Contrary to what some viewers might think, the caste system is an active form of discrimination that persists in India and within the Indian American diaspora. One of the primary functions of arranged marriage is maintaining this status quo. This can be confirmed by a cursory glance at matrimonial columns in Indian newspapers, which are full of “Caste Wanted” headlines, or at the ubiquitous matchmaking websites that promise to help users find an upper-caste “Brahmin bride” or “Rajput boy,” while filtering profiles from people in lower castes. Marrying into the same caste of one’s birth is not, as Indian Matchmaking might suggest, a benign choice akin to finding someone who “matches your background” or has “similar values.” It’s a practice that helps dominant-caste folks preserve their power.
Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’ Is The Talk Of India — And Not In A Good Way:
The show lays bare the hypocrisy of many seemingly progressive Indians, says Amita Nigam Sahaya, a gender activist and author of The Shaadi Story: Behind the Scenes of the Big Fat Indian Wedding.
“We’ve given all the tools [to women] vis-a-vis education, thought processes, financial autonomy,” Sahaya says. “But the moment she reaches a particular point in her 20s or 30s when she gets into a partnership with a man, we say now it’s time for you to take 100 steps back into a very traditional role.”
Casteism, Colorism & Culture: Indian Matchmaking Has A Lot Of Explaining To Do
One can argue — as the Indian Matchmaking creators already have — that this is simply Sima’s world, but the producers are none too forthcoming about a practice that has led to honor killings of inter-caste lovers and suppression of women’s autonomy. The latter was explored in another documentary, A Suitable Girl, co-directed by Mundhra. Sima even appears, too — though not as a confident know-it-all, but as the nervous mother of an uncertain bride. In the film, glamour and celebrity is abandoned for real, palpable precariousness. Indian Matchmaking likes to pretend that it’s showcasing a more modernized version of the practice, where suitors and their matches go on dates at wine bars instead of meeting one another on their wedding night. But under the watchful eyes of parents, caste and cultural hegemony, and a society that still looks down upon the unmarried, there aren’t many options.
Indian Matchmaking Only Scratches the Surface of a Big Problem:
The tradition in India and the Indian diaspora seems to be less about marriage and more about this intense, all-consuming pressure to mold your children. Nothing seems to fuel the marriage complex more than the fear of social stigma, of being somehow outside, somehow othered. In this context, it’s no wonder that matchmaking brings out the worst colorism, casteism, and classism that Indians have to offer. I wish Indian Matchmaking said anything about that. But at least it gives the world a view into the false promise of arranged marriage, even if, by the end, the series is still starry-eyed, committed to a fantasy. Aparna, my parents, all of the frantic parents who catch Sima’s wrist at a party and whisper biodata into her ear; they just want what was promised. They just want to belong.
How the reality show ‘Indian Matchmaking’ hides the reality:
Indian Matchmaking unpacks only selectively what an upper-class, upper-caste Indian marriage entails. It’s no coincidence that both the desi matches Sima Taparia makes are for “boys” ( grooms are invariably termed “boys” and brides are “girls”, even if they are well into their 30s). If the show had included desi girls, the sticky territory of “Kitne ki party hai, lena dena, saas ke liye zevar, nanad ke liye sari (how wealthy the families are, the demands for dowry and gifts)” would have been harder to shove under the carpet. But the show steers clear of un-classy on-camera bargaining, because that would be too “real” for a show which wants to go down easy, even if everything in it is staged.