New Delhi: Faster, cheaper internet access rolling out across provincial India is having an unlikely consequence: matchmaking.

In a socially conservative nation where marriages are often arranged by relatives, mobile connectivity is enabling rural families to go online to find matches from a wider pool of suitors. And that’s boosting demand for cyber services, like Matrimony.com Ltd., Jeevansathi.com and Shaadi.com, which operate searchable databases of marriage material.

With an estimated 450 million mobile internet users, India’s information technology revolution is transforming the matrimonial market, traditionally dominated by marriage negotiators and intermediaries, and ads in newspapers. But online matchmaking services are encroaching.

Revenue from the fledgling industry expanded an average of 2% annually from 2010 to 2015, and will reach Rs20.6 billion by 2020, Ken Research Pvt. Ltd said in a report last year.

Matrimony.com, which opened an initial public offering on Monday, added three million user profiles last year, of which 40% were in semi-urban areas. Three-quarters of the profiles added to the Chennai-based company’s database in the quarter ended 30 June were uploaded from a smartphone, helped by cheaper handsets, faster internet connections, and mobile-app enhancements.

$54 billion market

“We expect that trend to continue and those reasons will help more people come onto our platform," said Murugavel Janakiraman, Matrimony.com’s founder and chief executive officer, in an interview. India’s wedding market, including matchmaking services, venue-hire, catering, decorating and photography, is worth about $54 billion a year.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm began offering data-enabled handsets, or JioPhones, for Rs1,500 and monthly tariff plans from Rs153 in July, bolstering connections to the fourth-generation mobile network in India’s hinterland. Bharti Airtel Ltd also followed, slashing data charges.

“Very recently, with the launch of Jio we have seen a huge increase in penetration in the Jio markets," Jeevansathi.com senior vice-president Rohan Mathur said in an interview. “This huge increase in internet penetration is leading to a large number of users coming online."

That has a compound effect, as more users means more potential suitors, which attracts yet more users.

The arranged marriage system, which is rooted in caste-based social divisions and patriarchy, is undergoing a transformation, according to Sarbeswar Sahoo, an associate professor of sociology at IIT-Delhi.

Love marriages

While love marriages are increasingly preferred by younger Indians, the lingering hold of caste and community in India makes it difficult for people to fall in love and marry, Sahoo wrote in a paper published in the Journal of South Asian Studies in June.

“The online matrimonial technologies transgress geographical boundaries and provide more autonomy to candidates in ‘arranging’ their own marriages," he said. “The new technologies and online matchmaking processes defy the fixed categorizations of love and arranged marriage."

That’s resulting in “self-arranged" marriages which combine “the best of both worlds", Sahoo said.

‘No objections’

Mohammad Azharuddin Ahmed, 30, used Matrimony.com to find Mazda Sultana—a woman from his targeted community, region, and religion—in 2015, he said.

“I went to the website, found her, and my parents had no objections about my choice," said Azaharuddin, who lives in Jorhat in Assam.

The couple was married last year following a courtship facilitated by an app on his phone. “It’s difficult to carry laptops around, so naturally we prefer mobile phones to be able to coordinate," he said.

Three years ago, 60% of Shaadi.com’s three million-strong user base was accessing the site via a desktop computer. That proportion has shrunk to 20%, while mobile access jumped to 80% from 40%, said CEO Gourav Rakshit in a phone interview. Rakshit also sees growth coming from smaller, semi-urban areas.

“We are seeing people using wi-fi connections, shifting to mobiles to access these services, and the levels of access have gone up fairly dramatically," he said. Bloomberg

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