Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’ is only too accurate

Matchmaker Sima Taparia in Netflix show ‘Indian Matchmaking’ | Screen grab from YouTube

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Even as the Netflix show “Indian Matchmaking” has grown into a global hit, it’s incensed many Indians. The issue isn’t that most couples don’t go for goat yoga on their first date. Critics accuse the show of stereotyping and commodifying women, lacking diversity and promoting a backwards vision of marriage where astrologers and meddling parents are more influential than the preferences of brides and grooms.

They complain that the series, which follows matchmaker Sima Taparia as she jets between Mumbai and the U.S. to arrange marriages, perpetuates an outdated, offensive and regressive marriage market. In fact, the real problem may be their discomfort with the way marriage works in India, with social stability prized over individual happiness.

It’s true that India’s 1.35 billion citizens occupy different centuries simultaneously. A small fraction still practices child marriage, with some communities holding betrothal ceremonies as soon as a girl is born. At the other end of the spectrum, there is growing acceptance of queer relationships, divorce and even avoiding marriage altogether.

But most Indian marriages are still arranged. That’s because, for the most part, the purpose of marriage in Indian society is not love but family, children and social stability expressed by confining marriage within caste boundaries. According to the 2011-12 India Human Development Survey, only about 5% of Indians marry outside their caste. The share has remained remarkably stable over the decades since independence, even though India’s economy and society have progressed in many other ways.

Studies show that the education levels of the prospective bride or groom don’t make marriages across castes more likely. Even college-educated, urban, middle-class Indians show a strong preference to marry within caste.

Also read: ‘Indian Matchmaking’ might be controversial but it’s helping Netflix in battle for India

This isn’t only a matter for Hindus either. Muslims in South Asia marry within their biradari or jaat — a stand-in for Hindu caste. Indian Christians differentiate between those who converted and those who came to India centuries ago; they marry based on whatever one’s caste was before conversion.

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