The Curious Incident on Matrimonial Websites in India

The Curious Incident on Matrimonial Websites in India

This essay by Abhimanyu Roy is part of the ‘Studying Internet in India’ series. The author explores how the curious interplays between the arranged marriage market in India the rise of matrimonial such as, and The gravity of the influence that such web-based services have on the lives of users is substantially greater than most other everyday web-enabled transactions, such as an Uber ride or a Foodpanda order. From outright fraud to online harassment, newspaper back pages are filled with nightmare stories that begin on a marital website. So much so that the Indian government has set up a panel to regulate marital sites. The essay analyzes the role of marital websites in modern day India, and the challenges this awkward amalgamation of the internet and love gives rise to.

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
— Mignon McLaughlin

People say ours is an arranged marriage. In a way, our meeting was arranged by our parents but eventually it was the two of us who decided on the marriage. We met and went out together for a few times. We dated for a while and then agreed to marry…
— Madhuri Dixit

Mignon McLaughlin was a pioneer American reporter. Madhuri Dixit is one of the most popular Indian film heroines in recent memory. They are both women who have led very public lives and they also have had long and happy marriages. Yet, their quotes offer an insight into the very different ways in which they started their marital lives. Unlike the West, love is not inextricably tied to marriage in India. A number of factors such as class, race, caste and financial considerations come into the picture in marriage – it is not far-fetched to think Ms. Dixit’s parents would not have introduced her to her future groom if he did not fulfill certain criteria.

This makes internet-enabled disturbance extremely complex. Any system that aims to interrupt needs to take into consideration systemic elements. E.g. Uber needs to consider fuel prices, regulations, economic fluctuations and real-time demand when setting their prices. However, when unpredictable feelings, sociology and psychological states of not just the individuals involved in the union but also others such as their families come into the picture, things become incredibly complicated. This gives rise to a number of unwanted circumstances from fraud to blackmail. At the same time, websites such as and continue to gain more users – an indicator that a lot of people have found their life partners on these platforms. To gain an understanding of this situation, let us first ask a question – who is the modern Indian?

Identity Crash

In their contribution to the 2002 book Building Virtual Communities, Dorian Wiszniewski and Richard Coyne first put forward the concept of the mask in the context of online interactions. The authors stated that idiosyncrasies of Internet interactions – lack of physical presence, relative anonymity etc. – allowed individuals to reveal more about self-identity than traditional social interactions [3]. In particular, the authors point out that the choices that online contributors make regarding their profiles, style of writing and topics that they follow represent an ideal version of themselves as opposed to their offline social identity which relies more on the perceptions of others about the individual .

Perhaps no-where is this more apparent than the modern online media landscape in India. A look at some of the most popular content on the Indian sub-sections of Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and YouTube presents a revealing picture of modern young India that runs counter to the traditional notion of family-centricity and social conservatism. Channels such as Being Indian on YouTube that has videos asking Bengaluru citizens about penis sizes and Mumbaikars on office romances, content produced by popular Buzzfeed writers such as Rega Jha and Sahil Rizwan and hard-hitting editorials from outlets such as Quartz and Huffington Post regarding love , marriage, sexuality and abuse reflect an undercurrent of social liberalism that is unseen in traditional social circles.

But for all that online liberalism, a 2013 survey commissioned by the Taj Group of Hotels and conducted out by market research agency IPSOS revealed that 75% of Indians in the age group of 18 to 35 preferred arranged marriages. What explains this obvious cognitive dissonance? A possible answer comes from a study commissioned by the UK government in 2013. The study called ‘What is the relationship between identities that people construct, express and consume online and those offline?’ posits that it is easy to deconstruct online identities compared to offline. one – upload pictures, share content, post status updates. The offline identity, on the other hand, has a sense of permanence associated with it and more difficult to reconstruct. In conflict between a malleable identity and a permanent one, the permanent one wins out.

This gives rise to an interesting puzzle – is it possible for one to take a decision for their offline identity based on information provided by someone who is representing their online self?


