He ran India’s Love Commandos and sheltered runaway couples. But now he’s accused of abusing and extorting them

  • Love Commandos is a well-known shelter that offers refuge to desperate couples fleeing religious, family and caste pressures to get married
  • Sanjoy Sanchev, a former journalist who launched the NGO in 2010, is accused of confining the couples, threatening them and extorting money from them
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2019, 10:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2019, 11:22am

The head of Love Commandos, a celebrated Indian NGO which offers shelter to runaway lovers fleeing religious, family and caste pressures to get married, has been arrested on suspicion of extortion and abuse of desperate couples, officials said on Thursday.

Sanjoy Sachdev was arrested on Tuesday night after police and members of the Delhi Commission of Women (DCW) raided one of the shelter homes in Delhi, where four confined couples were freed.

“Two women came to us complaining and crying,” said Swati Maliwal, chairwoman of the DCW. “We visited the shelter home and found it in a horrible condition.”

She said two couples in the premises had said their identity documents had been taken away, that they have been forced to work and asked to provide arbitrary sums of money.

“They were told: ‘If you leave, we’ll call your parents and tell them your whereabouts’,” Maliwal said.

The couples accused Sachdev of drinking alcohol on the premises and pressuring the men to join in, she added.

Police on Tuesday commenced a criminal investigation against Sachdev, 58, on allegations of extortion, intimidation and confinement.

India’s Love Commandos: Secret refuge helping couples marry for love

A former journalist, Sachdev launched Love Commandos in 2010 after coming to the aid of a young man falsely accused of rape by the family of the woman he wanted to marry.

The organisation soon became well-known for providing safe houses and legal advice to couples who defied family, religious and caste pressures to get married in the conservative country.

It has been the subject of international documentaries and celebrity fundraising campaigns for its work.

We rescued these couples – who have been the subject of direct threats of honour killings
Swati Maliwal, chairwoman of the Delhi Commission of Women

Abuse and poor conditions have been discovered at dozens of shelter homes across India in the past year, sparking protests and calls for better regulation.

Maliwal said the Love Commandos shelter was not registered under any legislation and was not subject to inspections.

But neither the state nor the central governments provided any shelters for couples fleeing their families, leaving the commission in a bind, she said.

“It was very complicated for us … because we rescued these couples – who have been the subject of direct threats of honour killings from their families. We didn’t know where to send them,” she said. “There is no other shelter home.”

The vast majority of marriages in India are arranged by families and couples who defy the tradition to marry outside caste and religion face a severe backlash.

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Hundreds each year are the victims of so-called “honour killings” by close relatives to protect the family’s reputation.

There were 69 “honour” killings in India in 2016, according to the country’s National Crime Records Bureau, the most recent year for which data is available.

But the true rate is thought to be much higher, exacerbated by deeply patriarchal values and strong community systems based on caste and religion.

“Couples facing the threat of honour killing in our nation undergo immense trauma,” DCW chief Swati Maliwal said.

The Indian village where girls are groomed for a life of sex work

“For an NGO to extort and abuse these vulnerable youngsters in the name of helping them is extremely shameful and tragic.”

Sachdev is yet to be presented before court. His lawyers have been approached for comment.