Match Made in India

by Uzra Khan:

“Kayastha family (Patna) invites alliance for smart, fair & handsome boy 31/5’6” MBA working in rptd. American Company in US (Fortune 500 corporations) only issue. Father well established, want very fair, smart b’ful & well-educated girl. Contact via…”

“IIM, MS (USA), B.Tech, Jan84, Tall, Handsome, MNC Bank Mumbai 7 figure salary, Iyengar. Looking for educated, cultured, good-looking Brahmin (any). Contact…”

“Suitable match for Smart Handsome boy 24/5’11” in family business. We are looking for Simple, Beautiful, Educated, Homely Manglik Girl. Caste/Dowry no bar. Contact…”

The Matrimonial Page in the Times of India (TYG, Khan)

Open the Times of India on a Sunday morning, and there is an entire page dedicated to matrimonial ads—in bright red captions, very well organized in columns according to caste (the first ad reads BRAHMIN in bold), religion, and which state the desperately seeking bachelor or bachelorette is from.

Marriage and weddings are a large part of Indian culture; this probably stems from the fact that family is such a central part of everyday life. Often a bride will go live in her husband’s home with her parents-in-law—a part of the historical patriarchal system—as marriage is often considered a bond shared by two families, rather than two individuals. This also sheds some light on why arranged marriages (one of the world’s favorite stereotypes about India) are more common on the subcontinent than in other parts of the world: families want to ensure that the families they marry, so to speak, are compatible. Marriage in India is for life; the divorce rates in India are 1.1%, as opposed to 50% in the USA, although the rates are increasing as India moves into a more globalized world.

Because marriage is such a large part of culture, the manner in which the matrimonial columns are written illuminates several deeply ingrained (and sometimes troubling) elements in the Indian psyche. Words that you will always see on a matrimonial page: “caste”, “homely”, “dowry”, “fair”, “very fair”, “wheat-ish“ (the standard euphemism used for anyone who isn’t “fair” or “very fair”), the list goes on…

The caste system is an ancient system of segregation associated mainly with Hinduism, with four endogamous castes (each with various sub castes) organized mainly by profession and arranged in a hierarchy, and some outcaste social groups—also called ‘untouchables’. The practice of untouchability was outlawed in 1950, but caste still plays a large role in society; more so in rural areas than in urban, and especially in the field of politics, and marriage. The rigidity in expectations of families about marrying within one’s caste manifests itself in the many ads for a bride or groom of not just a specific caste, but specific sub caste. The ‘caste no bar’ label is significantly outnumbered.

The system of dowry, whereby the bride’s family pays the groom’s family an agreed-upon sum of money, in cash or gifts, is a practice that was outlawed in 1961, but which, again, still occurs, especially in rural areas. The magnanimous ‘dowry no bar’ label on some of the ads shows how openly the practice exists in society.

The third, and to me the most troubling fact about Indian culture that these matrimonial columns shows is an obsession with fairness. Fairness creams; the major player being a cream called ‘Fair and Lovely’ (there is now a male counterpart called ‘Fair and Handsome’), monopolize half of the skincare industry in India, and rake in over $400 million a year. Their advertisements on TV show a sad dark-skinned girl using the product and morphing into a happy, fair girl, now able to get noticed, get a job, and get married. Where does this obsession stem from? My hunch is that it is a remainder of colonization; a subconscious idolization of the West and Western looks as being superior.

Today, matrimonial columns in Indian newspapers and Indian matrimonial websites (,,,*) are a money-spinning industry, as more and more Indians look to these as ways to specify their needs for a match made in heaven.