Ru­ral In­dia takes to on­line match mak­ing

Financial Chronicle - - COMPANIES - ANINDYA UPAD­HYAY

FASTER, cheaper in­ter­net ac­cess rolling out across provin­cial In­dia is hav­ing an un­likely con­se­quence: match­mak­ing.

In a so­cially con­ser­va­tive na­tion where mar­riages are of­ten ar­ranged by rel­a­tives, mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity is en­abling ru­ral fam­i­lies to go on­line to find matches from a wider pool of suit­ors. And that’s boost­ing de­mand for cy­ber ser­vices, like Mat­ri­mony.com, Jee­vansathi.com and Shaadi.com, which op­er­ate search­able data­bases of mar­riage ma­te­rial.

With an es­ti­mated 450 mil­lion mo­bile in­ter­net users, In­dia’s in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy revo­lu­tion is trans­form­ing the mat­ri­mo­nial mar­ket, tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated by mar­riage ne­go­tia­tors and in­ter­me­di­aries, and ads in news­pa­pers. But on­line match­mak­ing ser­vices are en­croach­ing.

Rev­enue from the fledg­ling in­dus­try ex­panded an av­er­age of 21 per cent an­nu­ally from 2010 to 2015, and will reach Rs 2,060 crore ($322 mil­lion) by 2020, Ken Re­search said in a re­port last year.

Mat­ri­mony.com, which opened an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing on Mon­day, added 3 mil­lion user-pro­files last year, of which 40 per cent were in semi-ur­ban ar­eas. Three-quar­ters of the pro­files added to the Chen­naibased com­pany’s data­base in the quar­ter ended June 30 were up­loaded from a smart­phone, helped by cheaper hand­sets, faster in­ter­net con­nec­tions, and mo­bile-app en­hance­ments.

“We ex­pect that trend to con­tinue and those rea­sons will help more peo­ple come onto our plat­form,” said Mu­ru­gavel Janaki­ra­man, Mat­ri­mony.com’s founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, in an in­ter­view. In­dia’s wed­ding mar­ket, in­clud­ing match­mak­ing ser­vices, venue-hire, ca­ter­ing, dec­o­rat­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, is worth about $54 bil­lion a year.

Re­liance Jio In­fo­comm be­gan of­fer­ing dataen­abled hand­sets, or JioPhones, for Rs 1,500 and monthly tar­iff plans from Rs 153 in July, bol­ster­ing con­nec­tions to the fourth-gen­er­a­tion mo­bile net­work in In­dia’s hin­ter­land. Bharti Air­tel also fol­lowed, slash­ing data charges. “Very re­cently with the launch of Jio we have seen a huge in­crease in pen­e­tra­tion in the Jio mar­kets,” Jee­vansathi.com se­nior vice pres­i­dent Ro­han Mathur said in an in­ter­view in his of­fice near New Delhi. “This huge in­crease in in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion is lead­ing to a large num­ber of users com­ing on­line.”

That has a com­pound ef­fect, as more users means more po­ten­tial suit­ors, which at­tracts yet more users.

The “ar­ranged mar­riage” sys­tem, which is rooted in caste-based so­cial di­vi­sions and pa­tri­archy, is un­der­go­ing a trans­for­ma­tion, ac­cord­ing to Sarbeswar Sa­hoo, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Delhi.

While “love mar­riages” are in­creas­ingly pre­ferred by younger In­di­ans, the lin­ger­ing hold of caste and com­mu­nity in In­dia makes it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to fall in love and marry, Sa­hoo wrote in a pa­per pub­lished in the Jour­nal of South Asian Stud­ies in June.

“The on­line mat­ri­mo­nial tech­nolo­gies trans­gress ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries and pro­vide more au­ton­omy to can­di­dates in ‘ar­rang­ing’ their own mar­riages,” he said. “The new tech­nolo­gies and on­line match­mak­ing pro­cesses defy the fixed cat­e­gori­sa­tions of love and ar­ranged mar­riage.”

That’s re­sult­ing in “sel­f­ar­ranged” mar­riages which com­bine “the best of both worlds,” Sa­hoo said.

Three years ago, 60 per cent of Shaadi.com’s three mil­lion-strong user base was ac­cess­ing the site via a desk­top com­puter. That pro­por­tion has shrunk to 20 per cent, while mo­bile ac­cess jumped to 80 per cent from 40 per cent, said CEO Gourav Rak­shit in a phone in­ter­view. Rak­shit also sees growth com­ing from smaller, semi-ur­ban ar­eas.

“We are see­ing peo­ple us­ing wifi con­nec­tions, shift­ing to mo­biles to ac­cess these ser­vices, and the lev­els of ac­cess have gone up fairly dra­mat­i­cally,” he said.

Rev­enue from the fledg­ling in­dus­try ex­panded an av­er­age of 21 per cent an­nu­ally from 2010 to 2015, and will reach Rs 2,060 crore ($322 mil­lion) by 2020, Ken Re­search said in a re­port last year

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