Religion, tech & romance collide in India

For the TV version of my report, check out the BBC Click website.

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Love is in the air in India. It’s reckoned there are ten million weddings here every year, and as in many aspects of Indian life, religion often directs the dating game.

The country’s online matchmakers, such as shaadi.com, have traditionally put faith at the forefront as well.

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But now there’s a new crop of dating tech, and it’s…. agnostic.

Tinder’s reported rapid growth in India, and its ads imply a shrewd understanding of the family’s role in romance. But when push comes to shove, the app matches people based on proximity and doesn’t ask about belief.

It’s not the only dating service where faith is slipping down the priority list.

At a single mingle in one of Delhi’s most romantic spots I met a group of love-seekers who’d been hand-picked by dating service Floh based on a range of factors.

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They’re open-minded about religion. But it was clearly still a biggie.

I do not see religion as a barrier when I talk about any kind of connection, be it friendship, professional or even marriage. But I’m sure that’s not what everybody in India would agree with,” Sadia Salam told me.

Neeharika Nadyal said: “Even though we don’t mind liking someone from a different religion, we don’t want to hassle ourselves and hassle our parents because its going to be a big thing. Some of my friends have gone out of those relationships. I had a friend who got out of a Hindu/Muslim relationship because the parents would have got affected.”

Floh’s founder believes tech inevitably challenges religion

“People are looking for compatibility, and the amount of data we have about people means we can serve you profiles that aren’t about religion or caste. but it’s at a much more foundational human level. That’s the beauty of technology,” said Siddharth Mangharam.

Some areas of India have reported big rises in interfaith marriage. Now some of the country’s religious communities are fighting back.

Catholics make up a tiny minority here, and church leaders are worried, particularly about young Catholic women.

Here’s why (according to the Catholic church in Bombay): Catholic boys are shown much more leniency than girls when it comes to socialising. In order to get out of the house, girls need a good excuse. Spending extra time at school often does the trick.

So the girls end up better educated than the boys, and when it comes to picking a partner, they struggle to find someone of a similar educational level. Rising numbers are choosing to marry men of other faiths, and because India is still a patriarchal society, they often end up converting to his religion.

But the church has developed a secret weapon: their own dating website.

The unique selling point? Honesty – there’ll be no massaging your dating profile here because you’ll have to go to church to register and get your picture taken.

“You have registration points where the photo is taken, the profile is created, the verification in terms of the educational qualifications is got. We put that all together and once that’s in place the website will go live, and you have opportunities for young people to find an alliance online,” said Father Nigel Barrett of the Archdiocese of Bombay.

Christians are a minority here, though. What about the majority religious group?

One of Hinduism’s most high-profile branches says they’ve got no problem with interfaith dating; it’s the technology they’re concerned about

They’ve got some blunt advice for love-hungry teens… and it might not prove popular

“To our teenagers: as far as possible try to avoid mobiles,” said Dr Janakbhai Dave of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. “Everyone has to remember how he wants to lead his life. are you going to talk romantically to half a dozen people and then fish out which one is better? That is not good. Whatever time available for you, your conversation, entertainment, understanding education you have to make the list of priorities.”

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 Whatever the religion, it’s clear technology is causing some seismic changes. And in a country obsessed with match-making and tech, even the young are struggling to keep up

A series of plays staged in Mumbai tackled the thorny subject of modern dating. One of the writers reckons religious influence is here to stay – and for some pretty basic reasons.

“Most Indian guys live with their parents,” said playwright Aakash Prabhakar. “If I want to get someone to come home to live with my mother and father their ideas should match with my mother and father. My parents are vegetarians, for example, so if she’s cooking meat all the time they’re just going to argue about the kitchen. That’s how religion comes into it.”

Religion, technology and romance: three forces that aren’t going away anytime soon. Question is, can they all just learn to get along?

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