New Delhi: On Ambedkar Jayanti on Tuesday, Ummed Singh Nimbhal came to Parliament Street to wander aimlessly through the festivities, perhaps to have a snack or two, but with no other agenda in mind. In the bargain, though, he may have acquired a son-in-law.
Halfway through his stroll, Nimbhal noticed a stall set up by SC-STMatrimonial.com, and he remembered his 27-year-old daughter, for whom he’d been hunting for a groom for two years. “She’s in the middle of her MD degree, so she’s highly qualified,” Nimbhal, a civil servant in the ministry of health and family welfare, said. “And it’s been so difficult to find a similarly qualified chap within our community.”
Playing matchmaker: Vinod Gautam (in white kurta), co-founder of SC-STMatrimony.com, helps prospective clients with the registration process at his stall on New Delhi’s Parliament Street on Tuesday. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
This is the quandary that SC-STMatrimonial.com and other organizations with stalls along Parliament Street have set themselves up to resolve. With impressive educational and professional credentials, many youngsters of the scheduled castes (SCs)-scheduled tribes (STs) community—girls in particular—are struggling to meet their matches in matrimony, inspiring no end of worry in parents such as Nimbhal.
Vinod Gautam, the managing director of SC-STMatrimonial.com and one of its eight founders, saw a lot of this concern over the course of his career as a social worker. Last year, also on Ambedkar Jayanti, SC-STMatrimonial.com started offline matchmaking operations; this year, on the same date, the service moved online.
“Earlier, in your town or village, there would be people from your community in your very lane who would act as mediators,” Gautam said. In the city, many such links now broken, reliable mediators are rare. “The doctors and the business executives of marriageable age in Delhi can’t go to mediators—so these are the type of people who come to us.”
Over the past year, SC-STMatrimonial.com has seen roughly seven matches a month graduate to marital fruition. It has advertised itself by setting up stalls on the sidelines of Bahujan Samaj Party rallies and other public events, distributing calendars with their contact details and indulging in the occasional spot of phone marketing.
As its database of submitted profiles grew, Gautam and his colleagues found it easier to make matches, sending their members three-five candidates a week to consider. “We collected our fee of Rs3,100 only after the marriage,” Gautam said. “This way, we also got to attend the wedding, which was a great networking opportunity—we got other customers that way.”
Online, Gautam has tweaked that business model. To sign up for a Silver membership plan, with full access to a database of profiles, costs Rs1,000 for three months; the Gold plan for six months costs Rs1,500; and the Diamond plan for a year costs Rs2,000, although a typo reads “Rs200”.
Ambedkar and his desired annihilation of caste notwithstanding, the membership form also asks specifically for caste and sub-caste, along with salary scale, designation and even the siblings’ professional qualifications. “People still want to marry within their own sub-castes, whatever they say,” Gautam said. “Not even 1% of Indians, I think, would marry somebody outside their caste.”
It is in catering to this need, Gautam added, that bigger websites such as Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com often fall short, unable to list every one of the sub-castes of the sprawling SC-ST community. “Those websites are more for the general community,” he said. “There are more than 1,000 sub-castes within the SC-STs, and our website will specifically serve them.”
Caste also appears on the membership form of the Ambedkar Buddh Vihar Samiti, a religious organization that had set up its matrimonial stall a few hundred metres from SC-STMatrimonial.com. At the back of the stall, parents leafed through profiles in a file, jotting down names and phone numbers on stray scraps of paper. In the front, Pawan Sagar sat behind a desk, mopped a brow dampened by the baking heat, and collected registrations.
The Samiti’s matrimonial bureau began two years ago, and unlike SC-STMatrimonial.com, its services are free. In two years, Sagar has helped organize at least 25 marriages. “We look at the profiles, and we invite the potentially good matches to our office for a first meeting, on a Sunday,” he said. “But after that, we leave it up to them.”
The process can take its time; Sagar pointed to one form, on which was scrawled “Preferred: Teacher”, and offered an estimate of “a matter of months” for a match to be found. But the more profiles he accumulates, the faster the process becomes, and Sagar expected at least 150 people to sign up during the day. “This is all the marketing we do—one stall every year, on Ambedkar Jayanti.”
Last year, Sagar helped find a bridegroom for Harpal Singh’s daughter, a 25-year-old engineer with the Delhi Metro project. “The wedding happened this past February,” Singh, who had dropped by to socialize, said. “They found a boy who was also an engineer. It worked out very well.”
S.K. Kharolia, in the midst of filling out a form for his own daughter, paused to listen to this glowing recommendation. “I work 12 hours a day, and I have no time to search for a groom on my own,” Kharolia, a manager at Punjab National Bank, said. “But you know, these people are doing exactly what the elders in a village would do earlier—matching girls with boys. Only the medium is different.”