Lo and behold!
To you, I bring a groundbreaking invention in the field of “business bias,” this time from the luminaries of my alma mater, BITS Pilani. In a recent post on one of the student community’s private Facebook groups, it was announced by a member that BITSians could now enjoy the benefits of “an all-exclusive matrimonial alliances site.” The post, in question, did not hesitate to declare how the website, named bitsmatrimony.com, would be “of BITSians, by BITSians, for BITSians.”
Before I begin to elaborate on the plethora of problems that this idea propagates, it is imperative to introduce the uninitiated to the concept of “BITSian pride.” See, those who have studied here are not new to an almost-euphoric celebration of being a BITSian by the students and the alumni. Given the university’s academic standing in a few circles, this pride isn’t entirely unfounded.
On the other hand, it can not be ignored that this pride also stems from the college’s anti-reservation and effluent, or as privileged folks call it, pro-merit, stand. A cursory glance at the university’s fee structure and its scholarship policy would reveal how the concept of privilege has always escaped the BITS administration, something that even university-wide protests couldn’t budge. Consequently, taking pride in a pseudo-identity that finds its basis in various forms of privilege seems rather absurd.
Now, one may ask: why is it that you discuss BITSian pride in an article on a matrimonial website? Well, here’s why. You see, BITSmatrimony doesn’t only signify our cultural obsession with arranged marriages, an idea whose relevance in modern relationships is starkly shifting. The website is also the ultimate personification of BITSian pride, an idea that I elaborate ahead in the piece.
Since forever, arranged marriages have been the law of the land in India. Working through close-knit familial networks, these ceremonies justify their necessity by placing exaggerated importance on features like similar lifestyles, compatibility between families, backgrounds etc.
The website, in question, like most matrimony websites, fails to counter this narrative. “Similar educational credentials, upbringing and family values” are called “crucial aspects of matrimonial harmony” under the “about us” section on the site’s welcome page.
While the student body regularly applauds itself for a culture that promotes academic excellence, its lack of exposure to issues of society, culture, history and human relationships is evident through instances like this one. Healthy relationships rely on active communication, understanding each other’s insecurities and creating safe spaces; practices that emerge by focusing on the relationship and its participants.
On the other hand, a venture like this shifts the focus to the participants’ families, their “values,” their educational qualifications, parameters whose relevance in healthy relationships is, at best, outdated. What’s worse is that equating “good family values” with the “BITS experience,” as this website does, reiterates the idea that spending four years here equips one to end up in a healthy marriage, a conclusion which appears deeply biased.
And this brings me to my next point of contention.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of BITSian pride is not unheard of for folks who have attended the university. On Facebook groups, it is not surprising to see extravagantly festive displays of applause for BITSian graduates. A lot of them don’t even care to be a part of the same community. There’s a deep sense of attachment, pride and collaborative accomplishment that surfaces now and then, especially whenever there’s a mention of a recently awarded alum.
To clarify, I agree that celebrating your alma mater’s success through your peers’ accomplishments isn’t necessarily problematic. My frustration with the concept is actually twofold: the negligible display of any analogous criticism among the student body, and the rapid and noticeable transformation of this pride into ego, as this website achieves.
Let’s be honest. Landing at BITS is not something that we entirely achieve. It is, instead, something that we are privileged enough to work for. For those who are unaware, BITS admits students based on BITSAT, an online test that measures their understanding of the subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology and English. Secondly, BITS does not have a reservation policy. Thirdly, the institution’s use of a deeply skewed fee structure puts the current fee for a four-year degree somewhere above 20 lakh rupees, a fact that was highlighted by another post on the same Facebook group a couple of weeks ago. In comparison, the per capita net national income during 2019-20 was estimated to be 1.35 lakh rupees.
This trifecta of an English-based online test, the lack of a reservation policy, and the climbing fee assure that the crowd that enters BITS predominantly belongs to a significantly advantaged section of the Indian society.
When one considers this view of the institution, it hardly seems appropriate to applaud oneself for the university’s academic laurels. Nevertheless, strong-worded criticism of this “luxurification” of an educational institution hardly finds its way in discussions around BITSian identity. Even when students across the colleges had protested against a fee hike a few years ago, only a handful of alumni had stepped in to support the cause; the concern for the institution’s “reputation” was quite an essential matter then too.
Moreover, ventures like BITSmatrimony, which boast of a closed community of BITSians, their kin and their references, are hardly called out for their misplaced and inflated sense of ego. Even the website’s payment plans are indicative of this BITSian feature.
A deep dive into the website’s workings was only essential, and so, I decided to see how a proud group of students transcended traditional definitions. Well, they did not. Contrary to expectations that an “esteemed” college’s graduates would push social boundaries, BITSmatrimony does nothing but fall flat against the status quo. The profile section on the platform asks for indicators like the candidate’s religion, caste, complexion, height, weight, body type, dietary habits and kundli (horoscope).
The parameters of caste, religion, height, weight and complexion are also enquired under the “partner preference” section on the website. While the use of floral phrases like “upbringing and family values” might seem harmless at the outset, the facade crumbles when one realises how these family values are measured.
Oh, and if that isn’t all, the website prevents same-sex relationships between people quite ingeniously. The “partner search” feature on the website’s home page prevents male candidates from searching for grooms and female candidates from searching for brides.
While, at this point, this isn’t too surprising, it reiterates how the concept of BITSian pride emerges from a singular strand of thought, a strand that applauds individual accomplishments while ignoring the prejudices that the institution fails to dismantle.
While the topics of arranged marriages, exclusionary pride, and apathy to social issues are not limited to a single college, I believe that an educational space must do much more than help its students learn. It should help them unlearn, and this practice seems to be missing in an institution where I did most of my life’s unlearning, thanks to a bunch of peers.
In this piece, although I have tried to sum up my criticism of a website, I must stress that it is merely an effect of the privileged space that BITS has continued to become over the years. I even got in touch with one of the website’s technology suppliers and the original Facebook post writer with a list of questions. But he did not consent to including his responses in this piece.
As of now, the post that kicked this off has not faced any backlash in the comments. One can only hope that a more silent resistance to its goals exists.
The article was first published at LiveWire.