Anupam Mittal was working in a business intelligence firm in America during the dotcom boom. Every year he used to visit his family again in India. On one of these trips in 1997, he had a chance meeting with a match-maker. After wrestling his way out of the encounter (there were many uncomfortable personal questions for his liking), he came up with an idea for a portal where prospective brides and grooms would be able to upload their profiles and cut out the middleman in India’s marriage ecosystem. . This idea led to, which would ultimately become

By 2008, was one of India’s fifth most popular websites. It had over 300 million page views each month and 6000 profiles were added every day. Since then, the online matrimony market has become more segmented and numerous clones have cropped up – most notably, and Whereas this has somewhat taken the sheen off from Shaadi’s dominance, the portal still remains the market leader in India.

In the countless interviews that Mittal has given since the launch of Shaadi, he always attributes the success of the portal to one attribute – it makes the process of marriage easier [8]. This statement, however simple it may seem on the surface, actually encompasses a number of factors – a wider pool of prospective spouses, bypassing match-makers, objective representation, and testimonials of satisfied clients. However, collating a large number of prospective brides and grooms and facilitating the union is not a new phenomena. It has been around for years in India – centuries in fact.

For a very long time, parents who wanted their children to be married in India would approach a marriage broker. This person (or in some cases, agency) would keep on record the details of a large number of prospective life partners. Subsequently, much like a recruitment agency, they would match the details to the request of their clients and arrange a meeting. As news media began to grow in prominence in the nation, matrimony-seekers began to find a way around marriage brokers. This led to the emergence of matrimonial advertisements in newspapers. The main advantage that matrimonial ads had was that they allowed people access to a huge number of prospective husbands – a much larger pool than those of marriage brokers.

To understand why matrimonial websites supplanted both brokers and newspaper advertisements one has to look at the shortcomings in both systems. Brokers while primarily only facilitating introductions actually influence every facet of the wedding. They would make the wedding arrangements, find the purohit (priest), fix the guest list, determine astrological feasibility and (in the past) even negotiate the dowry. In each of these transactions, the broker has a profit motive, which is what makes brokers a very troubling medium – they have an incentive to do what is best for them and not for their clients. At its best, this might involve getting more costly flowers for the ceremony. At its worst, they may knowingly push a bride into a marriage they know is inappropriate but would yield them greater profits.

Of course, if one wanted to not get into this system, they could always put out a marriage ad in the newspaper. Except, the greatest advantage of matrimonial advertisements is also their greatest weakness. While it’s true that placing out an ad in a newspaper opened up a large number of choices for a man or woman, it also opened them up to the general public. Instead of having a broker narrow down their options to a few people, the advertisers would now have to sift through a abundance of propositions – many of which they would never even consider. Shaadi was a game-changing in both these aspects. Customizability allowed users to pick and choose who was able to view their profiles on the website – thereby eliminating solicitors who did not meet their criteria for a spouse. At the same time, Shaadi’s revenue model restricted its operations to only facilitating a meeting between the two parties. This kept in check the profit incentive that was inherent to brokers. By identifying weak points in both models and catalysing a beneficial change for the user, (and other matrimonial websites) were able to gain a foothold in India’s marriage industry.

With over 2 million unions that were initiated online since the inception of, it would appear as though online matrimony is a success. However, there is a dark side to this phenomena – a 2012 report by the Economic Times found that almost half the divorces in metros were by couples who met through a matrimony website. Unsurprisingly, the main cause for this was misrepresentation of details on online profiles.

Whereas the increasing acceptance of online matrimony points to its popularity and the success of decision-making based on the representation of the self-identity of individuals, the high number of divorces suggests that there are clear gaps in the system that can lead to some very uncomfortable situations. An examination of the decision-making process for internet-based attractions is necessary to understand why online matrimony-seekers make the decisions that they do and the consequences of those choices when it comes to marriage.


