Web revolutionises the mating game in India

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 October, 2008, 12:00am

After three years of dutifully waiting for her parents to find a husband for her, Anisa Tiwari took matters into her own hands. After specifying her requirements - religion, language, region, caste, and educational qualifications - she registered with a matrimonial website and sat back and waited.

The replies flooded into her inbox. 'My parents' social circle isn't huge. They don't go out much. I realised we were fishing in a very small pond. It was better to go to a matrimonial website where there are thousands of suitable men to choose from,' said Ms Tiwari, 23, a marketing assistant at a New Delhi hotel.

Ms Tiwari found her husband, Dhruv, on www.shaadi.com (shaadi means wedding), one of India's most popular matrimonial websites. Sites such as shaadi.com and bharatmatrimony.com have 10 million Indians registered with them in their search for the perfect match.

The internet has transformed the way marriages have been arranged in India for millennia.

Traditionally, parents would spread the word that they were looking for a suitable match, and this 'alliance', as it was often called, would be found with no input from the boy or girl concerned.

When matrimonial sites appeared a few years ago, suddenly young Indians realised they offered a much more appealing format. They could search for someone of whom their parents would approve but also inject their own preferences and tastes.

A new term emerged to describe these marriages. They are called 'planned' as opposed to 'arranged' marriages.

These internet marriages are a kind of halfway house, halfway to falling in love and halfway to satisfying inexorable parental requirements about religion and qualifications.

Survey after survey shows that about 98 per cent of young, educated, urban Indians happily accept the idea of an arranged marriage. Love marriages or inter-caste marriages are still extremely rare.

The only change is that, if possible, they would like to have a bit of a say in the choice.

'Our sites streamline the whole business of arranged marriages,' said Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and chief executive of the Bharatmatrimony Group. 'Instead of a random pursuit through some distant relative, you can be systematic, get exactly the kind of person you want.'

Following the popularity of these general sites that offer partners from different professions, religions and regions, the inevitable next step was the launch of specialised sites.

These aim to pinpoint the right mate by specific profession. One such site, BPOshaadi.com (BPO stands for business process outsourcing), caters exclusively to workers in India's enormous call-centre industry.

BPOshaadi.com is the first niche matrimonial site. 'If a husband goes to work at night and sleeps during the day, when does he spend time with his wife? When do they socialise?' said BPOshaadi chief executive Sanjeev Pahwa. 'It makes sense for call-centre workers to meet other call-centre workers because they understand each other's pressures.'

Mr Pahwa said most of India's 1.4 million call-centre workers enjoyed a carefree, hedonistic lifestyle that might not suit partners from more conservative backgrounds.

'They buy the latest gadgets, they eat well, they go to movies at 2am - it's high living, high spending, because they earn well and have no responsibilities. This won't be compatible with someone who is cautious and wants security,' he said.

Anita Abrahams, 24, plans to register with the site because the image of call centres in India as 'centres of depravity' where casual couplings happen in cubicles in the middle of the night is proving to be an impediment to her marriage plans.

'Some parents think that call-centre work is like being a 'call girl'. I know that I've been turned down the moment the parents realised I worked late at night in a call centre,' said Ms Abrahams, who works in a Noida (New Okhla Industrial Development Area - a sub-city of Delhi) call centre attending to British customers.

Ms Abrahams wants to meet a man who will understand the nature and pressures of her job and not be put out when she goes out to work at night or has to miss festivals and family occasions.

When she registers, she may end up meeting young men like Sunny Nagpal, 25, who troubleshoots computer problems for American customers.

Mr Nagpal thinks only 'mediocre' Indians believe call-centre girls are fast. He thinks this perception is changing but agrees that there is still a certain stigma attached to call centres. In fact, last year, the Catholic Church in Bangalore was so appalled at the Sodom and Gomorrah reputation of the city's call centres that it started offering special counselling.

Mr Nagpal has been lucky with BPOshaadi.com, having dated several women. When asked why he needed to register with it when he could easily find a suitable woman where he works, he laughed.

'Why limit myself to just one call centre when there are so many fish in the sea? BPOshaadi gives me so much choice, much more choice than I could have through my social circle,' he said.

Mr Pahwa, an advertising professional, is delighted with the success of his specialised matrimonial services.

His other sites cater to engineers, government employees, multinational employees, thirtysomethings, and the disabled.

Virtually every social category is being catered to. There is a site for people with the Aids virus. For those for whom hope has triumphed over experience, there is SecondShaadi.com.

And for idealistic Indian men who detest the idea of accepting a dowry from the bride's family, there is idontwantdowry.com.

Sickened by a friend's wedding where the bride was humiliated over a shortfall in the dowry just before the ceremony, Hyderabad-based website consultant Satya Naresh set up the site for Indians who are as disgusted as he is by the age-old custom.

About 6,000 idealistic doctors, engineers, information-technology professionals and executives have registered with the site, dismaying parents who had been looking forward to a windfall on their sons' marriage.