How the show Indian Matchmaking perpetuates the culture of family violence.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably seen or heard about the Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking. Premised on the age old South Asian tradition of arranged marriage, this this show takes viewers along on a journey with renowned Indian match maker Sima Taparia from Mumbai. Her clients, all coming from affluent families in India and the South Asian diaspora in the U.S. are a delightful mix of characters ranging from a busy lawyer who never had time for love to a comic book loving, school counselor who’s had his heartbroken too many times. Equipped with a posse of face readers, astrologers and a life coach, she is determined to solve the biggest problem of her client’s life and find them a suitable life partner, just as long they ‘adjust and compromise’. Whether you found the show cringe worthy and stopped watching after one episode or you were intrigued and binged the entire season in one weekend, this show brought up many opinion and triggers. While reality TV is all about the entertainment, we saw red flags that are in fact signs of family violence. Read on to explore a few.
1. Forced marriage disguised as arranged marriage.
Indian Matchmaking constantly tries to remind us of the relevance of arranged marriage in today’s day and age. Sima Taparia emphasizes multiple times that her clients are free to choose and yet there are so many moments in the show where families are clearly forcing their sons or daughters to get married. To be clear, forced marriage hardly ever looks like a gun to your head. Emotionally manipulating someone to get married is forced marriage. It may sound like ‘you need to do this for the family’,‘your indecision is making me sick’ (like in the case of Akshay’s mom), or ‘if you don’t do this you will bring shame to the family.’ Many of those pre-episode vignettes of happily (arranged) married couples proudly announce that they hadn’t even seen their partner before they got married. It is rare that someone would agree to marry a complete stranger without pressure from family. We’re not saying that all arranged marriages are forced but there are countless ways of forcing someone to get married. This show definitely brought up a few.
2. Blatant colorism and casteism paraded as innocent ‘preferences’
It was appalling, but not surprising to see how many times the matchmaker determined her client’s worth based their looks with ‘tall, slim, fair’ be the winning combination. As South Asian women we are constantly told by our families, the media, the rest of the world that we need to be ‘fair & lovely’. Many of us grew up taking extreme measures to stay out of the sun or whiten our skin. We also continue to deal with self-esteem issues for not matching up to the ideal beauty standard of our culture. The blatant colorism exhibited by the young progressive clients diminished the recent progress of the movement against colorism. The show made great effort to not use the word caste even once, however it had a casteist undertone all along. While the words ‘from a good family’ may seem innocent to an outsider, we South Asians know that ‘good family’ is code for upper caste. In a culture where honor killings are still rampant, the way this show disguises casteism as an innocent preference is highly problematic.
3. Appalling sexism and double standards for women.
This show laid bare the stark reality of different societal expectations for men and women. Sima the matchmaker constantly told her women clients on the show to ‘adjust and compromise’ .The men? Not so much. On one hand when women would turn down even one or two biodatas, they were painted as difficult women, while on the other hand men turning down seventy or even one hundred and fifty biodatas was just seen as them rightfully having high standards. Women were expected to be highly educated but if they wanted to work after marriage that could be a problem. As one Akshay expressed ‘if she working who will take care of the kids and all’. Even the fact that women and men have the same desires came as a surprise to some of the men on the show. One male participant expressed shock when told that women also care about how their partners look. By unquestioningly promoting regressive gender norms this show normalizes violence against women who dare to do otherwise.
4. Divorce stigma and applauding marriage as an achievement. It is no secret that divorce is still highly stigmatized in the South Asian culture. Couples are often advised to adjust/compromise and stay in failing, even abusive, relationships rather than get a divorce. This show further perpetuates this stigma. A divorced/single-mom participant on the show is told by Sima that her chances of finding a kind loving partner are close to none. By furthering the notion that getting married and staying married is the biggest personal achievement anyone can have this show stifles any hope for a better life outside of marriage.
The desire to find love and companionship is universal and whether one chooses to do that through a dating site or through a traditional matchmaker should not be up for judgement. However, sensationalizing some of the most problematic aspects of South Asian culture for the sake of entertainment is not only triggering for millions that have to live with these realities everyday but also normalizes family violence that often occurs under the guise of culture and tradition.