India’s obsession with arranged marriages

Hey readers! Today I want to unravel the Indian mystery of arranged marriages or Indian matchmaking😁. You must have seen the show Indian matchmaking on Netflix and if not even better because today’s blog won’t be a spoiler at all. I would look to answer the following questions today-

  1. Why is “Indian Matchmaking” is becoming a popular show on Netflix as well as still prevalent in our society?
  2. What is the obsession that India and Indians have with marriage?
  3. And how lucrative is the Indian wedding business?

Do read till the end as there’s a fun conversation with a friend of mine. I got many reality checks and I hope to give you too. Let’s start right away!!

The popularity of arranged marriages

I think our urban Netflix watching generation and we live in a bubble. If you look at Bollywood’s content, almost every other second story is a love story. And watching the global content only reinforces these beliefs that love marriages are the norm. But love marriages in India are not as common as love stories in Bollywood. Only 5 per cent of marriages in India are love marriages. Our society is evolving a lot slower than our entertainment consumption. In a survey, NDTV reveals that almost 76% of Indian prefer Arranged marriages. The statistics are particularly high for states like Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, followed by West Bengal, New Delhi and Tamil Nadu. This clearly shows that Indians still believe that their parents are the best people who can find a match for them. That, their parents’ blessings count way more than their personal wishes.

Arranged marriage, the name awakens 3 parties in India- the bride’s parents, groom’s parents and Sooraj Barjatiya (because of the film Hum Aapke hai Kaun, Vivaah etc.). Even though so prevalent in the society, arranged marriage is as unseen in pop culture as writer’s credit in Bollywood. According to a survey conducted in 2012, less than 5% of Indian women played a primary role in choosing their life partners. And if you think that this tradition isn’t found in the cities, let me tell you that the world is not a “Filter Copy” sketch. Because according to the same survey, only 13% of women knew their husband before marrying them.

Now we come to an essential aspect of the show. This show mostly showed marriages within the same caste and religions. This observation is entirely accurate. But we forget that the leading cause of the origin of arranged marriage is caste. In fact, only 5% of urban marriages are inter-caste marriages in India. And inter-religion marriages are even more uncommon. You won’t believe, even today, customs more regressive and crueller, like the dowry system, child marriage, bride buying and groom kidnapping (e.g. movie Jabariya Jodi) are found in India. Shows like the “Handmaid’s Tale” are fiction in the first world countries, but in India, are someone’s reality.

So the question is that if a reality show is, in fact depicting the reality of urban Indians, then what we are outraging about? I think we are outraged about this very reality. To be honest, in our relatives or our immediate family members or neighbours we find an exact photocopy of characters like in the show Indian matchmaking. It is effortless to have strong opinions about the actions of reality TV characters but calling out our own family members, and relatives are equally tricky. It’s the same thing as it being easy to call out someone’s sexist tweet. But calling out a sexist family member would require another thought because it has complicated consequences where our family is also involved. I think that this is the core appeal of the show.

For the first time, our displeasure and anger have an outlet through this show. Conversations between the parents and the kids watching this show together are being encouraged. Another criticism of the show is that the creators did not find it necessary to show non-upper caste and non-Hindu representations. In my opinion,  this criticism is quite justified, and we should have more conversations about it. If only our parents and grandparents had such discussions in their social circles. Perhaps the caste system religious discrimination and class bias, wouldn’t have been prevalent. Just saying that this has been the tradition for years (as in we weren’t allowed to choose our partners so won’t be allowed as well) or  “we know and have a better experience than you have”.  Most dangerous one is –“I have heard love marriages don’t work or for “this person” it didn’t work, so I am sure it won’t work for you as well.” Change is required to progress. People should be allowed to make rational choices and more importantly, to learn from their mistakes. Well, better late than never.

How lucrative is the Indian matchmaking and wedding business?

Now lets come to the matchmaking business. In earlier times, matchmaking happened through village-based social connections. Then came the newspaper matrimonial sections that are common even today. These ads are typically placed by the parents for their kids listing down their expectations. I don’t understand if they are looking for a bride or a cricket stump.

