Today, media is increasingly shaping our social, political and economic processes, or our daily life (a process known as ‘medialisation’). New forms of lifestyles, working environments and use of media impacts attitude towards marriage and partner selection. Now, we don’t have to rely anymore on relatives, marriage brokers, newspaper advertisements or ‘word of mouth’ for finding marriage partners. An easy alternative is – ‘online matrimonial’ market. It combines its traditional structure and design, with the ‘agency’ of the individual and new dimensions of the media usage. It has brought changes in the match-making process and in the notions like – love, marriage and gender roles. Matchmaking is undergoing crucial changes though medialisation and mobility.
Social changes related to marriage are seen everywhere – villages, towns and metropolitan cities. Some of them can be marriage age, educational qualification, inter-religion, inter-caste, or divorced marriages, type of family structure or household arrangement etc. There can be contradictions and tensions between these factors. Class is another factor which determines social change. Online matchmaking should be seen not only as individualistic patterns of partner search but also as maintenance and reinforcement of traditional criteria and requirements. Although upper and lower middle class is an important segment, research shows an increasingly globalised middle class as the prime target audience of matrimonial websites and hence the most important class. Booming IT and call centre industries constitute a significant portion of it.
Researchers have tried to see the interrelation of technologically modern life and working style with notions of marriage and relationship. Unmarried girls face more issues during this time. For them initially it looks like as site where they can choose freely their partner, but parents’ role is also important in decision making because female employees depend greatly on family support to combine work and family life. Another aspect of social change is the increasingly required mobility of young people who move to other cities, where they live independently in order to avail of better employment opportunities. Especially for young unmarried woman India, this is an unprecedented concept and poses several problems. The reputation of female call centre employees within conservative social setting is often negative and made worse because of commonly held prejudices regarding promiscuous single woman living alone. Some marriage advertisements explicitly mention the undesirability of ‘Call Centre girls’. This shows that mobility serves in manifold ways as a key factor in social change with regard to woman and marriage. Thus, mobility serves in manifold ways as a key factor in social change with regard to woman and marriage. In her analysis Fritzi-Marie shows that woman presented themselves as ‘confident’ and ‘assertive’, but emphasised their connection to the traditional values (family values, respect for elders). One repetitive pattern was the desire for ‘loving’, ‘understanding’ partner and a ‘romantic’ soulmate.
Matrimonial online sites boomed especially after the economic liberalization and globalisation of 1990s. India is called the new IT nation, with thousands of young educated computed users, who are also fluent in English, and thus the overwhelming response of matrimonial advertisements. A research found that most of the users are between 18-35 years old, have at least a college degree and live in India’s one of mega-cities, making it more of a urban middle class phenomenon, India’s top 3 websites are – shaadi.com, bharatmatrimony.com and jeeveansathi.com. they target specific regions like – marathimatrimony.com or specific community for e.g. – nikah.com or in caste terms – http://shaadi.brahmakshatriya.com. The market strategy is used by using the term community in place of caste. In 2007, shaadi.com bridged another gap, by launching separate site for seekers of second marriage (widow, divorcee), and thus questioning the tradition as re-marriage. Though there is visibility of marginalised groups, matrimonial media needs to be understood primarily in terms of commercial enterprise, functioning according to the market forces.
These changes become evident when we see the bridging of the dichotomy between ‘arranged’ v/s ‘love’ marriage and consider role of woman’s agency in the decision-making. The important aspect is not whether it is a love or arranged marriage, but her ability to choose her marriage partner in conjunction with her parents. Agency as the key term is the decisive factor. Instead of looking it as a site of humiliation and rejection, they think themselves as consumers who have numerous choices for them (this middle category can be understood by the terms – ‘self-arranged’ marriage/ ‘love-cum-arranged’ marriage / ‘family-oriented individualism’) and again brings us to the necessity of rethinking supposedly fixed categories. The family focuses on certain criteria, such as family background, religion or caste, while the individual looks for personal compatibility and the clicking together of prospective partners. The practice of finding a suitable match is being transformed by young users into self-arranged marriages, thus blending traditional criteria, such as religion or caste with individualistic expectations.
Another important thing in this online representation is of the image of – ‘New Indian Women’. One who combines a modern lifestyle with cultural rootedness and makes way for new forms of subjectivity and agency. While ‘agency’ emphasises the capacity to act, ‘choice’ is indicated by the consumerist viewpoint. Matrimonial sites post success stories of users, mostly girls and married couples. For e.g. in one of the stories posted on shaadi.com, there is a picture of career woman with a laptop, dressed in western clothes, but also with the inclusion of her parents in the marriage arrangement. The inclusion of her parents stands for family values which in many discourses form an integral part of Indian cultural identity. There are many such examples which demonstrate that how matrimonial media promotes the image of new Indian woman and thus represents an ideal Indian who is global and local at the same time. Such advertisements define what is perceived as norm and as a desirable existence.
Matrimonial websites clearly promote the notion of communication, getting to know to each other and assessing compatibility. Mutual understanding and an informed process of decision making is central to users. Sharangpani (2010) describes an essentially consumerist perspective whereby ‘arranged marriages were all about crafting the perfect match’ (one of her interviewees compares partner selection with shopping)
Mobility is the key factor of global media development. In the context of matchmaking, it is difficult to distinguish between users and producers. The eligible candidates themselves become ‘producers’, who create, consume and communicate the content that is the marriage market. As Kim (2008) puts it, the capacity of human beings to engage in action is expanding. The analysis of matrimonial websites and their users, reveals changing concepts of marriage, love, agency, and existing gender roles. Individuality as the integral part in the neo liberal rhetoric. The online matrimonial market is the culmination and combination of all hitherto existing match-making methods. The explicitly new or modern aspect about the medialised marriage market is the progressively interactive nature of media used for setting up matrimonial alliances.