In the first part of this study, we saw how jati, a more meaningful and useful term than ‘caste’, is a primary way of identifying oneself in the world of web matrimonials, a world largely composed of educated, urban Indians below the age of 40.
In this second part, we will see variations across social groups in importance accorded to jati while selecting marriage partners for women. (The term ‘social group’ is used here to mean jati or jati-groups).
Variations in importance accorded to jati
The variations are studied across six groups, which cover a broad spectrum of advertisers in the web matrimonial space: Iyer, Yadav, Agarwal, Kayastha, SC and Muslim.
From each group, I randomly picked out 50 recently posted profiles of never married women below 40. In each case, I picked out 25 profiles from the south-tilted Portal A and an equal number from the north-tilted Portal B. All profiles were collected over different days in the first week of February 2010.
To get some idea of the profile of the profiled women, I looked at their location in terms of broad geographical region (North, South, East, West), as also whether it was not one of the top eight metros of the country: Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Pune.
I also noted whether the profiled woman has a reasonably good source of income, above Rs 2 lakh per annum, and whether she has posted the profile herself.
Apart from counting occurrence of strict religious and jati specifications for prospective partners, I also looked at other commonly stated requirements for screening, such as ‘horoscope wanted’ and Manglik not wanted.
In some profiles, nothing is said about the personality of the woman who wants to get married, and/or nothing is said about personality traits desired in the partner. It seems, for these advertisers, religion and jati matters most; everything else comes at the second level of selection, if at all. I noted the occurrence of such virtually ‘blank’ profiles.
Against some parameters, data was not clearly specified in many profiles, or was confusing. For example, in some cases, the profile said the woman was not working, but a figure was put in the field for income. I put tallies of these instances in parenthesis, with a ‘?’ mark.
Here’s the data:
|Indicator||Occurrence by social group, in profiles of women under-40, among 50 profiles per group|
|Regional location of profiled woman: South (S), North (N), West (W), East (E)||S-34
|Not located in one of top 8 metros||9||19||22||25||24||30|
|Income > Rs 2 lakhs p.a.||28 (+7?)||18 (+5?)||18
|Religion specified under partner preferences||50||48||47||48||47||47 (+2?)|
|Jati(s) specified under partner preferences||49||40 (+2?)||31
|Manglik not wanted||20||19||8||11||13||1|
|Personality description of woman given||45||34||45||47||46||45|
|Traits desired in partner specified||34||20||19||27||19||32|
|Profile posted by self||11||15||7||13||20||16|
The selected jatis/jati-clusters are not representative of the entire universe of people seeking partners through web matrimonials. Nevertheless, some aggregate data is significant:
- In all social groups except Iyers, over 40% of the profiled women are not from one of the top eight metros.
- Across all social groups, almost all the women do not want to, or will not be allowed to, marry outside their religion.
- Across all social groups, the majority of the women, or their families and friends who posted the profiles, want the women to be recognised not only by her jati, but also by some personality traits.
- Across social groups, 30-60% of women, or their families and friends do not want to specify, upfront, traits desired in a partner.
Looking at individual columns, one sees much variation in jati as a primary criterion for selecting a marriage partner. For most Iyers, jati matters, as also for a high proportion of Yadavs and Muslims. It doesn’t matter for a significant proportion of Agarwals and Kayasthas. In the SC group, more than half the women are ready to marry without bothering about jati.
Here, three points need to be reiterated. The data is about choices people want to make, not about what they eventually choose; one is assuming there is a strong correlation between the two.
Secondly, the data is only a reflection of choices expressed in the web matrimonial space—in other spaces, such as rural India, the choices could be vastly different.
Thirdly, the jati specification is not necessarily limited to the advertiser’s jati. As seen in examples in the first part of this study, the jati specification can include more than one jati.
However, the range of jati preferences is never extensive. It is limited to a band in the caste hierarchy. As seen from the example of a Maratha woman given in Part-1, the band can be broad enough to include a jati from the nearest caste category. Or it can be very narrow. In a few of the profiles of Iyer women picked up for this sample, the advertiser has specified one jati other than Iyer: Iyengar, the other major Brahmin jati of Tamil Nadu.
The data shows that rigidity about jati of partner is not necessarily diminished by living in a cosmopolitan metro, or having a substantial, independent source of income: the Iyer group has the highest proportion of women living in a metro (72%) and earning income above Rs 2 lakh per annum (56%).
Among Hindus, importance accorded to horoscope and Manglik appears to be closely related to importance accorded to jati. The two groups with the highest proportion of advertisers specifying jati of partner (Iyer, Yadav) also have the highest proportion of advertisers asking for a horoscope and telling Manglik-afflicted persons to keep away. Horoscope and Manglik does not appear to matter at all to Muslims.
