Matchmaking, Examined

Sima Taparia is a middle-aged Indian matchmaker who travels to and fro from Mumbai and the US to meet various clients who wish to have their partners matched by her. Indian women and men seek her services to help them find their perfect partner, and she is more than happy to zip between countries to make this a reality for them. After all, marriage is a huge industry in it and one needs to make their profits off it.

 

While the show is entertaining — in the most voyeuristic sense in that you cannot help but watch when a car crashes — Indian Matchmaking is a mirror of Indian society, one that is filled with casteist, classist, racist, misogynist narratives that inform peoples’ decisions when forming a union of marriage.

 

Indian Matchmaking is not invested in critiquing or interrogating the biases held by the people in the show. Even worse, it normalises the most pernicious aspects of South Asian communities, where casteism, sexism, the general disdain for working women, “unstable” (in other words, marginalised or poor) people, and how it plays a huge role in who gets to marry whom.

 

The purpose of such transparent bias is the fact that Indian society works very hard to socially isolate themselves within their own class, or caste. Some might argue that this is for the sake of familiarity and continuity of traditions and familial values. But the problem with this perspective is that these values — which are inherently discriminatory — are regarded as a fact of life that simply cannot be challenged or changed.

 

Many of the individuals state that they want someone who is kind, someone who likes to travel, or someone who is ambitious etc. These are fairly reasonable similarities to want in partners, but when they state that they want “someone from the North” or someone “fair” or someone from a particular caste, class, religion, we have not only veered into the territory of arbitrary criteria that discriminates against people, it sets the idea that anyone who falls outside of these categories as undesirable, and/or incapable of being good partners. A person’s caste, class, religion, and even height, simply cannot dictate whether one is a good or a bad person to have a life with, which is what the show insidiously propagates.

 

This is further crystallised within the show by the overbearing parents of the kids — where any pushback against the wants of the parent is seen as disrespectful towards them. For example, Preeti, a mother of her 25 year old unmarried son Akshay, is determined to have Akshay married to a woman who is “slim, trim, and educated” — which is a rather narrow and objectifying list of demands to ask of a woman. But she also represents the very structures of a society that is obsessed with material wealth, good and “fair” looks, and the fact that she believes her future daughter-in-law must defer to her demands the minute she steps foot into their household (married Indian women move in with the husband and his family). This kind of attitude does not see these adult children as people with autonomy to decide on their future. What’s more, these adult children internalise these value systems and take it forward to discriminate against others. It creates an endless cycle of discrimination that informs India’s social fabric and eventually, the marriage market in India.

 

In essence, matchmaking in South Asia, is usually about those who want to climb up the social ladder, and to create more prestigious and wealthy social, cultural and even political networks. Family plays a huge role in the decision of two individuals getting married because it is not so much about the marriage between the two individuals, it is about the creation of a union between mutually beneficial families that have a higher status in society.

 

But what many miss about the show is how it is a an absolute portrayal of how brahmanical patriarchy functions in India, and how it facilitates caste apartheid, and how gender norms alongside the values of brahmanic tradition enforce caste amongst women and other marginalised communities.

 

There is the idea about how those in the diaspora are somehow enlightened enough to bypass the prejudices and constraints of caste in their Western nations. However, the diaspora clientele of Sima Aunty, repeatedly tap into their own biases and prejudices that are informed on caste discrimination. Despite Aparna, an Indian-American, having a mother who was forced into a marriage that she did not want — and eventually leaves said unwanted marriage — the mother and daughter duo are fully invested with fitting into a system and living the happy Indian married life that was not fulfilled by the mother.

 

To be fair to Aparna, Sima Aunty’s demands to have Aparna change her rigid ways reeks of sexism, which is concerning because it does not account for the fact that many Indian women who marry into families like the one presented in the show are subjected to odious amounts of abuse and gaslighting by not just their spouses, but also by their in-laws and extended families, and are expected to be deferential to their husbands. Furthermore, the show centres and celebrates someone who is willing to be an active participant in this oppressive social norm, with zero critique or examination.

 

The show then seems to try and say, “Since matchmaking is a big and usual part of Indian society that may seem weird to you, there are also people who live in the modern world who participate and consent to this process”. But the other problem here is that the show depicts a very particular sect of Indian society, who are mainly middle to upper-class families, and clients who consent willingly and are able to reject suitors if they wish to do so. It does not factor in how poorer families, or how poorer women (and children) are forced into these marriages at a very young age. It does not try to understand that the concept around arranged marriages is a symptomatic characteristic of a caste system that continues to persist. It also does not get into the fact that those who “consent” to these matchups respond in such a manner due to the unchecked and implicit pressures from family and society in general. Worst of all, it does not understand how traumatising it is for women, especially women who continue to stay in abusive relationships, in a country where domestic and sexualised violence is seen as a private issue that must not be interfered with.

 

It becomes increasingly clear that while Indian Matchmaking serves as entertainment for some — and let’s be honest, it serves the adoring white gaze that hungrily searches for the colourful and aromatic big fat Indian wedding — it excuses discrimination in its most insidious ways. But one hopes that maybe, possibly, it could bring up conversations about marriage, and how it facilitates casteist, classist patriarchy. This could possibly mean a slow disintegration of marriage as an institution — which, let’s be honest, is highly unlikely — but it may be possible to entertain the thought, just as much as the world watched Indian Matchmaking with entertainment.

 

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