Economic theory bases decision-making on the principle of utility maximisation[17]. Fundamentally, given a set of choices we would pick the option that gives us the greatest advantage for the lowest cost. Individuals weigh benefits on a set of criteria that are subjective in nature and vary from person to person – Akash may like 2 chocolates and 1 ice cream for Rs. 10 but Megha might prefer 2 ice creams and 1 chocolate for Rs. 10 instead.

The basic assumption in this model is that the options are well-defined, i.e. There is no hidden information that might change the decision-maker’s opinion. Any hidden information changes the context within which the decision is taken – Megha would certainly not prefer to have ice creams if it was very cold that day. This has serious implications for a medium where decision-making is governed by trust on the parties providing the decision-maker with the facts upon which to make their choice.

Although there are many factors upon which an online suitor would base their decision to pursue a potential husband, evidence from the operation of matrimonial websites has found that there are actually six criteria that matter the most – education, religion, age, height, work area. and caste.[18] Evidence regarding misrepresentation among these six factors in Indian matrimony is sparse. However, research into Western dating websites suggests that most of the fudging tends to occur for height, age and weight [19]. It should come as no surprise that these are the toughest factors to verify – a bride’s family may ask to see proof of the groom’s employment and education but would think twice before asking to measure his height or test his age.

Maintaining honesty on a matrimonial website is a difficult proposition. The profile creators are governed by the same economic theory of decision-making that was laid out previously. If a prospective suitor thinks he would get a better spouse by increasing their height by a pair of inches or decreasing their age by a few years, why wouldn’t they lie? On the operators’ end, verifying the truth behind any of the claims is also problematic – how do you gauge the veracity of someone’s age by a picture? The problem on the operators’ end goes much deeper though and this is where the situation begins to get murky.

While physical characteristics are the easiest ones to be misleading about one can also lie about their educational and employment credentials. The mandate of marital websites is to connect brides and grooms. The onus of verifying the truth behind the claims made by either party lies on the opposite group and not on the operators of the medium. Besides, verifying whether someone went to a particular university or not or is employed in the same capacity as their claims requires resources that marital websites do not possess. This gives rise to the most troublesome aspect of such websites – fraud.


In 2014, a Mumbai-based woman met a man named Michael Williams who claimed to be based in the United Kingdom on After a few weeks of courtship, Williams had swept her off her feet. In late July of that year, he informed her that he would be visiting India but upon his arrival, he informed her that he had been detained by the customs department for carrying excess foreign currency and would require an ‘anti-terrorist certificate’ in order to be allowed in the country. He asked her for some money – the customs department required Indian currency – and she obliged. However, after receiving her aid she did not hear from him again. Williams had cheated her out of 2.93 lakhs.

Upon contacting, the portal informed her that they had suspended Williams’ profile and the responsibility of verifying his claims lie with her. After a prolonged legal case, the Mumbai High Court ruled that the portal was not liable for fraud.

It is not a unique case. Many cases of fraud, sexual abuse and harassment have occurred on matrimony websites. Users have tried numerous mechanisms to verify the details that they are provided with on these sites. From asking probing questions to discern any possible duplicity to even hiring detectives to find the truth about their possible spouses and (more recently) checking social media profiles, men and women on matrimonial sites go to extreme lengths to determine the truthfulness of the information that they has been provided with. However, not everyone is as cautious and quite a few times terrible experiences ranging from theft to sexual assault have begun through a meeting on a matrimonial website.

The lack of clear regulation and policy paired with India’s lax laws governing online transactions make it difficult to draw a line where the responsibility of the websites end and that of the users begin. Luckily, this situation is changing.


Governments in most countries have an unusually important role to play in an institution that is supposed to be between two people. From succession laws to prohibition of certain types of unions – most prominently and controversially the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States – governments straddle a complicated middle ground between having too much influence in marital affairs to having too little.

Even so, the Indian government’s involvement in marriage is particularly extensive. From anti-dowry legislation to prohibition of child marriage, the government has always had a crucial role to play.

