle to safeguard the love birds, even the 'Love Commandos' are not safe. Malhotra says that they continuously receive threats and that their effigies were burnt at several places by right-wing activists.
This has also prompted Love Commandos to maintain utmost secrecy over the place from where they operate their helpline. Nonetheless, they have kept this fight on, and do so with courage and determination.
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