Last week, I joined Shaadi.com, India’s oldest and most popular matrimonial website.Call it anthropological curiosity; call it a metric of my own narcissism.It renders women a commodity, and marriage a property transaction.This is why matrimonial websites attract controversy.I made my profile as an American in New Delhi, where I have been since June, who has watched from both places as this caricature of a backwards, misogynistic India evolved over the last year from comedy fodder to a target of international criticism.This happened after one night last December, when five men drank whiskey in south Delhi and boarded a local bus, where, joined by the driver, they used iron rods to sexually penetrate and fatally maim a 23-year-old physiotherapy student heading back from a movie with her boyfriend. The collective outcry by the country’s long-silent women amplified and confirmed the clichéd association between India and sexual violence.
In June, the Delhi-based Economic Times valued the online matrimony market at around 5.1 billion Indian rupees (roughly million)with an annual growth rate of 30 percent: a rose in the snowdrift of the Indian economy, whose recent erratic nature has shaken everything from exchange rates to onion prices.
They operate at the awkward nexus in modern Indian society between intracultural custom and intercultural connectivity, a conflict-prone junction built by a sudden 20-year economic boom that came without a societal user’s manual.
The average Indian man is likely more financially successful and socially engaged than his father—more likely to have a car and a Facebook page—but the popularity of matrimonial websites might suggest that he is simply using these resources to preserve an antiquated and gender-prejudiced conception of marriage that’s counterintuitive to modernization, at least by the Western definition.
I belong to no caste; I am not Hindu; I have no Indian heritage. For them, matrimonial websites simply seemed to be a matter of convenience, a casual way to meet other singles online in a country where dating sites haven’t really taken off.
India is a country where sex is “something that’s both sort of resented and incredibly desired,” Kevin, a 20-year-old college student in Delhi told me, and the Internet provides a sort of parallel community respited from traditional restrictions on the libido.