An intriguing data, not germane to this study, is that the highest proportion of ‘profile posted by self’ is in the SC group. An indicator of empowerment? Or simply that in this group, the proportion of net-savvy parents is low, hence the women have to perforce post profiles themselves?
The data clearly shows that jati is not the only thing that counts, even at the first level of selection. Across all groups, advertisers want applicants to look at some personality characteristics of the profiled women, and in the Iyer, Kayastha and Muslim groups, over half the advertisers have specified traits desired in the partner.
Which are these traits and is there a group-wise variation in this area too?
Description of profiled person and partner
Popular matrimonial portals such as Portal A and Portal B give advertisers sufficient space to give descriptions of the profiled person, and the desired partner, in two ways.
Firstly, there are a number of selection menus, which makes it easy to specify details such as profiled person’s income and education level, and income and education level desired in the partner.
In Portal A, you can go further and specify whether you drink or smoke, and whether you would like to have a partner who does the same. For profiles of Muslim women, Portal B has fields to specify whether the woman knows Urdu, and her commitment to observing namaz, zakat, fasting, reading Quran and wearing hijab after marriage
Secondly, there is quite a lot of space given to describe the profiled person, and the desired person, in your own words.
I read each of the 300 profiles of the disaggregated sample to see how the space is used.
One thing that stands out clearly is that English is a barrier. Many advertisers are plainly not proficient in the language. Spelling and grammatical mistakes, and incomplete or unclear sentences are common. The language barrier could also be the reason many advertisers do not write anything at all.
There are a few advertisers who use the Queen’s English, but they seem to be writing an essay for an exam. Sample this:
The golden rule of married life is “Bear and forbear”. One must give and take, refrain and restrain, endure and be patient. One may not be blind to another's failings, but they may at least be borne with good-natured forbearance...
Very few advertisers sound frank and open. Such passages are rare:
I'm a complete romantic and I would love to give midnight presents and secret messages to my partner and others in his family as well. If you are a person who is full of surprizes [sic] then I would be most appreciative of them.
Most descriptions hover around educational qualifications and family background, in terms of education of members and who is working where. A typical example:
My father is a senior official in the state government of …. My mother is a very caring housewife. My elder sister has an MBA degree and is married to an IT professional. She lives in USA. One of my uncles is an advocate of repute… My other uncle is a Physics PhD whose wife is an IT professional and they are currently settled in…
Even when they do get around to saying something about themselves, in terms other than ‘family background’, most advertisers seem to be following a set formula. Some adjectives and phrases occur repeatedly, across profiles, across social groups: simple, down-to-earth, strong family values, family-oriented, fun-loving, sense of humour, God-fearing, religious, ambitious, career-oriented, affectionate, caring, traditional yet modern, soft-spoken, sweet…
However, even within this small repertoire, there is significant variation. Table 2 lists occurrence of repeatedly used adjectives and phrases, by social group, among 262 of the 300 profiles considered for sample analysis, which had some description of the profiled woman in the advertiser’s own words.
|Term/phrase used to describe profiled person||No of occurrences by social group, in total 262 profiles with description of profiled person in advertiser’s own words|
|Strong family values/ family-oriented||8||4||7||5||10||5||39|
|Fun-loving/sense of humour||12||4||3||9||9||1||38|
|Traditional yet modern||4||5||4||4||4||2||23|
The data shows that a high proportion of SC and Muslim women are described by the terms ‘simple’ and ‘down-to-earth’. Terms like ‘fun-loving’ are rarely used in the Muslim group and no other group uses ‘God-fearing’ or ‘religious’ as frequently. ‘Ambitious’ has low usage in the Yadav group.
‘Clean’ is used almost exclusively by the Iyer group, and to some extent, the Muslim group. ‘Clean’ here means “does not have ‘dirty habits’ like drinking and smoking,” a Muslim journalist-friend explained.
Some other descriptive terms are also used only by some groups. For instance, ‘trained in Bharatnatyam’ or ‘trained in classical music’ appeared only in profiles of Iyer women, and to some extent, in profiles of Kayastha women.
Some other terms were also used to describe profiled women, but their occurrence was occasional, or idiosyncratic. Among such phrases I noted were: “don’t like yelling”, “become aggressive often” and “wandering soul”. One woman gave a clear warning to her prospective partner: “I hate getting up early in the morning”.
As already mentioned, and evident from Table 1, only half the profiles in the sample mention characteristics desired in the partner.
