In a secret base somewhere in Delhi The Love Commandos are poised for action. Two muscled Indian men in grimy John McClane vests lean over a table. Their mirrored aviators reflecting the geometric scrawlings of rolled out blueprints and smoke from the fat Cuban cigars clamped between their pearly whites hangs heavy in the air. Behind them a man with a jaw like the hull of the Titanic is idly loading bullets into the clip of a black Glock 9mm. A walkie talkie crackles on the table. He slams the clip into the pistol and cocks it. “I’ll drive.”
This was the image that first sprung into my movie-addled mind when I heard of The Love Commandos. Unfortunately, or fortunately, reality is not Hollywood. Or even Bollywood. In the real world, the Commandos’ main base is a cramped room with paint peeling off the walls, and the smoke that fills the air is just from cheap cigarettes that are smoked in Herculean quantities. The real Love Commandos are a simply a group of regular looking middle aged men. Regular men who have devoted their lives to saving and protecting young couples from the vile and archaic culture of ‘honour killings’, but their heroism is just as impressive.
India is the world’s 7th biggest economy and growing. Indian universities and research programmes plough the way in medicine and science, they even have a space programme. Yet for many of its 1.3 billion inhabitants religion is still king, and where religion rules, no matter what the faith, progress, reason and common sense will always be choked out. Nothing proves this more brutally than honour killings, the horrifying medieval practice of murdering a family member for nothing more than the belief they have brought shame upon your family.
This ‘shame’ is almost always to do with relationships, usually nothing more than romantically associating with someone of a different caste, social status, or religion, having sex before marriage, being homosexual, or even being a victim of rape. For this, in the eyes of the honour obsessed, the only plausible punishment is death. And rarely a quick one.
Marrying for love is seen by many to be a western concept and something that flies in the face of family honour and family respect. Such is the weight that so many Indian communities place on the intangible concept of ‘honour’, that parents will torture and murder their own children without hesitation to try and maintain it. Distressingly, to these people, there is unquestionably more honour in burning your own daughter alive than seeing her marry someone of different social status.
The truly horrifying aspect of this however is the scale of it that still goes on in today’s rapidly modernising India. Many honour killings are kept quiet, disguised as suicide or disappearance, and often ignored or even encouraged by the local police and authorities, so there are no official figures. But it is estimated that in the provinces of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh alone, an estimated 900 honour killings occur every single year.
This is where The Love Commandos come in. This unlikely band of vigilantes run a network of secret offices and safehouses across Delhi and other Indian cities from which they rescue and protect young couples in love, and other victims who are fleeing the murderous intentions of family members and community elders. Often facing danger and death threats themselves in the process.
Now a new documentary by British filmmaker Miriam Lyons tells their fascinating story, not only winning accolades at film festivals around the world but helping to spread the word to these young couples that help is out there, and where they can find it. The trailer is below but you can watch the full thing here – The Love Commandos.
Harsh (left) and Sanjay (right)
The vigilante group was founded by Harsh Matora, then a travel agent, now an interior designer, and Sanjay Sachdeva, a journalist. Harsh was assaulted himself when his wife’s family found out they were in love and they had to elope. He has since married her 6 times, just because he can.
The Commandos are not only saving lives, they are saving love. Love is paramount to their cause because they believe it’s the only way to destroy India’s crippling caste system and help drag the country out of the dark ages. On first appearance they may seem more Bruce Forsyth than Bruce Wayne, but as Harsh Matora puts it, “This is a jungle, and someone has to roar in the jungle.”