CHANGING ROLES, SHIFTING TRADITIONS AND CULTURAL CONVERGENCE: ONLINE MATRIMONIAL SERVICES AND ARRANGED MARRIAGE
There are a growing number of Web sites that are dedicated to providing matrimonial services in India. Major players from U. S. in Internet – related businesses view this as a potential market and have tied up with Indian firms, for example, Yahoo! along with a venture capital firm has taken up a stake in BharatMatrimony. com. Microsoft has ties with Shaadi. com, another popular Web site. The number of users of these services has grown from about 4 million in 2004 to 7.5 million in 2006 according to estimates provided by Internet & Mobile Association of India (Laksh – man, 2006). Although the online market in these services is only about 4% of the estimated $500 million spent on off-line matrimonial services, it is expected to continue to grow at the rate of 40%-50% every year. As the bulk of the off-line market consists ofprint classifieds, iftrends in the U. S. newspaper industry are anything to go by, online matrimonial services could soon overtake print media. A growing educated middle-class and sustained economic growth is only likely to further fuel the growth in these services.
Popular beliefs, especially in urban India, indicate that the popularity of these sites reflects the changing face of India. Traditionally, the family plays a very important role in arranged marriages in India. It begins with announcing the entry of the prospective bride or groom into the marriage market. The family influences the matching and selection process to preserve traditional notions of compatibility in terms of age, family culture, caste, community and horoscopes. Like most cultures, the bride is usually given away by the father, but unlike western culture not to the groom but to the groom’s family. Once married, the bride becomes a member of the groom’s family and is expected to have only weak ties to her own family.
The fact that most grooms stay in their parents’ homes, which is the norm, further reinforces the symbolic nature of this transition from one family to another for the bride. For this reason, the compatibility of the bride with the groom’s family and not just the groom is considered to be of greater importance than the relationship between the groom and bride’s family. To understand how families are using online matrimonial services for arranging marriages, we look at the matchmaking process in terms of search, matching and interaction. As we look at how technology is appropriated, we address the research questions: how do features presented by matrimonial Web sites used for arranging marriage, how are they changing the nature of the marriage process, and the norms and traditions associated with arranged marriage. We primarily focus on the role of family in the process against the backdrop of social and cultural changes permeating the Indian Diaspora.