Experts Tell You What To Do If Your Parents Are Hell Bent On Separating You And Your Lover


One morning in April, Sanjoy Sachdeva received four calls from a young Muslim man in Delhi who had converted to Hinduism to marry his Hindu girlfriend in a temple. A fortnight later, his wife was lured away by her family and forced to marry another man. When she finally managed to speak to him, she told him her parents had threatened to hand over her teenage sister to her new ‘husband’ if she fled or protested.

After that, Sachdeva attended two calls from a young man in Uttar Pradesh who said that his friends—a Hindu couple from different castes—had married in a temple in May, but now the girl was missing. The last call was from a politician’s daughter in Karnataka who had been forced to marry a man of the family’s choice after they came of know of her relationship with a man from a marginalised caste.

Sachdeva, a 60-year-old former journalist who heads the Love Commandos, an outfit that helps persecuted lovers, said calls like these are part of his daily routine.

In India, where most families still prefer to “arrange” their children’s marriage, with or without their consent, tales of couples from different castes and religions living together without outside interference are still the exception rather than the norm. When patriarchy is added to this mix, the results can often be deadly.

According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 71 reported cases of ‘honour killings’ in India in 2016 and 192 such cases in 2015.

Many cases, like the ones that come to Sachdeva, are never reported. Sachdeva claims that the Love Commandos have helped at least 50,000 young lovers in the eight years since it was set up, which translates to an average of over 6,000 couples every year.

“That is still the number of people we managed to help and who could get in touch with us,” Sachdeva said.

Advocate Ravi Kant, president of the NGO Shakti Vahini, which fought an eight-year-long legal battle to make the police accountable for protecting couples facing violence, said they receive hundreds of emails and calls every week from young people seeking legal advice.

The scourge, Kant says, cuts across caste, class and religion in India.

Except Love Commandos, there is no well-known organisation that is dedicated to helping couples facing violence from their families.

In most cases, said both Kant and Sachdeva, couples ask their friends to plot their escape from their families.

While it is next to impossible to predict the nature of violence and extent to which families can go to stop people from living together, it helps to keep a few precautionary measures at hand when faced with relentless harassment.

The following steps aren’t intended as gospel, but here’s a checklist to help consenting adults deal with this difficult and dangerous situation as best as they can.

Except Love Commandos, there is no well-known organisation that is dedicated to helping couples facing violence from their families.

1. Know Your Rights, But Be Wary of The Cops

Even though ‘honour killings’ have been common in India for years, there is no government institution exclusively dedicated to protecting couples from violence.

Sachdeva and Kant concur that most couples are wary of approaching the police, as local policemen are known to take the side of caste leaders and parents, rather than the couple seeking police protection.

This March, the Supreme Court ordered state governments to set up special cells in each district to help couples facing violence. It also laid down guidelines for police personnel to follow in these cases. But knowing how Indian bureaucracy works, it could be a while before all couples can benefit from this.

In the judgement, titled ‘Shakti Vahini vs Union of India’, the court laid down clear guidelines for the police, state and centre on how to deal with couples who are facing threats from their families or khap panchayats. If the police fail to protect a couple after being approached by them for help, the officers involved can face disciplinary action for misconduct or deliberate negligence.

“There was no such blanket provision initially, which allowed the police to act on their whims,” said Kant.

If the local police fail to take cognizance of the threat, the couple should approach the district magistrate or the superintendent of police, who in turn will direct an assistant superintendent to investigate the case. Contact details of these officials for each district are available on the internet.

If the couple suspect the police may turn on them, they can also send an acquaintance to apprise the police of their situation.

The order says: “The initial inquiry regarding the complaint received from the couple (bachelor-bachelorette or a young married couple) or upon receiving information from an independent source that the relationship/marriage of such couple is opposed by their family members/local community/Khaps shall be entrusted by the District Magistrate/ Superintendent of Police to an officer of the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police.”

The police must also investigate the situation within a week, take action against parties threatening violence and immediately provide logistical support and shelter to the couple.

A couple need not be married at the time of approaching the police with a complaint. The court has ordered the police to facilitate their marriage later only if they are keen to do so.

Irrespective of their marital status, the court has asked the police to help a couple stay in a safe house. They’d have to pay ‘nominal charges’ for the stay. They can stay there for up to a year, depending on the intensity of the threats they face.

Irrespective of their marital status, the court has asked the police to help a couple stay in a safe house.

2. Consider Getting Married ASAP

When a young couple elopes, the woman’s family often files false kidnapping charges against the man, leading to the latter’s arrest.

Kant suggests that if the couple in question is serious about their relationship, they should consider getting married without informing the families and register it. That gives them the required ammunition to counter false charges such as these. The first thing that Sachdeva’s Love Commandos does is get couples married immediately after they have managed to rescue them and move them into their Delhi NCR shelters.

“In case someone has eloped without marrying, if the families are vindictive enough, there’s a fair chance they’d file a abduction complaint against the man,” Kant said. “Though the police is supposed to take cognisance of the woman’s account, the absence of a legal stamp on the relationship gives lawyers and police room to contest her claims and suggest she is being forced by the man.”

