Economic Independence Is Transforming India's Marriage Culture

Aug 14, 2013
Originally published on August 14, 2013 3:20 pm

A rapidly changing world is altering the lives of millions of women.

In India, the rising economic wherewithal of a new generation of women is transforming an institution as old as the country itself: marriage.

NPR’s Julie McCarthy has this report on Indian match-making with a modern twist.


  • Julie McCarthy, international correspondent for NPR, based in New Delhi.
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I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

And let's touch down again now in a great series NPR has been featuring this summer about women around the world, stories examining how a rapidly changing world is changing the lives of women. For instance, in India, where rising economic wherewithal of a new generation of women is transforming an institution as old as the country itself. NPR's Julie McCarthy has this report on Indian match-making with a modern twist.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Sunday's classifieds are chock-a-block with matrimonial ads. Often placed by parents, they trumpet the finer qualities of India's sons and daughters. This one reads, wanted: well-settled, educated groom for fair, beautiful, Bengali Brahmin girl, 22, five-foot-three. But classifieds are the old India.

This is the new India. Water gently laps at the launch of a sunset sail in Mumbai where organizers say they were deluged by takers eager for a spot on one of four yachts.


MCCARTHY: Everyone is on board?

MANGHARAM: Yeah, everyone is on board. It was quite a production.


MCCARTHY: Simran and Siddharth Mangharam host the event. The couple runs Floh, a network for India's singles. Siddharth says the idea sprang from his first encounter with his wife, whom he met at friend's over a plate of bleu cheese.

MANGHARAM: Stinky bleu cheese.

SIDDHARTH MANGHARAM: Stinky bleu cheese, which not too many people like, but I loved it and so did Simran.

MCCARTHY: When their casual encounter ripened into marriage, Sid seized on the idea of serendipitous meetings to connect the sexes. In a country that frowns on dating, Floh unites the unmarried en masse. They go to cookouts and vintage car rallies, which Simran says fill a void.

MANGHARAM: People do feel very lost once they've exhausted the various ways of meeting people. They really don't know how to plug into another circle, you know. It's very difficult in our country, very difficult.

MCCARTHY: With 500 members paying $300 in dues, the company is finding it difficult to keep up with bankers, tech wizards and teachers clamoring to join.

MANGHARAM: They want to become members. They want to meet other single people. And a lot of them are actually hearing about Floh from their parents.

MCCARTHY: Their parents who are interested in getting them married off.

MANGHARAM: Married. Yeah.

MANGHARAM: Yeah, yeah. Their parents who are looking to get them hitched.


MCCARTHY: With pressure to pair off, young, professional urban females are flocking to Floh, outnumbering the men. Geetu Singh, a financial consultant, has flown in from Delhi. At the post-sailing party, the 34-year-old single says education and the new financial independence it brings are eroding the age-old Indian compulsion for parents to marry off their daughters.

GEETU SINGH: It's just brilliant to see how, you know, independently they decide that, no, I'd like to wait. You know, I want the right man. Don't force me into a relationship.

MCCARTHY: Mumbai-based business woman, Shyra Mogul, returned to India last year with a U.S. citizenship and a desire to find her soul mate in her native land. Shyra says young girls like her grew up on Bollywood romance fairy tales where, typically, a rich girl fights with her family to marry the man she loves.

SHYRA MOGUL: The love of her life and he's pretty much in economic terms a loser. You know, he's not rich, he's not making that much money, typically, he's not that educated, but she wants to marry him. So this whole war is about, you know, fighting the family for love.

MCCARTHY: A love match or an arranged match, most Indian marriages are still the latter. But Shyra, who escaped an abusive arranged marriage in her 20s, says one is not necessarily better than the other.

MOGUL: At the end of the day, it's still living with a person and adjusting and compromising. But again, you can reduce the compromise and be happy and still enjoy a life if you're more compatible.

MCCARTHY: Which usually means compatible with the family. Even as modernity and tradition collide, one belief abides, that marriage in India is not a union of two people, but of two families.


MCCARTHY: Gourav Rakshit is the CFO of the online matchmaking service, Shaadi or He says the vast majority of his company's 20 million users say familial compatibility is the most important consideration in finding a mate.

RAKSHIT: Their potential partner will have to be accepted by their families, their families will need to meet, they will need to like each other, and only then will that match move forward. But parental acceptance is very much part of matchmaking and marriage in India and that has not gone away with the Internet.

MCCARTHY: Indian society places such a premium on marriage, there is not much room to stay single. Jyotsna Kini, 36 and divorced, says the expectation is that she'll find another groom. And even a second time around, Kini couldn't conceive of her family not being at the core of that decision.

JYOTSNA KINI: They've sort of been the ones to stick with me through everything, you know, moving from continent to continent, moving from husband to being single, to being single - whatever. All this stuff, they've been my rock. So I'll trust them, you know, because why shouldn't I? You know.

MCCARTHY: With the family as a pillar, says 10,000 new users a day are taking the leap into online matchmaking. Thirty-eight year old Sonali Manjrekar settled on her six-foot-three husband-to-be after he allayed one of her biggest fears.

SONALI MANJREKAR: I was a little bit scared that if I marry a man who says I don't want you to pursue a career further, it would not be something that I would digest, just like my mom or my grandmom did in the past, so he is not like that. There's a sense of freedom with him. He makes - lets me breathe.

MCCARTHY: Newlywed Jennifer Pandya picked her husband from a field of some six candidates in one year. It's very rapid work.

JENNIFER PANDYA: It is, it is.


MCCARTHY: What does it tell us about young women in India today?

PANDYA: How progressive the Indian women are getting. I mean, there was as time when you would not even see the face of the person whom you were getting married to until you were already married, and you had no say whatsoever in your life. And today we've definitely moved leaps and bounds.

NITA JHA: How old is she? Forty-six, no way. No way I would say that I'd be giving you unmarried guys.

MCCARTHY: Nita Jha reigns in client expectations with charm and tough love at the high-end matchmaking service, Sycorian. She says what today's young women want, companionship, versus what parents want for them, security, is now in constant conflict.

JHA: Girls are really furiously independent. It's their choice. They are rejecting guys left, right and center. Very good.

MCCARTHY: And Jha says it's high time they have options.

JHA: Girls have suffered in India for so many hundreds of years, but now they are doing extremely well. They have their time, and I'm very happy for that.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

YOUNG: And a quick heads-up. Tomorrow on HERE AND NOW we're going to take a look at summer romance films for teens. Now, does that make you think of Molly Ringwald or John Cusack holding up his boombox, or maybe Natalie Wood and James Dean? Let us know your favorites. We're going to look at them tomorrow. But still ahead today, getting kids into the kitchen by teaching them how to cook. You might even get a meal out of it. That's next. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.