Websites in India Put a Bit of Choice Into Arranged Marriages

Transforming India’s Concept of Marriage

In India, urbanization, education and the rise of matrimonial websites are challenging centuries-old traditions of arranged marriage.

By Vikram Singh on Publish Date April 24, 2015. Photo by Video by Vikram Singh/Photo by Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times.

NEW DELHI — For thousands of years, fathers in India have arranged the marriages of their children, and Garima Pant — like an estimated 95 percent of her millennial peers — was intent on following this most Indian of traditions.

Her father found a well-educated man in her caste from a marriage website that features profiles of potential mates and presented his choice to her. And that was when her rebellion began.

“I don’t think so,” responded Ms. Pant, a 27-year-old special education teacher, after seeing a picture of a man with streaks of color in his hair. So her father picked another profile. “Are you kidding?” And another. “Ugh.” And dozens more.

When a profile of a man who intrigued her finally appeared, Ms. Pant broke with tradition yet again, finding the man’s cellphone number and secretly texting him.

Her boldness made the match. By the time the fathers discovered that their families were of the same gotra, or subcaste, generally making marriage taboo, their children had texted and emailed enough that they were hooked. Months later, the couple exchanged vows with their fathers’ grudging blessings. Theirs was one of a growing number of “semi-arranged” marriages in which technology has played matchmaker, helping whittle away at an ancient tradition, but with a particularly Indian twist.

Slide Show|10 Photos An Arranged Marriage With a Back Story

In a society where marriage is largely still a compact between families, most parents, especially fathers, are in charge of the search for a mate, including by scouring the now ubiquitous marriage websites for acceptable candidates. But a growing number, especially in India’s cities, now allow their children veto power. Even siblings have begun weighing in; Ms. Pant’s younger brother became an early booster of the man she would eventually marry after seeing his profile photo with a black Labrador retriever.

Human rights activists have welcomed the evolution as a significant change in the status of women worldwide and are hoping even poor, rural families begin to allow marriages based on choice.

Each year, they note, roughly eight million mostly teenage brides marry men chosen entirely by their parents, with many meeting their grooms for the first time on their wedding day. Refusals can be met with violence and, sometimes, murder. In one case last November, a 21-year-old New Delhi college student was strangled by her parents for marrying against their wishes.

The shift away from fully arranged marriages is being driven in good part by simple market dynamics among Indians who have long seen marriage as a guarantor of social status and economic security.

For centuries, fathers sought matches among their social connections, often with the help of local matchmakers who carried résumés door to door. But village-based kinship networks are fading as more families move to cities, and highly educated women often cannot find men of equal standing in those circles. Under such strains, families have sought larger networks, increasingly through matchmaking sites.

The websites — India now has more than 1,500 — nationalize the pool of prospective spouses, giving parents thousands more choices while still allowing them to adhere to longstanding restrictions regarding caste and religion. (Candidates who fail to identify their caste get far fewer responses, matchmakers and marriage brokers say.)

The system works, analysts say, because India’s young people remain exceptionally open to their parents’ input on mates.

“Intergenerational relationships in India aren’t hostile. Our teenagers don’t have angst. They don’t rebel or misbehave with their parents,” said Madhu Kishwar, a prominent feminist author and a professor at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi. “And the reason marriages in India are more stable than those in the West is because families are actively involved.”

Still, by allowing the Internet to nudge its way into the marriage equation, parents are increasingly surrendering control. On, which says it helps nearly 50,000 people in India get married each month, 82 percent of male profiles are posted by the prospective grooms rather than by their parents, up from 60 percent five years ago, said Murugavel Janakiraman, the site’s founder and chief executive. Among women, the share of self-postings is at 56 percent, up from 30 percent five years ago.

“Twenty years ago, parents chose the matches,” Mr. Janakiraman said of those who have embraced technology in the marriage hunt. “Now parents are largely playing supporting roles, and the brides and grooms are in the driver’s seat.”

But even as social mores shift, relatively few young Indians, including those who demand more of a say in their marriages, are straying too far from tradition. Dating — or at least openly dating with parents’ consent — is still relatively rare. And many of those who choose semi-arranged marriages say that romantic love, the head-spinning Bollywood kind, is not their goal. Compatibility is, as is a sense of control over one’s destiny.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m head-over-heels madly in love with my husband,” said Megha Sehgal, a flight attendant. “But he gives me a lot of comfort, and I see a friend in him.”

The percentage of semi-arranged marriages has grown to an estimated quarter of all marriages in India, according to a survey, while just about 5 percent of matches are considered “love marriages,” in which couples unite with little parental consent. The survey was conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences and the Population Council.