In such cases, the police arrest the man and send the woman to her parents. In Kant’s experience, once the man and his family are busy chasing bail, the woman’s family threaten her to change her testimony.

However, some families don’t back off even when the couple is married.

In case someone has eloped without marrying, if the families are vindictive enough, there’s a fair chance they’d file a abduction complaint against the man.

3. Keep Proof Of Age Certificate Handy

In a complaint uploaded on a portal for free legal advice, a Muslim man narrated how his wife’s family filed a complaint in Noida, where the couple had eloped to, instead of the Haryana police station that they had first approached.

Sensing her family would create trouble, the man had sent documents of their marriage to the woman’s family by post and in a pre-emptive move, sent them to the local police station in Haryana as well. As a result, the family couldn’t lodge an FIR from the police station in their hometown. As the lawyers in the comments section pointed out, in such a situation, a man can always file for anticipatory bail by furnishing marriage documents and then fight the allegations without having to be separated from his wife.

It is also important that the woman has a proof of age handy or file an affidavit which supports the fact that she is an adult.

4. Ask For Court Protection

Couples can approach both lower courts and high courts and file a petition seeking protection. If the court finds it appropriate, it will direct the local police to provide protection to the couples. Couples can also seek to file restraining orders on their families at the courts.

5. Don’t Trust Your Parents if They Suddenly Have A Change of Heart

Kant suggests couples should be wary of their families abruptly toning down their aggression.

While it is normal to feel like one’s family can be trusted, couples should get married legally and alert the police before giving into their families’ insistence of meeting them.

He mentioned a case of two Supreme Court lawyers who have recently found themselves in a fix after the woman gave in to her family’s entreaties and went to visit them in Bihar. She is still locked up, while her husband is trying to organise police protection to go meet her.

Ashu Kumar, a doctor, ran a students’ group called ‘Human Rescue Team’, for a couple of years beginning 2010 when he was studying in AIIMS. He told HuffPost India that the couple could sent a formal intimation to the families about their relationship, mentioning the threats they have received, via a registered letter, which is also simultaneously addressed to several government bodies such as National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Women, the police and the local high court.

Kant suggests couples should be wary of their families abruptly toning down their aggression.

RESOURCES

1) Shakti Vahini’s Kant says that while they don’t have the resources to provide shelter to couples, they are ready to write letters on their behalf to superintendents of police and help them fight a legal battle. They can play an advisory role and help find lawyers. It will be the lawyer’s choice if he/she wants to accept a fee or not. Shakti Vahini will not charge couples money.

Shakti Vahini can be reached at 095829 09025.

2) If the threat of violence is staggering, then couples can enlist the help of the Love Commandos. According to Sachdeva, the group has eight shelters in Delhi NCR which can accommodate up to 100 couples. Apart from that, across the country, they have at least 500 makeshift shelters arranged by couples the organisation has helped in the past and who are now safe and in a position to help others. Couples have to first call the numbers given below, which, said Sachdeva, rings in 12 places and is answered by various people. HuffPost India called the number multiple times and the outfit’s chief coordinator Harsh Malhotra picked up the call every time. After the call, the couple will be asked to email the group proper identification, age proof and marriage documents if they are married.

In dire situations, they help the couple escape and give them shelter.

After that, the outfit gets in touch with its volunteers in the state or city and asks them to do a preliminary investigation of the situation. Once they have understood the intensity of the situation and are convinced of the couple’s commitment to be together, they try to use their resources to mobilise the local authorities to protect the couple. In dire situations, they help the couple escape and give them shelter. In case they provide shelter to an unmarried couple, said Sachdeva, they get them married immediately after they settle down in the shelter—in a couple of days. They facilitate all kinds of marriages—registered ones and ceremonial ones.

“The charges of the marriage have to be borne by the couple. Suppose you were getting married under normal circumstances, you’d have to spend Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 on ceremonies, right? Or pay the government charges for registering a marriage?” Sachdeva said, though he refused to disclose the exact amount they charge to get a couple married. Though Sachdeva said that under the Hindu Marriage Act, a ceremonial marriage is recognised, Kant suggested it is always better to register the marriage. Sachdeva added that they had once faced a police complaint for abetting abduction, but managed to “fight it off”.

Couples can stay in Love Commandos’ shelters as long as they perceive a threat to their lives. “The longest a couple has lived with us is 14 months,” Sachdeva said, adding that couples are encouraged to pay a small amount in rent, or help buy supplies, but they waive this off if the people are in an unstable financial situation. “In most cases, we discourage the couple from going out and working in the initial days. We cannot provide protection while they go to work, etc. So when things get better, we first ask the man to get a job, arrange for an accommodation, we inspect the arrangements and then ask the girl to join him,” he said.

While they live in the shelters, the couples share the responsibilities of cleaning, cooking and housekeeping.

If couples are put up in makeshift shelters, they have to abide by the rules of the couple taking them in.

The Love Commandos are funded by donations from across the world.

You can reach them at:

Numbers: 09313784375 & 09313550006

WhatsApp: 9311050004





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