There was a time when parents led the hunt for the perfect life partner for their sons and daughters. Not anymore. The sons and daughters are now taking charge, at least when it comes to creating their ‘marriage biodata’.
Only 7 per cent of the profiles on the matrimonial site BharatMatrimony have been set up by parents, says chief marketing officer, Arjun Bhatia. “In 2022, about 70 per cent of the profiles are being created by the individuals themselves.” The rest by friends or siblings.
At first glance, it may seem that young Indians are exercising their agency, but that is not the case. Parents are still the puppeteers, pulling the strings from behind the scenes. In India, where an arranged marriage is as much a social transaction as it is a union based on love, parents are unwilling to give up control. And South Indian parents seem to be more vested in their children’s choice of partners when compared to North Indian families.
Shaadi.com, too, has seen a spike in ‘self-created’ accounts, especially after the company’s ‘Pressure Hatao’ campaign that ran from late 2020 to early 2021. But the trend belies how deeply entrenched some traditions are in society.
“Even if the profile is created by individuals, especially in the case of women, it gets managed by or is influenced by parents quite a bit. Even when parents create profiles, a lot is managed by the individual (it is for). You can’t say that these numbers are true,” says Ekta Checker, Shaadi.com’s associate director of marketing.
From client surveys, the company has inferred that parents often ask their children to create their online matrimonial portfolios, but then supervise conversations and matches.
“I’ve matched with over 105 [women] in the past four months. But roughly 80 per cent of the accounts are run by their parents,” says Rustam, a content editor from Delhi NCR. He was adamant that his parents stay out of the process when he created his profile on Shaadi.com, but found that other people didn’t enjoy the same level of freedom.
Rustam created his account in 2022 and operates it himself. His parents have no involvement with Rustam’s account activity. This makes Rustam, in his own words, “the extreme exception there.”
Parents may not be as involved in the ‘technical’ parts of setting up a profile, but their approval matters the most.
Some matrimonial sites give users the choice to highlight who set up their accounts with tags such as ‘created by self’. But the line between truth and lies is often blurred. “My parents created my account and handled it on their own in the beginning,” says Madhusree Goswami, a Bengali woman in her early 30s. But her account was labelled under the ‘created by self’ tag. The contact detail shared on the profile was that of her parents.
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First contact and north-south divide
It’s not that young Indians don’t have any say at all. “The first round of filtration is done by the parents for markers like your caste and kundlis. After that it is the to-be-wed who has their own set of requirements and criteria that they’d like matched,” says Checker.
Goswami, who has profiles on several matrimonial sites, has experienced this many times. First contact is always made by the parents. It’s parents who actively reach out to each other, she says. “Both parties will ‘get to know’ each other, and only then we’d move forward,” she says.
The polite feelers followed by first meetings over tea and snacks may have shifted online, but parents still want to dominate. If one was lucky enough to make it through those rounds of screening, they’d be contacted by the parents behind the profile. “I spoke to parents before I even spoke to the women, which seemed to be the standard practice” Rustam adds.
What’s more? There’s a clear north-south divide when it comes to parental interference. According to data collected by Shaadi.com, in south India, 45-50 per cent of accounts have been created by parents, compared to 25-30 per cent in the north, east and other parts of India.
“In South India, even though 45-50 per cent are accounts created by parents, almost 80-90 per cent of the people we spoke to, who were well educated, said they wanted their parents to find their match for them. Even if they create the account, they’d want their parents to decide everything,” says Checker, who attributes this trend to the traditionalist mindset prevalent in the South.
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The parent trap
In India, every ‘elder’ is a potential ‘yenta’ or gossip. From older siblings to aunts, uncles and even friends—everyone weighs in on the events leading up to the big fat Indian wedding.
When Pratyoush, a businessman from Lucknow, decided it was time that his younger brother got married, he created a profile for him on Shaadi.com in 2020. He also handled the account, which he insists is common practice on such platforms. “You’ll often find brothers, sisters, uncles, and parents operating these accounts. Even today, these kids will ask elders or siblings to handle their accounts. They believe that the elders will be able to make better decisions,” says Pratyoush.
He was the first filter, and accordingly selected women he thought his brother would be interested in meeting. “Even though children seemingly have more of a say today than they may have had a few years ago, you cannot move forward without having fulfilled our parents’ requirements,” he says.
And he, too, had to jump through hoops before making ‘first contact’. In his hunt for a bride for his brother, he had to first get the approval of other mothers, fathers and brothers. Then they found a match. “It was hard to come across accounts that were run by the to-be-weds. In fact, even my brother’s wife’s account was run by her father.”
‘I liked whatever they did’
Even couples who made their own profiles have sought parental approval. It’s an indelible part of the social contract.
Before they agreed to live happily ever, one couple who had each made their own profiles on Shaadi.com insisted that their respective parents act as the first filter. “My husband and I made our own accounts, but our parents also had access to it,” said the wife, who did not want to be named. Their parents would filter out potential candidates from the daily selection curated by the platform. “I liked whatever they did, it was that simple,” she said.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)