The Indian matchmakers targeting divorcees

A bride covers her face as she waits to take her wedding vow at a mass marriage ceremony at Bahirkhand village, north of Kolkata February 8, 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Divorce is still taboo in India

India still has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world, but marriage breakdowns are becoming more common. Most of those splitting up are members of its thriving, urban middle class whose lives have been transformed by the economic boom. This has led to a huge rise in the number of matrimonial services, some unscrupulous, targeting divorcees. Anasuya Basu, who was recently divorced, found out.

I've struggled with the D word for a long time.

The first in my parents' families to announce to the world that my marriage was on the rocks, I was filled with trepidation at the thought of divorce.

I chose the impersonal, fast-paced city of Delhi in which to lick my wounds; a city I had lived in before I tied the knot and now came back to, with a storm in my heart.

Some three years of waiting, bitter exchanges and visit to countless lawyers later, I finally joined others like me for a long haul in court.

Room number 207 at one of the city's family courts with its blue upholstered chairs, the smell of anxiety, of depleted people, of lawyers with dog-eared case files, the attendant's loud voice calling out case numbers, still haunt me.

I spent hours every month feeling windswept, trying to stifle the rising hysteria as I witnessed the end of other people's marriages and my own. Soon I became comfortably numb.

Right after the court, I would head to a shopping mall. A bit dazed, I would order some food and eat alone. This would be followed by a visit to several cosmetic stores to check out the new lipstick shades and then buy just one lipstick; I have about 20 lipsticks to account for my gripping journey from holy matrimony to battle for alimony.

Mobile menace

The day my divorce was granted, I felt light headed, almost unreal. The ink on my right thumb seemed to singe my skin as I pressed it on several court papers which declared my new marital status.

Later unwinding with a friend, I heard my mobile phone ring a few times.

When I answered, a deep, radio jockey kind of voice asked me how I was doing. Incapable of making lucid conversation, I mumbled something and asked the Deep Voice how he got my number.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Matchmaking sites have mushroomed in India

The Deep Voice replied that he was calling from a special matchmaking site for divorcees.

I was dumbstruck. How had the outside world come to know of my marital status so fast? Rattled, I quickly disconnected the call.

From several divorce lawyers, I came to understand that a tacit understanding exists between junior staff of some family courts, marriage portal officials and unscrupulous lawyers who exchange information on possible candidates for a second marriage - all for a fee.

Geeta Luthra, a divorce lawyer at the Delhi high court, said: "When you file a petition in court, the details of the embattled parties are in court records which can be easily accessed by any third party. Ambulance chasers offer their services to beleaguered clients and it's quite possible that they pass on information to matrimonial sites based on the profile of their clients."

No privacy law

Unlike the UK's robust Data Protection Act - which provides protection of personal data and punishment for violations - in India there is no express law governing data protection or privacy.

According to Ms Luthra, the family courts within the six district courts in Delhi settle an average of 15 cases a day.

Matchmaking sites stand to gain massively if they are given access to such a substantial database.

Official figures on the divorce rate are unavailable in India but experts say that roughly 13 marriages in every 1,000 end in divorce - in the United States, it is about 500 in every 1,000.

No central or even state-wise registry of divorce data is available but family court officials say in major cities in India, the number of divorce applications has gone up in the past five years.

To cash in on this scenario, India's thriving matchmaking portals have added a dedicated page for separated or divorced people and provide frills like tele-callers, portfolio management and regular follow-ups.

Bharat Matrimony, the biggest name in the business of online matchmaking, runs a separate site for divorcees - Divorcee Matrimony - which records about 70% annual registration of divorcees.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The pressures of the modern workplace have contributed to a rising number of divorces in India

On being asked whether the portal has received data from family courts on divorcees or works with divorce lawyers, its founder and CEO, Murugavel Janakiraman, said, "We don't work with any external agencies but the proposal to join hands with such agencies is an interesting thought.

"People can walk into any of our 190-plus retail branches in India to discuss their requirements or call us. While we'd be really happy to help divorcees in every way possible, we're an online company and we'd like to stick to our strengths."

While some marriage portals flatly denied any tie-ups with external agencies, others simply refused to answer my queries.

To add to my bewilderment, an intrepid, over-enthusiastic marriage portal executive was diligently texting me at odd hours to draw me into a conversation.

I do not wish to fritter my energies away by taking the executive or the marriage portal to court - as no privacy laws exist here.

I shall ignore such peddlers of the perfect match as I feel marriages are no longer made in heaven.

They are now a business deal to be executed without emotions and helped by an unknown, unfamiliar person sitting in an online marriage portal office trying to crack a deal.

Anasuya Basu is a public relations professional and writer

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