Fully 73% of the profiles on Shaadi.com have been put there by people who are seeking partners for themselves, not by their parents or brothers. These days most new users (about 12,000 to 15,000 people sign up each day) access the website via smartphones. Those phones, which are bringing the internet to millions of new users, are themselves changing the matchmaking process. Tech-savvy Indians can now find out all about potential partners by tracking their digital traces through social media, or just by texting and telephoning. Parents need never know.
If small numbers of highly educated urbanites were becoming more individualistic, it would be little more than an interesting wrinkle in Indian life. However, the change is much more widespread than that. To begin with, this group is no longer small. Fully a quarter of young Indians were in tertiary education in 2013, according to the World Bank, up from 11% a decade earlier. Education and control over marriage go together (see chart).
And it is not just the wealthy who see marriage differently. The teenagers who live in Dharavi, a long-established slum between two railway lines in Mumbai, feel themselves to be just as culturally distinct from rural Indians as the technology workers do. Young men from Dharavi sometimes marry village women, who come to live with them. Asked about this, one teenage slum girl launches into a wicked impersonation of a rural bride, all namastes and scraping deference to her husband. (A Muslim boy is more equivocal: Mumbai girls know how to handle technology, he says, but rural girls know how to handle mothers-in-law.)