When my parents were growing up, “dating” was unheard of. Sure, we’ve all heard what the dating ritual involved for generations before us. Instead of a red Pontiac Trans Am, dreamy driver, and bottle of Thums Up with two straws, the girl’s parents would indicate interest in the eligible bachelor around the corner by letting gossiping aunties, babysitters and grannies do the work.
Eventually, the bachelor’s parents would hear of the interested party and arrange a meeting. This is where the Indian dating game turned from culturally charming to scarily sour. The dowry, the literal payment required by the male’s family in exchange for his seed, not only silenced the female’s voice, but also broke down any hint of gender equality. Desi dating today allows for a stunningly similar exchange of girls for marriage over the web, so clearly objectifying and devaluing Indian women.
With today’s incredibly specific dating websites like ChristianMingle.com, FarmersOnly.com, and BlackPeopleMeet.com, it’s no surprise that Indians have their own. Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com do little to fight the objectification that began with old-world dowries. User Testimonials on Shaadi.com highlight its successful members, mostly men.
Reading the overwhelming amount of men’s post about their successful shaadi journeys makes me feel like I’m watching an infomercial for Men’s Rogaine. These testimonials came from possibly respectable yet desperate bachelors looking for someone to clean up after them and raise their future kids, as the Indian culture promotes to this day.
Newly married couples’ loved ones thank Shaadi.com for connecting their spinster daughters with “soulmates.” One testimonial says,
After mobile conversation between elders we fixed up a meeting where we got to know more about each other. After that initial meeting I was sure that I found a perfect match.
Not only do elders, the worldwide gatekeepers of tradition, facilitate communication in contemporary dating, but their approval also inspires singles to believe they have “found a perfect match.” Today’s dating game for Desi men and women involves as many players as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’s love story. How grandmas and men have so much power, but eligible bachelorettes so little in deciding a single woman’s fate in this century is appalling.
The Indian dating game is not only outdated, but also suppressive. Both Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com allow others to sign up in behalf of a loved one.
Jaya, are you saying that my aunt, who’s not actually related to me, could make an entire profile about me with whatever potentially embarrassing or inaccurate details she can come up with, and share it with thousands of single Indian men around the world?! Yes.
She could post unflattering pictures of me showcasing my sari muffin top? Yup.
She could do all of this without even telling me or allowing me to change anything?! Indeed, she can. Any family member or friend can.
Is this a prank, Jaya?! No, betta.
Just like that, your auntie has kicked you out of the entire process of meeting your match if she refuses to give you the password, or even tell you about your Shaadi.com profile. Unfortunately, technology has made it this easy for women to be silenced every day and cut out of life-changing decisions.
Contemporary dating clearly has no place in a world where technology makes Mom or Dad picking a husband for their daughter too easy. The traditional rules governing Indian matchmaking — family approval and a voiceless female — seem to govern modern matchmaking as well.
With Shaadi.com advertising on buses and flaunting their impact on 20 million lives worldwide, I wonder how Indian women can truly believe in their own value while being traded like merchandise over a website.
Regardless of the smiling couples’ pictures and success stories, I am not fooled. The increasingly technological world allows women to share their opinions, dating preferences, and respect for their grandmothers without allowing suppression.
When we choose not to exercise our voices, we are relegated to merchandise on Shaadi.com. We lose the chance to teach future Desis about gender equality and proper uses of technology. Saddest of all, we miss out on the fun of movie dates and two straws in one bottle of Thums Up.