Indeed, many families involved in both old and new forms of arranged marriages see falling in love before marriage as threatening. Those with money sometimes hire private investigators to ensure that a prospective spouse does not have any ill intentions or has not already fallen in love then broken off that relationship in favor of an approved match.

“Fifteen years ago, most of my investigations revolved around checking out the family,” said Sanjay Singh, a private detective in Delhi. “Now they’re mostly concerned with whether the other person is already involved with someone else.”

For poor, rural women, the notion of even semi-arranged marriage is still mainly out of reach — a fact that human rights activists say leaves girls especially vulnerable.

“Marriage is the single biggest risk to Indian girls,” said Joachim Theis, chief of child protection at Unicef in India, which says that the country has a third of the world’s child brides. “They drop out of school; they lose their freedom; they are under the control of their husbands and mothers-in-law; they lose their social network; and they are more likely to die and are 10 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than unmarried adolescent girls,” he said.

Many of the deaths are linked to disputes over dowries demanded by the grooms’ families.

Those urbanized Indians shifting to semi-arranged marriages say the change could not have happened nearly as quickly without the growth of matrimonial websites and the proliferation of cellphones, which have given young Indians a way to converse away from the prying ears of their families.

As prospective brides and grooms increasingly take a role in their courtships, the marriage websites’ formulas for suggesting possible mates have had to change, said Gourav Rakshit, chief of operations at, the largest such site.

“We have seen marked shifts in people using compatibility factors for their searches instead of only the more restrictive parameters of the past,” like wealth and caste, Mr. Rakshit said.

In the end, Garima Pant, whose cellphone became a tool of rebellion, mainly got her way. She insisted on meeting her future husband, Manas Pant, alone before making a decision, a once-rare demand that is now routine in semi-arranged marriages.

A date was set for Café Turtle in New Delhi’s upscale Khan Market, and Ms. Pant agreed to drive Mr. Pant (whose surname was coincidentally the same as hers).


“I was 20 minutes late picking him up, and he hates it when people are late,” Ms. Pant said.

Mr. Pant, 28, a marketing professional for technology companies, had a slightly different take: “Actually, she was 25 minutes late,” he said. “Then she hit a car.” But he was already committed to marrying her, and she was impressed by his reaction.

“He said, ‘Well, we’re off to a good start,’” she said. “It was a joke, and I thought, ‘O.K.’ I’m not saying I heard bells or anything, but it was the right thing to say.”

After a two-hour date, she dropped him off and drove home, where her father, mother and brother were eagerly waiting in the living room.

That night, Mr. Pant texted: “I’m telling my father to go ahead. OK?”

It was the equivalent of a man in the West going down on bended knee. The families would still have to meet, and horoscopes would have to be consulted. But in a monumental change, nothing could happen without Ms. Pant’s approval.

She texted back, “Yes.”

What an Arranged Marriage Taught My Mom About Dating

8/15/2014   New York Magazine

My parents have a great marriage and a terrible love story. Their union was arranged in India back in 1975, when my then-18-year-old mom agreed to marry a 26-year-old man with a mutton-chop mustache the size of Madras whom she’d known all of three weeks. Since then, they’ve developed the type of stable partnership that can only come from spending nearly four decades with someone. But romance? That always fell somewhat by the wayside.  

I used to be jealous of my American friends, with their sitcom-worthy parents who publicly kissed on the mouth. In contrast, my parents, like many Indian parents, were more restrained. My childhood rebellion was to become a super-romantic, spending much of elementary school dramatically crushing on anyone with a pulse. The second-grader who once was an extra on an episode of Power Rangers? Two diaries full of preteen pining. The class clown who kept teasing me on the playground? He was just hiding his real feelings. The quiet, brooding fifth-grade art lover who told me my arms were hairy like a monkey? Well, fuck that guy now, but damned if I wasn’t into him then. And somewhere along the way, between elementary-school swooning and post-college relationships, something unexpected happened. My apparently non-romantic mother, a woman who’s never been on a date, became the best dating guru I’ve ever met.

Her advice started out fairly unremarkable (“Yes, third-grade boys are, quite literally, immature”), but as I grew older, her wisdom proved ever more astute — even if it took me a while to appreciate it. When my high-school boyfriend broke up with me and promptly got back together with his ex-girlfriend, for example, my mom bypassed the usual reassuring clichés. Instead of saying something along the lines of “He’s a jerk, you can do so much better,” she gently suggested that while heartbreak is awful, at least now I knew myself a little better and knew more about what I wanted from the next boyfriend. At the time, I wrote her off as naïve — didn’t she understand that I was just lucky enough to get one guy to like me? Even 11 years later, each subsequent breakup still induces panic about dying alone, but damned if my mom hasn’t been right so far — there is always someone new “just around the corner.” And each boyfriend I’ve dated has always been a slightly better fit than the last.

