Online dating has been remarkably successful in the Western World and is beginning to spread across various cultural contexts. This introduction of online dating has led to different implications for traditional societies in comparison to the West. A key example of this can be seen in relation to online dating and arranged marriages in India. Online dating typically caters to singles, providing the opportunity to find potential dates beyond their traditional social networks of friends, school, work, places of worship, and community. Due to technological advances and an increasing number of users, online dating is growing at a rapid pace in the Indian context. However, marriage is generally viewed differently in India when compared to the West, where marriage is largely a matter of individual choice.
In India, marriage can be seen as a union of two individuals leading to an extensive relationship between two families. Weddings are usually prolonged events that mark the end of lengthy negotiations between two extended families including aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents. Yet as globalization, urbanization, and the increasing influence of western pop culture permeates into Indian society- various changes are becoming visible in the structures of certain Indian Marriages. Traditionally, Indian parents start the process of arranging their child’s marriage around the age of 22/23 for Females and 26 for Men. This process may be put on hold if they are pursuing higher education or delayed until individuals start collecting a sufficient income. Following an individual being of age to marry, their family will seek the help of the extended family to begin thinking of possible mates. Potential partners are determined uponthe status of a family, character, prior relationships, astrology, habits, and reputation.. with screenings often being done through informal networks of friends and relatives. Once an acceptable match is found, the prospective families and the potential bride/groom meet to assess compatibility of the families and prospective partners. This process is then finally formalized through complex negotiations about the logistics of the marriage (when, where, dowry, who will attend, etc..), followed by a formal engagement via exchanging rings in addition to the wedding ceremony.
In December, I was fortunate enough to attend a three day Indian Wedding in New Delhi with one of my close Indian friends. It was here I witnessed the union of two individuals whom met via an online dating application dedicated to matching potential partners for marriage. The criteria for matching on this online dating application included: job, family wealth, education, interests, etc.. It was though this dating app, both individuals met before later familial consultation and approval. Following the approval of each family- the wedding was underway with extensive planning over the months leading up to the ‘big day’. Finally at the wedding, both families were able to meet each other for the first time- having several dances, meals, and social opportunities throughout the wedding process. This notion of family was even more present when the bride and groom exchanged vows- as both addressed how they would treat the other’s family as if their own. They agreed to meet the needs of the other’s family such as respect for siblings and taking care of one another’s in laws as if their own. Both families at the wedding were seriously engaged with the union of both families, as the service was very traditional and much focus being placed on the service. On the other hand, friends present were the life of the party. The many dances, spiritual blessings performed, family and friends present, and great cuisine at the events make Indian weddings so unique. Attending an Indian wedding was a very enjoyable experience and it was striking to see the amount of money and effort that is put into the three day event.
Upon reflecting on my experience at this Indian Wedding, I found it important to look at how social and geographical mobility have changed in past decades throughout India- This shows as extended family structures are becoming increasingly replaced by a more nuclear familial structure, with less dependence on Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc.. In turn, this deterioration of family connection has led to families having difficulty finding suitable partners for their marriageable children. Due to the absence of such social networks- online matchmaking services, classified advertisements, and online marriage services are becoming more prevalent. Therefore matrimonial websites and dating applications in India are providing a new setting for examining the changes occurring within Indian society and Indian marriages. No longer dependent on familial social networks, those who use online dating sites and applications – have access to a significantly larger pool of prospective partners. With profile information allowing users to perform queries to filter and screen potential partners before communication begins via online chat or e-mail. Since technology does not require the role of family members, this online version of meeting is beginning to introduce a more western model of individuals finding their own partners. The introduction of this new application needs to be closely examined to determine the changes in power and control structures and the relationship between technology and society. As certain parts of India have more access to this digital form of dating/arranging marriages- it will be interesting to watch how society or certain sub-groups of Indian society change and adapt to this new form of arranging weddings.
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