India

India Love Commandos head arrested after couples report abuse

File photo of the Indian head of the Love Commandos NGO Sanjoy Sachdev Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sanjoy Sachdev offered safe houses to desperate couples

Police in India are questioning the head of an organisation known as Love Commandos for alleged extortion and abuse of couples living in his shelter.

Sanjoy Sachdev was arrested and four couples were rescued on a complaint by the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW).

Mr Sachdev set up the group to provide safe houses to couples who had angered their families by marrying outside of their caste or religion.

Some of the couples alleged they were being held against their will.

Love Commandos, an NGO founded in 2010, grew in popularity after Mr Sachdev appeared on the popular TV show Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Triumphs), hosted by Bollywood star Aamir Khan.

In largely conservative India, relationships in the same village - outside caste and faith - and within the same gotra (clan on father's side), are forbidden by families and hard-line village councils.

In many instances, couples who defy these traditions have been victims of so-called "honour killings".

In recent years, shelters have been set up around the country, many of them run by the police, to provide safe houses to runaway couples.

"The couples facing the threat of honour killing in our nation undergo immense trauma. For an NGO to extort and abuse from these vulnerable young persons in the name of helping them is extremely shameful and tragic," DCW Commissioner Swati Maliwal said, adding that all "necessary assistance will be provided" to the couples.

The police raided the shelter because the commission had received a complaint from a resident of the home, a press released issued by Ms Maliwal's office said.

The couples alleged that Mr Sachdev would often get drunk and misbehave with the women, that he took away their important documents and threatened to destroy them if they wanted to leave the shelter, and that he also unleashed three dogs on the residents if they did not follow instructions.

"All the four couples were being ill-treated, [they were] illegally confined by force and were forced to pay huge arbitrary sums as fees," the commission said in a press release, adding that they have now been moved to a safe house.

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