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Is love a crime?

India, July 20 -- South Asia and perhaps middle-east Asia are the only regions of the world where parents have to find partners for their adult children. Ironically, the same parents expect their children to do well in studies, professions and life while the government is banking on the army of young citizens to make India a global leader; sadly, neither can trust them with choosing their life partners. At the slightest hint of young persons' interest in getting married to someone of their choice, the prejudices of parents based on caste, religion and other differences crop up. And for those who dare the society and go ahead with marrying a person of their choice hell breaks loose. The Police, khap (caste) panchayats and other parts of State machinery connive to create hurdles for the young lovers. Instance of parents hiring killers and khap panchayats ordering murders of young lovers are also common.

Is India no place for the younger generation, to whom, love happens as naturally as breathing?

Ask Sanjoy Sachdeva this question and he agrees. The Delhi based lawyer Sachdeva and his four other friends, have been helping couples who are in conflict with the society in marrying each other. Five years ago, Sanjoy and Harsh had founded a volunteer group called "Love Commandos" for the cause. The idea was to unite lovers, support them with legal aid, moral support and shelter as they are hounded by police, parents and sometimes, even hired killers. So far, Love Commandos has rescued about 40,000 couples. Sachdeva feels the battle for the rights of younger persons in India is a long drawn battle as the system is against their freedom to choose life partner.

Sanjoy Sachdeva spoke about his experiences to Aasha Khosa in an exclusive interview to Indian Currents:

IC: How serious is social resistance to love and freedom to choose life partner in India?

Sanjoy Sachdeva: This is a major problem spread across the country. If we, as a nation, cannot trust our youth in selecting their life partners, how do we expect them to run the country. Now imagine 30 per cent of the Indians are below 25 years of age. This is the group which is finding society and the system oppressive when it comes to their freedoms. Where are we headed to?

IC: In your experience, which Indian society is apparently the most and which the least oppressive?

The seven north eastern states are most free places for the youth. We rarely receive a call from lovers in distress from the region. Once in a while, there is a call from Assam, where the religious differences are deepening day by day. Uttar Pradesh, in my opinion is the worst case scenario, where the society and the system are so anti-youth. However, we, at the Love Commandos office get calls from all over the country. States like Goa and Kerala, which did not have history of violent social conflicts, are also suppressing young people because of the rising fundamentalism. Also, today's youth has become more assertive and may be this is the reason for growing distress calls to us. So far we have been able to help 40,000 couples.

IC: The law of the land should be protecting such young people. What is your experience?

SS: The saddest part of the story is that the law enforcing agencies have deep-rooted prejudices and patriarchal notions. For them, the 'girl always runs away' (ladki bhaag gayi) with a boy and a young man always makes a gullible girl (woman) fall in love with him and run away into marrying him. Police is of no help to these lovers. The police do not even obey the law of the land and connives with oppressive parents and society in stifling the voices and choices of the younger generation. Nuptials may be viewed as a matter of honour by the parents but the police too cannot have the same notions. Recently, a man from Orissa and a Bengali girl were coming to our shelter in Delhi when the parents of the two connived with police; both were made to believe at the airport that parents are ready to accept them. This was a trap and today the man and woman are living separately and we are fighting for their reunion.

IC: Are you suggesting changes in the law or proper implementation of the legal freedoms available to the men and women who want to marry?

SS: The Police have to be told in clear terms that Article 21 of the Constitution gives freedom to all adults to marry a person of his/her choice. This has to be respected. Supreme Court has categorically told the lower courts that they must be very cautious in charging men of rape while they are actually lovers or newly married couples against whom the parents have lodged complaint of kidnapping the girl. This, unfortunately, has not changed the ground situation especially in states like Uttar Pradesh, where police is extension of social system.

The law says no telephone can be tapped without orders of very senior officers. But when a young couple in love is running away to safety, the police tap their mobile phones to track their movements. No action is taken against them.

Legally, we want the government to make the age of marriage same for both sex. In India a girl can marry at the age of 18 and a man at 21. This is discriminatory and again a chauvinistic approach, which is at variance with the laws in other countries. Parliament had abolished the clause of guardianship in the Hindu marriage Act in 78, but the mind-set still prevails. Why is government not running campaigns on this on the national television?

IC: How much blame should go to the politicians?

Going by the records of Parliament, one realizes that it was Chaudhary Charan Singh who had proposed to the Jawahar Lal Nehru government reservation in jobs for mixed marriage couples. His idea was to encourage mixed marriages for a united India. But today, going by records of the calls that we receive, the Jat community which regards Singh as their tallest leader, is the most oppressive to their young children. Likewise, Haryana is the first state in the country where the government had appointed women protection officers at district levels. Look at the politics. The new BJP government headed by a RSS man takes over and it abolished the post. The government order was reversed only after court intervention.

IC: What is the progress in the law on honour killings?

SS: The UPA government had drafted a law on honour killings which has been approved by 22 states. The new government had promised to make a law against honour killings at the first instance. This is yet to happen.

IC: How do young people feel about this?

SS: This is having a devastating effect on young minds. In the last Lok Sabha elections, we had run a small social media campaign asking young people to support and vote for candidates who support freedom of lovers. We do not have enough means to run a national campaign, but still our campaign asking the younger voters to choose NOTA (None of the above) option as none of the candidates had cared to address this burning problem. The campaign had a desired effect as 63.5 lakh voters pressed the NOTA button. This should be a hint of the ticking bomb of youth's anger for the polity to make changes in law and attitudes.

IC: The youth of India are angry. This is not a good augury for a nation that wants to lead the world.

SS: Yes, that unfortunately is the reality. As no political party bothers to address the problems of younger generation, you should notice youth not taking interest in politics. A young person would ignore a news channel and go for music or something else. The connection is missing.

IC: Where do you want to take your campaign to?

SS: In five years, we have managed to help people not across India but also abroad. Right now we are in the middle of uniting an Iraqi girl and an Indian man who are in love. We have seven shelter homes for young lovers in Delhi and about 400 makeshift shelters across the country. These shelters are the homes of those young couples, whom we had helped by way of protection and lodging and boarding in the initial days. This is a human chain, which will only grow in coming years. This is the war for love and we have to conquer it at any cost.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Jul 20, 2015
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