In November 2015, the Indian government decided to set up a panel that would make recommendations for the regulation of marital websites in order to check abuse. The initiative is an initiative of the Women and Child Development (WCD) ministry. The panel consists of members from the WCD ministry, Home ministry and Department of Electronics and Information Technology along with representatives from marital websites such as and Ministry officials pointed out that the increasing number of cases of fraud and abuse occurring on such websites was the prevailing reason for the formation of the panel.

In June 2016, the panel made its suggestions. It was now compulsory for websites to keep track of the IP addresses of its users. Documentation from users would now also be sought to verify their identity and curb instances of fraud. Matrimonial websites are also required to now clearly spell out that they are for matrimony and not for dating.

Whereas the government has cited that these regulations are to protect users of these websites, the operators of these websites have so far declined to comment on the guidelines (at the time of writing of this essay, the full list of guidelines has not yet been made public and have not formally been presented to the operators of matrimonial websites). However, regardless of any protests from operators, regulation will be an integral part of the future of matrimonial websites in India. This brings us to an important question – what actually is the future of these websites? Will they endure the crime that occurs on them or will they become an irreplaceable part of life in India?


The online marriage industry in India is estimated to be worth $225 million by 2017. In 2013 over 50 million new subscribers registered across these websites Despite, the stories of fraud and abuse that begin on these portals and end in courts, matrimonial websites are growing and are here to stay.

Operators of these websites are undertaking various market development activities to bring in new customers. The most visible of these is the segmentation of the market – BharatMatrimony and Shaadi, have launched a number of targeted community driven portals such as,, amongst others.

In an interview of February 2015, Gourav Rakshit Chief Operating Officer of lay out operational changes that the market leader is contemplating implementing. To prevent misleading information provided by users, stricter guidelines regarding the upload of photographs on the website are being implemented as well as the implementation of a screening procedure for profiles and the development of a stronger relationship with the cyber-crime branch of law enforcement agencies.

The last cog in the future of matrimony websites is technology. Mobile and real-time engagement strategies are being actively considered by these websites in their quest to drive up their user base and find new streams of revenues.

But this is not where the journey of marriage websites ends. As with every great expedition, its conclusion is the beginning of another great expedition. Just as and others had rode the early wave of disruption in the Indian wedding industry, so too are a number of new and upcoming internet-based services. Companies such as 7 Vachan, Big Indian Wedding and ShaadiMagic offer a host of options for banquet halls, priests, makeup artists, photographers etc… These startups streamline the long process that is planning an Indian wedding. Would-be brides and grooms or their families can easily connect with vendors, make their final choices and organize every aspect of the wedding in a pristine manner rather than the general chaos that ensues while planning a wedding. As these companies prove, the disruption of the wedding industry that was started by marital websites will continue in the foreseeable future.


In the March 2005 issue of New York magazine, a New York-based author of Indian-origin chronicles her and her family’s tries with arranged marriage. The article titled ‘Is Arranged Marriage any worse than Craigslist?’ is an examination of the experiences of the Indian diaspora with an institution that is deeply ingrained in their identity. In it, the author recalls an experience from her childhood wherein she had fallen out of the window of their home as a child and had broken her arm. According to her father, the primary concern of her mother was that they should never mention this incident to anybody as it would greatly increase the dowry her family would have to pay her husband. Apart from being an event that shows the contradictions that Indian expats face in a western countries, it also shows how deeply the institution of marriage is rooted in Indians’ identity.

According to UNICEF, 90% of marriages in India are organized. Parents center their children’s lives on the event right from the outside. To industrialize an environment that has such deep emotional connections within it is fraught with threats and the online matrimony business has had to deal with fraud and abuse. But along the way, they have permanently interrupted the way Indians get married. The growing popularity of these websites is a testament not just to their effectiveness but also to the spirit of a new India. Government intervention and the supervision of website operators is bringing about greater improvements in fraud detection and abuse prevention on these websites. As the market continues to evolve, bring in more users and cater to new audiences, online matrimony will continue to flourish in India for a very long time to come.