For example: When I brought my college boyfriend, Neel, home for the first time, I was sure he was perfect — a smart, shiny, student government-participating Indian boyfriend, the kind of future son-in-law Indian parents dream of. My mom’s summary after the visit? “He’s incredibly nice, but he’s too conservative for you.” When I once again dismissed her, she texted back a cryptic “You’ll see.” Four months later, we had broken up over his disapproval of my love of tequila shots and wearing backless Forever 21 sequined tops to parties with other guys around. As it turned out, my mom was right. Despite having done nothing egregious in her presence, Neel’s subtly domineering manner about trivial things (like when we needed to leave and who should drive) set off alarm bells in my mom’s head. If he was controlling over the small stuff, who was to say that when it came to bigger conversations down the road, his views wouldn’t be similarly myopic? Her primary dating rule: A relationship must start on equal footing if you expect it not to topple.

A few years later, my friend Neha and I were each dating great guys with too much big, scary baggage — and we were sure that if we solved all their problems they’d have no choice but to love us. Ever pragmatic, my mom was horrified. “Your long-term goal to making this relationship work can’t be fixing his problems — they’re just going to drag you down.” Her advice was to cut bait, and quickly, because “relationships are hard enough to maintain, and even harder to walk away from, without starting off at a disadvantage.” We were both, of course, instantly unthrilled. But once again time proved her wisdom. “Your mom was totally right,” Neha said recently, looking back. “If you spend all your time worrying about how to fix him and make him happy, when are you going to find out what makes you happy?”

What I had never bothered considering when I dismissed my mom’s advice was that if making a relationship work is hard enough with someone you’re already attracted to, it’s infinitely harder with a perfect stranger. My mom had to learn how to build a relationship using things besides romance: She and my dad had to figure out together, in their early 20s, what was important to each other if they wanted to last the long haul. That grounded approach to marriage, coupled with the anecdotal anthropology of growing up outside her cultural comfort zone (as one of very few Indians in Fort Wayne, Indiana), has made her more of an expert on dating and relationships than I was ever willing to give her credit for.

While her best advice runs toward serious stuff about how to make a long-term relationship last, it’s laid the foundation for the trust I feel going to her even with definitely unserious stuff. The last 14 years of crushes and dating have involved Gchats, text messages, and phone calls aplenty about drunken nights, make-outs, arguments at crowded bars with guys I’ll never marry but keep trying to date — and through it all, my mom has never once faltered. Much to my sister’s horror, my mom was the first person I called in college to ask “Is sex always supposed to hurt?” (Prompting an immediate trip to the gynecologist.) No topic has been too real or too forward for her to offer up judgment on.

Recently, my friend Vivek and I were discussing dating in America while growing up as products of arranged marriage. “I think kids of arranged marriages are better at sorting through what’s real and what’s not,” he surmised. “Even when they go crazy, they know what they’re supposed to want.” And that’s the gap my mother, my surprisingly liberal Indian-born, Indiana-bred mom, has bridged beautifully: the ability to relate to her daughters without ever having been in their shoes.

Neha texted me last night, talking about a guy she’d been friends with for years. She was convinced he was using her as a backup girlfriend — all the intimacy, none of the hooking up — until he found someone else. “What do you think your mom would say if I told her about this Rajiv situation?”

Giddy to be the one people now come to for advice, I tried to channel my best wise, motherly counsel. “Hard to say … I don’t want you to read too much into what could just be platonic,” I typed back.

“Never mind,” she said. “I’ll just call your mom myself.”


Comcast, NBC U pledge more diversity

Companies commit to greater minority representation

6/7/2010   Variety

As a congressional committee holds a Los Angeles hearing today devoted largely to the impact of the Comcast and NBC Universal transaction on diversity, the companies are unveiling a new series of public interest commitments designed to boost minority representation on and off screen.

Comcast, which already had committed to adding two independently owned and operated cable networks to its systems for each of the next three years, is pledging that at least half of them will have substantial ownership by minorities. NBC Universal also says that it has committed to a major effort to identify minority buyers for Los Angeles Spanish-language station KWHY-TV, which it is divesting from its portfolio.

Among other commitments, the companies also say they will establish four external “Diversity Advisory Councils,” representative of African-American, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander and other communities, that will meet at least two times per year with Comcast and NBC Universal execs, including an annual meeting with Comcast’s chairman and chief executive officer. Comcast will appoint up to nine members to each advisory council, with input from national minority leadership organizations, and will develop a strategic plan related to diversity, with benchmark studies updated annually.

The two companies’ new commitments come after some criticism over their records in hiring and minority representation, in particular from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. At a congressional hearing in February, she chided NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker for a lack of NBC shows aimed at African-American audiences. In a letter to the FCC, she cited low marks that the companies have received by the National Hispanic Media Coalition in the hiring of Latinos in their executive ranks.

