By Apoorv Pathak:
India is a fast-changing society. A young nation (which is not a prisoner of past certainties) embracing change, the advent of technology and increased interconnectedness making borders irrelevant to the spread of ideas are factors that facilitate this change.
An important but less noticed change taking place in India is the advent of dating websites. In the past few years, more and more people are logging on to dating sites to find partners for flings, casual sex and even long term commitments.
This unnoticed profusion of dating sites can change Indian society in profound ways. To begin with, it can do for relationships what Facebook and other social media did for friendship, i.e., it can make starting new relationships a more casual, easier and trivial affair. This is because, our social norms, especially in the hinterland, are largely averse to relationships that do not lead to marriage. Getting into a relationship on one’s own, therefore, is not such an easy thing for the average person.
Those who engage in such affairs often do it by hiding it from their parents and relatives and yet such affairs are the subject of gossip. What is worse, in certain instances vigilante groups take it upon themselves to teach ‘morality lessons’ to love birds (like the beating couples receive from Vishwa Hindu Parishad and their ilk on Valentine’s Day). To cut a long story short, currently, the space to engage in relationships is very small despite a demand for such a space. This is the gap dating sites fill and this is the reason they’ve caught the imagination of many.
Dating sites provide a safe, private (free from the prying, judging eyes on the street) space where there is a mutual coincidence of want. This last bit is an essential advantage that dating sites provide. For all these reasons, dating sites can give a fillip to relationships, thereby leading to deep societal transformations that are talked about below:
Since Indians get fewer opportunities to get into relationships, they, on average, get into a lesser number of relationships than their brothers and sisters in other more open and liberal societies. Thus, they are less likely to find a life partner on their own. So, on reaching the age of marriage, arranged marriage becomes the normal choice.
But with advent of dating sites, this is set to change. With more people getting into relationships and finding their life partners through them, gradually, love marriages will grow relative to arranged marriages.
This will also change the nature of marriage, with marriage becoming more about affection for each other among couples than about raising a family. This will also make marriages less permanent as love marriages don’t carry with them the attendant family pressure to remain together despite a waning interest of the couple in each other.
Marriages in India, being predominantly arranged, take place within one’s identity group. This is the most important reason why a mixed society has not developed in India. With an increase in love marriages, this would change.
Love marriages have a greater probability of transcending identity barriers, this will weaken the role of identities such as caste and religion as the next generation would have more diverse identity backgrounds. This can integrate Indian society stratified along caste and religious divisions much more effectively. The ideal of fraternity too will strengthen.
The worst victims of the prohibition on engaging in relationships are women. They are denied their freedom to dress as they wish or to go out and meet people due to the aversion of ‘traditional’ parents to allow their girl child to get into a relationship. This reflects a possessiveness (where women are considered to be the family’s property; a thing to be safeguarded) arising from a patriarchal mindset. A mature adult not being able to get into perfectly healthy relationships (even one of casual sex) and then being denied basic freedoms is a travesty.
But with dating sites, which the parents can’t monitor or regulate in the same way as they can their child’s activities in the physical world, Indian females can be significantly empowered in their ability to get into consenting relationships. This will liberate women sexually.
As females getting into relationships becomes more common and the society realises its helplessness to swim against the tide, there will be a gradual acceptance of the new reality. This will then translate into an easing of other restrictions as well (like those on dress etc).
The outdated notions about sexuality and getting into relationships will weaken once more and more people violate it in practice. Those who consider themselves the gatekeepers of morality, especially with respect to sexuality, will gradually find themselves isolated as their moral code is accepted by less and less people. Also, the power of these vigilante groups to decide what is good for other people will reduce as technology will a provide a space free from their hooliganism. Thus, many of these self-proclaimed guardians of morality will find themselves unemployed. That is one joblessness India wouldn’t regret!
Thus, something as inane as a dating site holds tremendous potential to bring profound changes in society. But with this power comes responsibility. They must ensure that their platform maintains the privacy of its users and is safe from sexual offenders and other impostors who can trick people into abusive relations. But one is not inordinately worried on this count since these dating sites operate in a free market. Therefore, only those who fulfill these necessary conditions will thrive. Those who don’t will fall by the wayside. In this process, the success stories would have not just created great enterprises employing people and paying taxes but would also play an instrumental role in creating a new India. One which is more open, where identities are less rigid, women are liberated and people are not slaves to others’ morality.