Nowadays, matrimonial websites are quite popular, and over 1500 websites exist in India today. These mediums are preferred as most of India’s young adults want to also consider their parents’ inputs when it comes to choosing their life partner. In the last 5 years, dating apps have revolutionized the Indian matchmaking market. What is interesting that while overseas, apps like Tinder are used for casual dating, in India, they are used in hopes of long term relationships. But a step above these services is “elite matchmaking” whose services can cost between 1.5 – 5 lakhs. These services match profiles with similar economic background and mindsets. Higher-end and international services also exist in elite matchmaking whose standard services start at 15 lakhs. Some services also have an income cap to ensure only high-income members. For example, a service called Luxy verifies only those members with an income higher than Rs. 1,35,80,000.

Talking about indian business more profitable than matchmaking, i.e. wedding business, which is also widely considered recession-proof. As a generation, I think that we are confused because we are selectively outraging about certain traditions and conveniently ignore the others. For example, extravagant expenditures on the wedding are something we have blindly accepted. I think that Indian weddings are more for families than couples getting married. Weddings are events families use to make a statement in the society considering India is mostly a status-driven society. A wedding can reinforce r boost a family’s social status. Which is why “Big Fat Weddings” are very common in India. It’s similar to a company throwing a success party before its launch. Actually, this happens in certain startups as well. 🤣l!

Weddings have become a display of extravagance, and you can say that our generation is encouraging this. Today, a millennial’s wedding loan application ranges between Rs. 2-30 lakhs. An average Indian spends over a year’s salary on their wedding. And even after this, every marriage will still have a distant uncle commenting on the circular angle of a “gulab jamun”.

Taking a peek into wedding budgets

According to a newspaper estimate, the cost of an upper middle class, an urban wedding with a guest list of 200, was Rs. 2 lakhs for the venue, Rs. 4.8 lakhs for the food, Rs. 2.5 lakh for the décor, designer clothes for Rs. 1.5 lakhs, jewellery for Rs. 2 lakh, Rs. 20 thousand for wedding cards and Rs. 1.5 lakhs for a professional photographer. Total of Rs. 14.5 lakhs and Re. 1 for good luck.

So this is the reality of Indian weddings and Indian matchmaking. Even today, India is a status-conscious country that believes in displays of grandeur. Just like how millennials boast about their travel stories on Instagram or on YouTube, the elders in an Indian family assert their familial status through weddings. This status consciousness is the main reason behind the choices, biases and preferences of the show’s contestants. I think we often forget that we are a country of over 1.3 billion people. We are not 1.3 billion woke, politically correct, well informed and nuanced people. You know what the show is actually saying that the first thing we should be outraged about is our behaviour.

A fun interview as promised

I will take this opportunity to share a brief conversation with a couple of friends of mine who are in the process of getting married the “arranged” way.

Me- When did the conversation of arranged marriage happen in your family and what is the registration process like?

Answer– The idea was their right from the start, but it became concrete when my elder brother/sister was about to get married. What generally happens is that you tell your relatives or neighbors or peer groups that you are looking for a suitable bride/groom for your son/daughter but in most cases, the relatives don’t happen to live in the same city. So, parents started registering with agents alongwith jeevansaathi.com and shaadi.com. What one can do is just call up a ex- member who has taken services from the matchmakers and they will give all the relevant numbers as well as reviews on options given out, behavior, friendliness of the agent etc. After paying the registration fees, the agent visits your house understands your lifestyle and then proceeds to find a suitable bride/groom.

Me- In this matchmaking business, are their more male or is it female dominated?

Answer- To yours and my astonishment, there are more males in it than females. The 2-3 agents I have registered with they were all males and somehow males have given better profiles for the bride/groom. Maybe due to experience or due to better network they understand well the requirements but offcourse it can be different from person to person. There was this aunty who was a professor in a university prior to the lockdown in March, turned a matchmaking professional because she understood that she would have more time to do other things as the university will be closed for a long time.

Me- So, if you register with someone and the profiles you have been offered for a year’s time, you didn’t like it or there weren’t enough shown to you.. so do you get a refund?

Not at all. The registration fees which is ranging from 2000-5000 rupees (even goes up to 50000 rupees) is mandatory to pay and non-refundable.

Me Is that they have only services of offering you profiles or is it end-to-end i.e. registration process, wedding etc. ?

It’s all about how much you want to involve them. But yes, they do have those post suitable groom/bride agreement services. For some agents the process is like the registration is 5000 and if the wedding actually takes place both families have to pay the agent 50k each. Imagining this even sounds like a very good business plan. 🤣 But yes, while registering, with terms and conditions are laid out with a verbal understanding.

