The withdrawal under social media pressure of a Tanishq ad that depicts an interfaith marriage tells us that even in modern India some alliances continue to be out-of-bounds. Provisions in a law that enables secular marriage are, ironically, often a tool for harassment.My story with Surbhi Karwa for Article-14.
When she was in the fifth standard, the last of her four elder sisters got married, and her mother asked: “Who is going to help with the housework?” Amreen Malik never again went to school. While her mother worked in the fields, it was the job of the 12-year-old to cook, clean and care for the rest of her family, including three younger brothers.
“I was not allowed to go out or have friends,” she said.
Mohit Nagar’s father had a small medical store right across the road from Amreen’s house in the village of Kharauli in the western Uttar Pradesh district of Meerut. Elder to Amreen by four years, Mohit would often hang out at the store.
One day when she was around 15 or 16, she can’t remember when, he called on the landline at her house. She picked up. And so began a relationship by phone until his father found out and told Amreen’s father.
Netflix’s new show, Indian Matchmaking is regressive, but not more than the patriarchy that governs the rules of marriage.
One critic calls it “this year’s scariest horror show about arranged marriages”. And on social media, there is a raging storm over sexism, casteism, colourism and a range of other isms.
As Netflix’s eight-episode reality show, Indian Matchmaking kicks off, the conversation about the business of arranged marriages has gathered pace.
Indian Matchmaking doesn’t claim to wear a reformist cloak. Executive producer Smriti Mundhra calls it an “unscripted, fun, crazy, light look on the surface of the Indian marriage industrial complex.” It’s an industry that places a premium on women who are fair, tall, “slim-trim”, and, above all, “flexible”. Families must be “respectable”. After all, alliances are not between individuals, but families. One eager mum tells her son she’s looking for “someone to take care of you”. The son, no surprise, is looking for someone like mummy.
And yet, Indian Matchmaking underplays the seedier underbelly of the marriage market. Dowry, for instance, is excised from the show. And non-conforming clients include a single mom as well as a Catholic man who says he’s open to meeting women from other religions. In one case, the match-maker introduces a woman who is seven years older than her prospective groom.