The advent of the internet has not only interconnected our world in ways previously unimaginable, but it has also, consequentially revolutionized traditional social practices that have stood unwaveringly for centuries. In India, the modern technology revolution has dramatically transformed social dynamics, notably the longstanding institution of the arranged marriage.
The tradition of the arranged marriage dates back to 500 B.C. when the Vedic religion evolved into the Classic Hindu religion. The shift was accompanied by massive transformations in the structure of Indian society and saw the introduction of the caste system, which stratified the population into four main categories depending on karma (work) and dharma (religion or duty). For centuries, one’s social and religious life was determined by caste, and arranged marriage was integral to maintaining segregation between the four major groups.
Many thought that after India gained independence from the British in 1947, the growth of literacy and the emancipation of women would lead to the decline of the arranged marriage. The tradition, however, clung steadily as a normative Indian practice, though modernization would soon take its toll to transform the tradition.
In a typical arranged marriage, parents would announce to their relatives, neighbors, and friends that they are searching for a match for their child. Families sometimes sought the services of their local priest or matchmaker who kept a log of marriageable individuals in the area. The families would select a suitable match according to several essential criteria including religion, caste, culture, horoscope, professional stature, and physical appearance. The singles had little to say on the matter, and two individuals were usually paired strategically to forge favorable ties between families.
From the 1950s onwards, clan bonds in India began to loosen gradually, which had a notable effect on the traditional arranged marriage. Particularly in the past few decades, growing urbanization and the spread of education has diminished the influence of the caste in determining eligible partnerships. As members of different castes have begun living side-by-side and intermingling regularly, inter-caste marriages have become more common. Additionally, the decline of the joint family in favor of the nuclear family has limited the reach of the family’s social circle and encouraged many to look for potential matches outside family acquaintances.
India’s online matrimony services have become a good example of matchmaking in the modern world. The dramatic growth of Internet penetration across India in the recent years has provided an unexpected solution to the challenges modernization has posed for conservative India, and has dramatically transformed the matrimonial market. As cheaper and faster internet access expands across rural India, research shows that the online matchmaking market is swelling as well. The growing demand for cyber services has motivated entrepreneurs to set up online businesses and encouraged international venture capitalists to back internet companies designed for matrimonial matchmaking.
Families who had previously been limited to a tight-knit circle, are now offered a wide array of potential matches thanks to online services. Online matchmaking services have sidelined family members, priests, and elders in the decision of selecting a partner, and have endowed singles with authority to choose more autonomously from people of different ages, professions, and religions. While traditionally, the woman’s opinion was less important, the way online services work allows both sexes to be equally involved in the decision making process, giving them the power to choose their interactions.
The booming popularity of online matchmaking is evidenced by the sector’s massive growth in revenue over the last few years. The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India released a report in 2013, predicting that profits would increase from $83 million to $242 million by 2017 at a compounded annual growth rate of over 65%.
Most sites, charge their subscribers fees ranging from approximately $10 to $30 a month, a stifling rate for some families. Paid sites have been critiqued for privileging those with the means to afford such services, and for placing inadvertent time constraints as people seek to minimize their search time to save money.
Free Indian Matrimony is the first site that offers online services at no cost, with the intention of remedying the concerns raised by paid sites. Their mission is to provide free services to ensure that people take however much time they need to find their ideal partners, without feeling pressured by recurring monthly fees. The site was designed with the hopes of giving all a better chance at finding their match, regardless of financial status, a revolutionary idea in conservative Indian society.