Me- I gave options to choose

 Answer– This obviously depends from person to person but for my friend, her parents weren’t completely against love marriage. Talking about customs and religion, they aren’t against that even but since she wanted to live with the family so her parents were concerned about the family culture, lifestyle, religion and things. But this won’t be a reason for her parents to reject a certain prospective groom for her. Initially, they would like to find a person from the same culture like Gujrati, Jain or Punjabi etc. but if it doesn’t happen, they are free to expand their options provided it’s a modern family who respects his/her religion and lifestyle. But yes, it’s obviously slightly easier to settle in the same culture be it an arranged marriage or love. True fact is- Love has its stages. Initially, one would be inclined to make those extra sacrifices but doing the same for the next 40-50 years, one realizes that “where and why am I stuck here? I want to break free.”

Me- Were you convinced into it or you thought that the arranged setup is the best possible option forward?

Answer- I didn’t find anyone suitable and this was the best option forward. My parents are still open that I find myself. It would reduce the work and the hassle but truth is its difficult to find an adjustable match, maybe because my circle isn’t big enough or my standards are high. *wink*

Me- So, what are you looking in a groom? Like general points or checklist.

Answer– Okay never listed it down but basic points are

  1. Preferably same city.
  2. A person in a business guy living with a family.
  3. Smoking is obviously a deal breaker. Controlled drinking is still acceptable.

Me- Would you like a person who is working round the clock and has time for you only for 2 hours. Off course after seeing that he is very good natured and family is really nice.

AnswerComplete NO! Because money is one-side and family time is one-side. What will one do with lots of money if he or she has no time to spend it.

Me- Is it true that while marrying the guy you are marrying the family as well?

Answer– Yes. Definitely true. A friend of mine who had a love marriage had to shift into a new home just because the girl couldn’t adjust with the guy’s family. For that, the girl and the guy should be very adamant that living with the family isn’t possible. So, it does happen.

 Me- Can the process of matchmaking be simplified?

Answer – So, generally it so happens that if a person is looking for a bride or groom who is eventually going to live with the guy’s family then the parents handle their profile but ya if the couple is planning to stay separate then the bride or the groom handle their own profiles.

Me- Do you have a set of questions to ask your future partner? Just to check your compatibility of emotions, food, lifestyle, holiday destination and dreams.

Answer- Yes. I do and I think most people have a rough idea in mind. But yes, initially I didn’t have anything and for a long time, I wondered what and how to ask. So, as a piece of advice, I would say people should have a set of questions to understand compatibility and your personal views on varied things which hopefully ease both of them out.

Me- Is the meeting process overwhelming or tiring?

Answer– It gets to people bigtime. Because people who are handling their own profile turn out to be time pass chatters even on the matchmaking websites as well. Sometimes the outlook doesn’t match, sometimes it’s parent pressure. SO, it’s definitely tiring and the process is like you are reaping your heart out and keeping on the plate. End of the day marriage is a task of aspirations, dreams and expectations. So, virtual blood loss is obviously there with a failed investment of time.

Me- Does it matter that your friends liking him and his friends liking you?

Answer– I guess I won’t get that much time to find that out. But I think we as a prospective couple will have to decide on our own and take that call.

Me- Do you think “arranged marriages” are regressive? I won’t say trend but after all, it’s people who set trends.

Answer– I won’t agree or disagree with this because it’s all about choices and circumstances. For me, love marriage wasn’t banned totally but the end of the day I didn’t get anyone who ticks my list and is adjusting. Maybe my circle or network or group hasn’t evolved over the years and I am hanging out with the same group of friends from the same city. But honestly, I did feel that when I found out that all the good guys are already in a relationship or engaged or married. 😂😁I wish I was admitted to a school or college where the academic pressure was low but I would have a guy a perfect guy for myself and we didn’t have to face this hustle.

In short, Matchmaking business in very a tricky business where a lot of emotions along with other things are at stake with a lot of money, status and reputation involved. To narrow it down this industry is widely running on word of mouth were profiles and background checks happen from “mutuals” even after seeing the bio-data.

I hope you got a perspective. Do let me know in the comments below that did you have the same questions?

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