She pushed for today’s House Judiciary Committee field hearing at the California Science Center, where representatives from a number of groups including the Hispanic Media Coalition, the National Coalition of African-American Owned Media and the National Assn. of Latino Independent Producers are expected to testify. A number of watchdog orgs have long been critical of all networks, with the NAACP releasing a report in 2008 showing what it called a “serious shortage of minority faces in primetime,” although they did report gains in reality TV.

For their part, NBC U and Comcast released a letter from entrepreneur Magic Johnson in support of the transaction, in which the basketball legend says that NBC U’s commitment to diversity “is long-term and real” and that it is “one of the few companies where I’ve witnessed a CEO who makes diversity and inclusion one of his company’s five business imperatives.”

Representing the network at today’s hearing will be Paula Madison, its executive vice president of diversity. Also expected is Alfred Liggins, the president and CEO of Radio One, which is in partnership with Comcast in the African-American oriented cable channel TV One.

NBCU Hopes New Focus On Young Multicultural Women Lends Breath To Oxygen

Frances Berwick Oxygen

Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Senior TV Editor@bristei

About seven months after placing Oxygen in the hands of Bravo chief Frances Berwick,NBCUniversal has a new direction for the female-focused cable outlet.

TV PILOTS/DEVELOPMENT SCORECARD: Follow all of the development action during upfront season

Once focused mostly on young women, with programs featuring reality-show doyenne Tori Spelling and an audition-competition series called “The Glee Project,” Oxygen will now center on young multicultural women, said Berwick in a media presentation Tuesday, and court them with aspirational unscripted series that are less focused on conflict and more on inner satisfaction.

“Big changes are coming” to Oxygen, Berwick said. Young women between the ages of 18 and 34 represent “an arguably underserved audience” which is “hard to find.” Oxygen’s new target viewer “values happiness and experience over material things.”

In pursuit of that viewer, Oxygen will unveil seven new series as well as bring back “Preachers of L.A.” for a second cycle, executives said. The programming slate is Berwick’s first for the network, which was placed under her aegis in September after Bonnie Hammer, who oversees all of NBCU’s entertainment-focused cable networks, decided to shut down the company’s Style network and broaden Berwick’s responsibilities. The move resulted in then-Oxygen chief Jason Klarman leaving the company. The theory at the time, Hammer said in a memo in September, was that between Bravo, E!, Oxygen and Style, NBCU had too many networks serving similar audiences.

The network is placing emphasis on “Fix My Choir,” a music-driven series in which struggling choirs get mentoring and help form Deitrick Hadon from the “Preachers” series as well as singer Michelle Williams, best known “Fix My Choir” Produced by Pink Sneakers with John Ehrhard, Kimberly Ehrhard and Lauren Stevens along with Relevé Entertainment’s Holly Carter and Jonathan Singer, and Deitrick Haddon all serving as executive producers.

Oxygen will also introduce the following series:

“Nail’d It!”:     The nation’s most competitive  nail designers go up against one another for the right to showdown in a two-part finale claim a $100,000 prize.. Hosted by fashionista Adrienne Bailon.  Produced by Matador with Jay Peterson, Todd Lubin and Shye Sutherland serving as executive producers.

“Street Art Throwdown” (working title):  Ten  up-and-coming street artists create unbelievable art in never-before-seen ways  in the hope of winning bragging rights and a cash prize.  Produced by Embassy Row with Michael Davies serving as Executive Producer.

“Sisterhood of Hip Hop”: The next generation of female hip-hop artists – Siya, Nyemiah Supreme, Diamond, Brianna Perry and Bia –  live, love and work towards their dream of becoming the next big breakout star, Produced by 51 Minds with Chris Abrego, T.I., Rabih Gholam, Ben Samek and Roy Orecchio serving as executive producers.

“Funny Girls” (working title):  Comedic docu-series series showcases up-and-coming female comediennes living in Los Angeles as they strive to break the glass ceiling in the male-dominated comedy business   Produced by Brownstone Entertainment with Drew Brown and Bob Gillan serving as executive producers.

  “My Crazy Love” (working title): Half-hour comedic anthology series showcases real people’s personal stories about the wild, crazy, romantic, eccentric and hilarious things that women and men have done in the name of love – from faking one’s own death to hiding out in a boyfriend’s closet all weekend to spy on him. Produced by Jarrett Creative with Julie Jarrett and Seth Jarrett serving as executive producers.

  “Living Different” (working title):  Each hour-long episode in this series will offer a candid look at women who lead unconventional or alternative lifestyles, from one woman choosing celibacy to another opting to live in a cult. Produced by Hud:sun Media with Michael Rourke, Mioshi Hill and Lindsey Bannister serving as executive producers.