There is a strong preference for men who are educated and ‘well-settled’. This is evident in selection of options for specifying desired educational qualifications and income levels. It is also stated, in so many words, in 45% of the profiles with description of the desired partner (Table 3), with highest frequency of such statements in the Iyer group.
|Term/phrase for desired characteristic||No of occurrences by group, in total 151 profiles with description of desired partner in advertiser’s own words|
|Strong family values||3||7||4||2||3||6||25|
Usage of ‘God-fearing’/’religious’ by the Muslim group and ‘clean’ by the Tamil and Muslim groups echoes the usage of these terms in relation to profiled women (Table 2).
Two adjectives that find significant occurrence in the description of desired partner, and not in the description of profiled woman, are ‘broad-minded’ and ‘liberal’, in the Iyer and Kayastha group. As in the case of ‘clean’, these adjectives are not used in the way they are commonly understood. An Iyer friend of mine, a banking professional who has a married daughter, explained:
‘Broad-minded’, ‘liberal’ means not overdoing religious practices, not asking the bride to follow all the traditional do’s and don’ts—especially in relation to sister-in-law and mother-in-law— not following age-old customs or habits which prevail in some religious families, not having traditional superstitious beliefs…
Occasional or idiosyncratic phrases to describe the desired partner included: “should have vision of life”, “not overweight”, “focussed”, “should believe in giving each other space”, “not a complicated personality”, and “MCA [Master of Computer Applications] please excuse”!
An apt way to sum up this report is to refer to a 1969 study, ‘The relevance of matrimonial advertisements for the study of mate selection in India’, by a Dutch social scientist, C Vreede-De Stuers (Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-en Volkenkunde, Leiden).
From content analysis of the matrimonial advertisements in English-language newspapers, Vreede-De Stuers observed that the “advertisers do not represent a progressive category of 'modernists' who, in bypassing the traditional go-between, ignore the standards set by their society…The majority of the advertisers conform completely to the prevailing value system of their status group…” (emphasis added).
What was said in 1969 in the context of matrimonial ads in newspapers can be repeated in 2010, in the context of profiles in matrimonial portals. Notwithstanding the advanced nature of the medium, and the education and income levels of profiled persons, the overwhelming majority of people who use web portals to find partners “conform completely” to a value system that has not changed substantially since 1969.
Among these people, the caste barrier continues to be tough, and shows no signs of disintegrating rapidly.
But caste is a complex phenomenon and any generalisation has to be qualified.
The fact that caste remains a tough barrier in the matrimonial sphere does not necessarily mean it is not weakening in all other areas of life. Even in the matrimonial sphere, our small study indicates, it does not have a strong hold in certain groups, like SCs and Kayasthas.
Moreover, caste has been highly adaptive. One indicator of adaptation, seen in this study and requiring further investigation, is the number of people who are prepared to marry outside their jati, and their caste too, within a hierarchical band.
Finally, one must emphasise that marrying within one’s jati, or within a narrow range of jatis, does not necessarily mean one is “casteist”.
In India, there are sound, practical reasons for searching for a life partner within your jati. Some of those reasons were explained to C Vreede-De Stuers by girl students of Rajasthan University he interviewed in 1964. One of them said:
I don't say that intercaste marriage is a bad thing to do, but I don't believe that it will be successful. Adjustment is difficult. The girl has to learn new habits and the contacts with the older members of the in-laws' family will become difficult.
Another girl said:
Till we marry we are entirely dependent on our parents. So let them arrange our marriages. They have experience. If I had to make my own choice, I would fear an uncertain future.
A third elaborated:
If something goes wrong in an arranged marriage, the family is responsible for it. But in case the girl has made her own choice, her family is no longer responsible for what happens.
Another root problem, C Vreede-De Stuers noted, was the limited scope for choosing a life partner on your own. He quoted an explanation by KT Merchant (‘Changing Views on Marriage and Family’ in Hindu Youth, Madras): “Real self-choice is not possible without a wide field of choice and personal contact, and these are dependent upon the freedom of free social intercourse between men and women.”
There is yet another basic reason: differences in values and lifestyles, across social groups. These are reflected in Tables 2 and 3, and elaborated by an old college-friend, from a liberal family of CKP (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu) jati, when she told me why and how she had an arranged marriage, with a person from her own jati:
See, I hoped to fall in love while in college. But that didn’t happen. Then, where do I go looking for a guy? Asking my parents to look was the best option…My father went and put a notice in our CKP mandal. At the same time, [her husband] came to know about me and started finding links to people who knew us. Ek common banda mila aur udhar se baat aage badhi. You can say, because of same jaat, it was easy to make preliminary enquiries, etc. And boss, there was no way I would have married a Tam Bram or a Jain. We CKP people like to drink, eat fish, mutton...I would have died if I had married a vegetarian!
Infochange News & Features, June 2010