Why do expat Indians choose ‘arranged marriages’?

Why do expat Indians choose ‘arranged marriages’? post thumbnail image

Why do expat Indians choose ‘arranged marriages’?

Arranged marriages among Indian expats are still quite commonplace, despite relaxed social norms back home in India. What is behind this trend?

“I need to get married in three months. Please help me. I need to find a wife.”

This is one of the many requests that Malaika Neri, a professional matchmaker based in Europe gets on a regular basis. Highly qualified Indian expatriates — working as engineers, IT professionals, in finance, consultants or project managers — all come to her in search of their suitable partner. But an approaching deadline doesn’t fit with Neri’s model. Instead, she prefers committed individuals looking for matching lifestyles, values and mindset in their partners.

In 2022, this is how some expatriate Indians are trying to organize a marriage for themselves, taking a step further away from traditional matchmaking.

Mind the gap: Between tradition and modernity

The idea of having a marriage set up by a third party — family, friends or neighbors — has been the norm in India and South Asia. However, arranged marriage is losing popularity as dating without parental involvement is becoming more socially acceptable and intercultural marriages become less of a taboo.

To address this change, many matrimony professionals are opting for new methods and offer alternative approaches to matchmaking, allowing people to have comparatively more control of their choice of relationship, than their family or society.

Matchmaking in India too has undergone an image makeover in the last two decades and pop culture has contributed to legitimizing it as a profession. One such example is the recent Netflix series "Indian Matchmaking." Here, matchmaker "Seema Aunty" is shown matching affluent Indians living and working in the US.

Originally from Mumbai and today living in Europe, Malaika Neri works as a relationship consultant, helping ambitious professionals, from India, the US, UK and Europe, find love, and hopefully marriage. But the Indian clients from Europe are different from US, she says, which leads to different relationship needs.

Many of the people Neri works with are from smaller Indian cities, “the first in their family to go to university, and come from middle class backgrounds. They come from families where arranged marriage has been the norm for centuries,” she told DW. “Dating is taboo, and often they do not necessarily have an experience of meeting and dating the European way. So, suddenly, they find that finding a partner in cities like Stockholm or London is incredibly overwhelming, because they have little to no experience dating.”

Consumers of ‘arranged marriage’

To understand how Indian expats perceive arranged marriages in Germany, one of the European countries with the largest Indian diaspora populations, I reached out to a number of social media groups. That’s how I got connected to Rashmi*.

Rashmi’s in-laws have been living in Germany for the last six decades and when the time came to look for a suitable bride for their son, they put up an advertisement on Anandabazar Patrika, India’s leading Bengali-language newspaper.

Rashmi’s mother chanced upon the advertisement and contacted the family, as a result of which Rashmi got married and moved to Germany to join her husband. In conversation with DW, she mentioned friends of her husband, with similar stories of having found their partners through matchmaking methods popular in India.

But most Indian expats I spoke to said that they found their partners online, on matrimonial websites meant for Indians. One such website is Bharat Matrimony, which has regional offshoots to cater to customers with a specific mother tongue, religion or caste.

Preethi* met her husband on Kerala Matrimony, one such website, where the profile was not created by their parents or relatives, but by them themselves. For Preethi, the process worked out as she spent a lot of time getting to know her partner before taking the plunge. She said, "for me it was clear — I get along with this person. We have our priorities matching. And he was the kind of person I would have loved to find in a love marriage."

In my conversations, I came across others like her, who opted for online matrimony to find someone they liked, albeit with common traits like mother tongue or shared values. According to Preethi, these services can help introverts, people with no prior relationship experience or people pressed for time to find partners.

Managing the cultural baggage

Finding companionship in a foreign land isn’t the only reason why expats go to matchmakers like Neri. Often, the societal pressure to get married and bear children is so strong that people set strict deadlines for matchmakers, says Neri.

And then, there are caste and religious boundaries which families advise their children stick to while choosing their life partners. Rashmi told DW about Indian families in Germany using the diaspora networks to arrange matches for their children, from families with a “similar background.”

Malaika Neri’s clients also sometimes express these preferences. She said, “A vast majority of my clients come from backgrounds where caste and community are the top drivers of your choice of life partner, but I was raised in a household where caste was never mentioned. I have people reaching out to me asking for a caste-based match. To them, I say that I am not the right person to help. There are other matchmakers who offer services based on caste, but, just a matching caste or a matching horoscope do not make a happy marriage.”

Indian marriage and market

The online matrimony market in India has doubled in the last five years and is today estimated at around $260 million, according to a study by KPMG in India and Google.

Globally popular dating sites like Tinder and Bumble are comparatively new entrants to the Indian market. The matchmaking websites — which have been around since as early as 1997 — are rather used by people who are searching more directly for someone to get married.

One of the reasons why digital matchmaking has become acceptable to Indians, at home and abroad, is the agency these systems offer to the individuals, said Preethi. Consultant psychologist Anuttama Banerjee also noticed this trend in India and finds “the manner in which individuals in the system claim agency in not entirely making emotion-driven decisions to be intriguing.”

But beyond giving control to individuals for marriage, the matrimony websites are “money-making businesses,” says Hamburg resident Neerja*. Memberships are cheaper if one applies “from India as compared to when made from the UK or the US,” she adds.

The unavoidable correlation between market and human relationships today is something that Banerjee draws attention to. For her, “it is somewhat concerning that people are compelled to give their time for work than organically exploring relationships. And then, they compensate for this loss of time by outsourcing the solutions, which in this case, is a relationship.”

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

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