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Indian love: We just clicked

Generic picture of Indian couple
Will more Indian couples find happiness via the internet?

By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News, Mumbai

Marriages in India are traditionally arranged by parents searching for a partner from the same caste, community and profession as their child. Nowadays, more Indians are making matches themselves - leading to a rise in so-called love marriages. But increasingly, the internet is also playing a part in the way couples meet.

It all seems so easy in the Bollywood films. The characters fall in love at first sight, and despite some initial resistance from their family, it all ends happily ever after.

The reality, of course, is very different.

Nik Talreja
Nik WLTM an intelligent girl who is rooted in tradition

Sitting in a crowded cafe packed with young Mumbaiites, is Nik Talreja. He is, in many ways, the archetypal Bollywood hero: good looking and charming, but missing one thing - a woman by his side.

"I would love to meet someone, but this is India and it's not that easy to just walk over to someone and say, 'Hi would you want to have coffee with me?'" he says.

Nik explains that he has approached girls at airports, cafes, and in the office, in his attempt to meet Miss Right.

He has also tried the more traditional route of allowing his parents to introduce him to prospective partners. None of these options worked, so he turned to the internet.

Witty, smart, athletic

Nik is just one of 15 million people in the country using the web to meet a life partner. Internet matrimonial sites are big business in India. The world's largest, Shaadi.com, was created 13 years ago, and now boasts an extra 10,000 new users every day.

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Shaadi is the Hindi word for wedding, and the emphasis on internet dating sites in India is very much focused on marriage.

On his internet profile, Nik describes himself as witty and smart, with an athletic build. He is looking for a girl who is intelligent, rooted in tradition, and is happy to live with him at his parents' house.

The last criteria, getting family approval, remains a big part of the marriage process in India, even with the rise in internet marriages.

"It's not only her who needs to be convinced, it's the parents, so it's very difficult and why online is the best measure to save on time," explains Nik.

In fact, a key distinction between Indian matrimonial sites and those in the West is that, in India, it is often the parents who are going online to find a match for their child.

"We give freedom to our own children, they are well educated, they are brought up in a good culture," says Arun Joshi, who is searching for a son-in-law.

"The only thing we desire would be that they get married within a restricted caste and community," he adds.

'Off-line' centres

His 29-year-old daughter is too busy climbing up the career ladder to find herself husband, so Mr Joshi has decided to help things along by submitting a profile for her online.

When I used to get any proposal through my family, they were very typical and I didn't want any typical, typical boy
Jueli

In the tradition of arranged marriage, it is standard for parents and relatives to search for a match that meets a certain set of criteria. Those specifications can vary from family to family, but often include looking for someone from a similar caste, community, salary bracket and even skin colour.

Mr Joshi hopes to find a match for his daughter within six months, such can be the speed of this process. He says the internet has given him a wider pool of suitable matches from which to choose from.

Arun Joshi
Arun Joshi has gone online to find his daughter a husband

Targeting parents appears to be a key strategy for the companies behind these sites. In recent years, there has a been a rise in so-called "off-line centres" designed to bring internet marriage to those who are rarely online.

Resembling internet cafes, with banks of computers lining the room, there are advisers on hand to help guide people through the process of creating a profile and selecting matches.

For the young couples who place themselves on these sites, internet matrimonials offer a choice which simply didn't exist before.

Nikhil and Jueli, from Mumbai, married after meeting online. Both had been introduced to potential partners the traditional way, but failed to meet anyone they liked.

Breaking down barriers?

Nikhil explains that he had seen a few girls through his relatives but felt they were "very limited".

Mumbai couple Nikhil and Jueli on how the internet brought them together

For him, the internet was a "better choice, the easiest way and the best way". For his wife Jueli, meeting Nikhil was a breath of fresh air.

"When I used to get any proposal through my family, they were very typical and I didn't want any typical, typical boy," she says.

The pair got engaged after three months. For Jueli it was love at first sight. "When I saw him, I was just - I want him," she says.

While there are many other happy stories of matches made in cyberspace, there are some people who question how progressive it is.

"I don't think it's breaking down barriers to tell you the truth," says Bandhana Tewari, the fashion feature editor of Vogue, India.

For Bandhana, new technology is not changing the old values, where meeting a partner by caste and background is so important.

Meanwhile, she predicts that it will be a long time before people use the internet simply for dating, rather than searching for a specific type of marriage partner.

"I don't think India has reached that level," she says. "They still will not give up their moral stand".

The traditional way

But Gaurav Rakshit from Shaadi.com argues that these sites are breaking down social barriers. One example he cites is that more than half of the people using the site do not search for a match by caste, a sign, he argues, that things are changing.

Rural Wedding
A union made with the help of local matchmakers

"If we found those numbers were trending the other way round, we would probably have to take a very hard call saying that we're exacerbating such things.

"But right now we see them trending very nicely for us in the same way that India is evolving".

There are, of course, large parts of rural India where there is no internet. But Mr Rakshit hopes to reach these parts as a long-term strategy.

He says, one in 10 of all registered marriages in India can be attributed to the internet, but in five years' time he believes this could number could rise to as many as one in two.

But he might have a job on his hands. In the village of Wana, a three hour drive from Mumbai, where there is no internet connection, Rathina Surjivadhi is celebrating the marriage of his daughter Anita.

He found her her husband Jagdish with the help of local matchmakers. He is yet to be convinced that the internet way is better.

"You need to make sure you don't ruin the girl's life," he says. "If they drink or have had affairs, the internet can't tell you that kind of thing".

"Netrimony - Finding love online" is broadcast on the BBC World Service on Wednesday 10 March.



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