Traditionally, arranged marriages have been bro­kered by family and friends, an elaborate process laced with social nuances that involves matching candidates on the basis of caste, community, religion and horoscopes. The family plays two important gate-keeping roles; the first is that of controlling the entry of new members into the family, especially the bride, and ensuring that they are compatible with the family’s values and traditions. In its second role, the family perpetuates the caste, community and religious divisions in the society. These societal divisions are viewed as surrogates for compatibility and for ensuring that traditions are carried on from one generation to the next. Our conversations with families showed that parents continued to perform this important gate-keeping role. In most cases, members of the family first screened the responses and made the first contact before allowing the prospective partners to meet each other.

We met in coffee day after our parents talked to each other. 5

Our parents then arranged a meeting for us.6

My father showed an interested in his profile and give him contact no. and e-mail ID. He accepted andforward my profile to his parents…. then he talked to my father and said he want to come to my parent’s home in Dehradun. Within a week he came and finalized the matter. Then my sister and Jijaji (Brother-in-law) went to his home at NOIDA and found suitable and said ok from our side. His parents and my parents talked to each other on the phone and after that the marriage was fixed. 7

After reading my profile and showing it to her father, her second cousin phoned my father (who was the contact listed with my profile) requesting more information about me.8

Firstly, both my parents and my partner’s parents contacted each other to make sure that all neces­sary requirements were suitable in order for the marriage proposal to materialize. 9

I approached to her and received a response from her father.

With online services, there is potential for dis­intermediation of the role played by parents and their status as gatekeepers starts to diminish. The process of screening and matching is no longer solely dependent on parents. Family could control information as either they went and met interme­diaries or received the responses to classifieds. Now the information is always there, only a few clicks away. It is not surprising that sometimes the initiative towards matchmaking is now being taken by the prospective partners themselves. Even if they found their own partner, given the dominant role of parents and the strong bond with family, they would still seek the approval of their families. Whether it was the family that acted as a gatekeeper or a final consenting authority, the family is ever present in the matchmaking process.

My thanks to… for bringing the two families together u

We interacted about ourfamily details and the kind of partner being sought. We both were satisfied with each others’ families, culture, background

etc42

With the consent and blessings of our families.

It is interesting that even if partners took initiative, they would mimic the very criteria that would be applied by their families, such as caste, community and religion. It did not matter whether the profiles were posted by family elders or the candidates themselves; religion, language, community, caste and sub-caste were always a consideration. Almost all profiles mentioned their own religion and caste as well as their preferred religion and caste of the partner.

marrying a Muslim is out of question. 14

our daughter-in-law is a Hindu… we still wish our son would have chosen a Muslim girl. 1

If I marry a Bengali (language).. it will be easier for her to interact with my grandparents and extended family. 16

Brahmins (caste group) are very particular about who they marry. 17

The use of online matrimonial services in fact seems to make it easier to find someone within the sub-caste of your choice. In the absence of these matrimonial services, the ability to find someone within one’s caste group depended on the reach of your extended family and the resources available. Families in the past would often compromise by marrying in the community outside the caste group because of limitations in the pool of applicants available. However, with geographical barriers removed by online services, it has become pos­sible to find someone belonging to the exact same caste or sub-caste as that being sought by the fam­ily. This same someone (invariably the bride) is also willing to move halfway across the world to live with her newly wedded partner. Thus online services not only perpetuate traditional notions of an acceptable partner, but also provided increased choice. Sometimes, this would also create deci­sion delay, as there was always hope that someone more perfectly matching the filtering criteria could come along in the future.

This is great! The girl of my dreams could be on the other side of the world. 18

I can’t believe that I canfind someone who matches my exact profile needs thousands ofmiles away.

Matching the horoscopes was also an important concern for many families. Some online services even provided this as an additional feature of their services.

the gotras should not be common. We would also ask for your details for purpose of horoscope matching20

Ourfamilies met and even the horoscopes matched well21

Sticking with our family tradition, we matched horoscopes and got elders consent.22

A cursory analysis would suggest that online matrimonial services simply replicate the off-line process of arranging marriages. It is evident that the criteria used for matching partners are largely carried over online. At the same time these services provide greater transparency and access that is loosening the grip of the family over information and eroding their role as gatekeepers. At times, the role is completely disintermediated by the presence of online services. Using online services increases the pool of potential partners and provides greater choice by breaking down geographical barriers and filling the gap created by weakening social networks. The increased choice does come at a cost—that of information overload.