Why Indian Matchmaking “SPARKS” a need for Social and Behavior Change Communication
The hottest new topic on social media is Sima Aunty and her matchmaking skills. For the uninitiated, Netflix’s latest hit ‘Indian Matchmaking’, follows matchmaker Sima Taparia (“from Mumbai”), on her mission to find suitable partners for her mostly elite clientele from the US and India. Netizens flooded the internet with memes and opinion articles about the show, ranging from humorous and derisive to outcries about it being controversial and problematic. But the underlying tone of the audience is that of inherent frustration on how little has changed in the arranged marriage process and the its legitimized use of regressive stereotypes.
The Latest Social Media Gossip or Worrying Reality?
Movies, TV shows and other media have a strong influence on society. Media representing ideas around equality can nudge positive conversations like the series of Havells Ads. On the other end of the spectrum are TV shows like Indian Matchmaking. In the first five minutes, Sima Aunty says “In India, we have to see the caste, we have to see the height, we have to see the age” and relays the bridal criteria “slim, tall and beautiful, but with a good nature”. The show’s narrative never questions the problematic stereotypes in the Indian marriage process. These expectations aren’t simply about ideals but reflect a more sinister reality like Kausalya’s. Her own parents murdered her husband because she “dishonored” them by marrying someone from a lower caste, a Dalit man. Instead of questioning these expectations, Sima aunty mainstreams caste and gender divisions. So the question is how do you bring about change? How do you ensure that even with arranged marriages, the oppressive systems of caste, colour and sexism are challenged?
Let’s Start With Human Behavior
In the simplest terms, human behavior is what someone does or how they conduct themselves. It is a complex interplay of emotions, cognitions (our understanding) and actions that result in what we term as ‘behavior’ and each one can drive the other.
Take everyone’s favorite love-to-hate character in the show, Akshay and his perpetually worried mother, Preeti, and apply the above equation. Akshay knows that marrying someone will lessen his mother’s worries and make her happy (emotion). He also believes he can simply rely on his mother’s judgment on whom he should marry (cognition). So, by the end of the show, he gets engaged to a girl who is extremely flexible, above 5’3” and someone he can barely hold a conversation with.
Human behavior is obviously not as simple as an equation. But understanding the influences of behavior is the first step to identifying the points of persuasion that can bring about change. Human behavior is influenced by both internal (hereditary) and external (environment and education) factors. As outsiders, we cannot influence the internal, but people can be educated.
Ask 10 people what they think the solution to any change is and most will say ‘education’. Often we equate education to rote learning or even knowledge. The participants of Indian Matchmaking are all highly educated, all presumably aware of sexism. Yet, another matchmaker tells a female client that women just have to compromise more than men and essentially “life is unequal”. So simply education is not enough.
Government, scientists and public health stakeholders (and of course businesses) have been trying to change human behavior. They used tactics such as fear to motivate, assuming that good behavior is a lack of understanding consequences. Take the example of this poster. It simply uses “fear” to make the audience vote a certain way. Sima Aunty also uses the fear narrative frequently in the show. She says if someone isn’t flexible or adaptable, then they will never get married. She criticizes a 34-year old lawyer Aparna for being too “picky and stubborn”. Calling her strong opinions as “difficult”. While the fear narrative can work, the most effective examples of behaviour change have been when information is combined with an emotional connection to the issue and a call to action.
This is where social and behavioral change communication (SBCC) comes in. It uses various communication mediums for behavior change. This can be through videos, training, workshops, or campaigns. You may remember Do Boondh Zindagi Ki (Two drops for Life), where actor, Amitabh Bachan asked us to participate in polio eradication. These adverts gave information, persuaded us by tugging our emotional heartstrings and told us about the specific behaviors we need to change. This trifecta of facts, emotions and action is crucial to effective communication.
Jongo Love is a more recent example from Kenya. It was a radio drama targeting urban youth about misinformation on family planning through the fictional life of a character named Amani. There were 24, 15-minute episodes which followed Amani through her life and discussions with friends. This was followed up with listening groups, call-in discussions, and Facebook interactions. Studies found that in a few years, younger women were three times as more likely to adopt modern contraception methods. Equipped with knowledge, emotions tied to the idea of why this change is beneficial and social influence, SBCC strategies create behaviour change.
While Indian Matchmaking and other such shows are ripe for humour and memes, it shows the darker side of the marriage process, which is dripping with innumerable stereotypes. Marrying outside of these defined expectations can have deadly consequences.
Complex problems need adaptable & adoptable solutions. One show celebrating gender equality or one speech by a politician to be kinder to daughters would not change minds.
There is a need for more targeted actions through interactive interventions that ask people to make small changes, shows that celebrate an alternate way of thinking or programs that dispel misinformation. SBCC strategies providing information, emotional connection and a call to action over time can lead to change.
Here’s to hoping for the next ‘Indian Matchmaking’ that showcases that anyone and everyone can get married, should they choose to, without any barriers and societal stigmas holding them back.
- Behaviour Change Models and Strategies. (2014, July 1). Retrieved from https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/motivating-behaviour-change
- Farnsworth, B., Ph.D. (2019, July 4). Human Behavior: The Complete Pocket Guide. Retrieved from https://imotions.com/blog/human-behavior/
Shohini Banerjee is a Gender Consultant with seven years of experience implementing programs across India, South Sudan and the United States. Now, she uses her technical knowledge, research skills and passion for writing to create digestible content for all.