Ten years ago, Indian men born or working abroad could almost be assured of meeting a dozen or so possible brides on wife-hunting trips to India. "Typically, NRI women want to marry NRI men, and NRI men want to marry native Indian women," says Sandeep Amar, business head for SimplyMarry.com. (The discrepancy comes from the perception that a woman living in India will have remained true to the culture under less western influence.) These days, though, male suitors would be lucky to meet even one. Many women looking for a husband on India's matrimonial web sites, such as 25-year-old senior business consultant Vipra Gupta, are no longer interested. Since the global recession hit, Mumbai-based Gupta worries that if she were to marry an NRI, her future could become very uncertain. "What if in one or two months he loses his job and we have to leave America?" she asks. "It's a risky situation and I wouldn't want to get into it."
Gupta's sentiment reflects a new confidence among India's youth who no longer view a trip to the West as the holy grail of financial and personal success. "In the early nineties, a guy who earned $100 in India would go abroad and make ten to twenty times that amount of money," says Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO of Bharatmatrimony.com, a matrimonial website with a subscriber base of 15 million. "The demand for [ NRI men] was at its peak during that time."
In the past year, the economic downturn and the rise of India as a global player has changed all that. On SimplyMarry.com, another popular online matchmaker service, users' search for NRI men has gone down by 15%, reports Amar. NRI men, for their part, appear to have gotten the hint. There were also 20% fewer postings by men living abroad.
"Arranged marriage is a concept in which the bride's parents look for well-settled grooms," says Amar. "Stable and high-paying jobs and a well-settled monetary situation is the fundamental criteria." With so much news of job losses coming out of the US, he says parents of Indian girls are much more reluctant to send them abroad without a security net. Even the matchmaking period has increased, says Amar. "Previously, people used to close a match in around six to eight months. Now this matchmaking period has become over a year because men and women in India have become more discerning as consumers and they want more compatibility."
Prabhakar Janakiraman, for one, is feeling the effects. An IT professional who works on projects in both the US and Canada, 32-year-old Janakiraman says women and their parents are increasingly apprehensive about men from abroad. "If I were settled in India right now, I would have been easily married," he says. "But parents are thinking twice now about whether a person is reliable or not." Janakiraman briefly considered moving back to India to look for a good match, but he's been lucky so far, at least in the professional department. He received his green card recently and is considering a move to New York.
With India's rise on the global stage, women too, are prospering. This makes them reluctant to quit high-paying jobs in their home cities in India and move to the West, where they are unlikely to get working visas or jobs, at least for the first few years. "I'm a very career- oriented girl, so I can't just leave and sit at home for a year" says Gupta. "I want to work and I want to focus on my career. These things matter." Amar likens arranging marriages to shopping for food. "It's like a department store," he says. "You can pick up whatever brand you like." For the Indian bride, it seems, the preferred choice is now closer to home.