A number of Indian users claim to have fallen in love with their online partners without ever having met them. The cyberspace created by matrimonial websites is a new ground for preserving old values, writes
Internet websites promoting matrimony have proliferated over the last decade. Between Shaadi.com—-which started off the trend in 1997—- and the recently-launched SecondShaadi.com, numerous web portals have sprung up, catering to broad as well as specialised segments of the Indian and Asian population, at home and abroad.
Their promise of securing an ideal match for the young and the not-so-young seekers of a spouse has found many takers, and there is little doubt that Internet match-making is big business.
What accounts for the proliferation and success of this medium of match-making? Does it offer possibilities that alternative media, such as newspaper advertisements and marriage bureaus, cannot offer? Or is it that this seemingly new medium efficiently facilitates what has become desirable to different stake-holders in the marriage game? While serious research studies of this phenomenon are yet to be done, it is not difficult to answer some of these questions.
Like other commercial match-making services—-classified advertisements in newspapers and marriage bureaus, some of which have been around for a long time——marriage portals are a place for prospective marriage partners to meet without the intervention of conventional intermediaries. However, what distinguishes the Internet is its efficiency in conserving the traditional requirements of an appropriate marriage as well as giving room for the young to choose their spouse.
The computer-aided search facilities offered by such websites allow people to initiate interaction with a large number of prospective spouses after determining their marital suitability on most social parameters.
Admittedly, newspaper classifieds also offer a categorisation of spouse-seekers on similar grounds. Community and profession are two of the broadest basis of classification used in these ads. But the search through ads is manual, tedious and not easy if one is looking for a comprehensive data matching several social parameters all at once.
Take the example of the ‘smart search’ option of Shaadi.com. It allows one to restrict one’s search on 24 parameters, which include physical attributes such as age, complexion, disabilities and HIV status of the potential spouse. One can further delimit one’s search on the basis of social and religious background, educational and professional qualifications, location and lifestyle preferences and even body type, dietary preferences and family values (traditional/moderate/liberal). The portal has only recently facilitated search on the basis of profession, as it is claimed to be very much in demand by the users.
In rendering face-to-face communication with anyone almost redundant, at least in the initial stages of the search, this web-based medium imbues the spouse-seekers with a new agency. A young man and a young woman with ready access to the Internet are saved from all the awkwardness associated with initiating a relationship that may potentially end in matrimony.
New Delhi-based sociologist Patricia Uberoi has observed that contemporary Indians have been striving for a compromise between the traditional arranged marriage system and the so-called ‘love marriage’ which reflects the desire of the young to have greater degree of autonomy in choosing a spouse. Internet match-making throws up yet another possibility of bringing about this compromise.
This is especially likely to appeal to non-resident Indians (NRIs) who are most defensive about the practice of arranged marriages that appears barbaric to their peers in the West. An article on Indianmatrimonials.com even proposes a new term for the marriages facilitated by the web-based matchmaker ‘planned marriage’.
A so-called ‘love marriage’ has till now been equated with an inter-caste marriage in India and vice-versa. But the Internet match-maker might change this. A good number of Indian users claim to have fallen in love with their online partners without ever meeting them. Of course, facilitated by the information available on the matrimonial portal, this love is hardly blind. The cyberspace created by matrimonial websites is a new ground for preserving old identities and values, while giving into the urge of the young to give vent to their individuality. — WFS