By Megha Merani
The matchmaking segment in India alone is expected to show an upward trend in coming years, resulting in a projected market volume of $66m by 2023. Matchmaker par excellence Sumeet Merchant wants to be part of the action, as he helps single expats in the UAE find their perfect match
Thirty guys for every girl. That’s the number of marriage proposals an eligible Indian or Pakistani bachelorette in the UAE can currently get from men from their respective communities living in the US and Canada, who are looking to settle down, according to matchmaker Sumeet Merchant.
The former Dubai resident, who has set up more than 8,000 weddings, says he is back in the emirate due to massive demand from South Asian families overseas, who are looking for perfect matches for their sons and daughters.
“It’s about demand and supply,” Merchant tells Arabian Business during an interview in Dubai. He is visiting from Norway, where he now lives with his wife.
“I had to come back to meet people and collect profiles. Indian and Pakistani men in the US and Canada prefer to marry women from here [the UAE] because they are Westernised but without forgetting their roots, culture and traditions. The men and their families tell me they don’t prefer Indian or Pakistani women living in the same country [US or Canada] because those women are too Westernised and too demanding.
"At the same time, if they look for someone in India or Pakistan, those women can’t adjust as well to live in Western countries. But the women in the UAE are used to a multi-cultural environment and find it very easy to adapt. Most of them even have foreign degrees, which makes it easy for them to work there if they want to.”
Meanwhile, he says, families in the UAE prefer to find their daughters grooms with foreign residency or citizenship. South Asian men with Western passports can receive as many as 30 to 40 proposals from families of women in the UAE.
A proper background check and safety are most important as this is a matter of a woman’s life
“They all know they are guests in this country, but after living in the UAE, their daughters do not want to go back and live in India or Pakistan,” Merchant explains. “They cannot get citizenship in the UAE. But if they marry men with US or Canadian passports, they can easily travel the world without a visa, and also come to Dubai anytime. Marrying a man from Dubai won’t give them a passport.”
An added perk for expat women in the UAE, Merchant says, is that American or Canadian men of Indian or Pakistani origin are now even willing to relocate to the UAE if they find their partner here.
He says: “It’s not like it used to be. where it’s always the woman who moves to where the man is living. The trend has changed because of Dubai. It is now a global city on the world map. Whether you have visited here or not, everyone knows Dubai, especially the Burj Khalifa because they watch the New Year’s fireworks. Everybody wants to come here and once they see it, they don’t want to leave.”
The matchmaker, who has been in the business of matchmaking for 28 years, adds that continued challenging market conditions and weak economic growth following the plunge in crude prices has not deterred the grooms from considering a move to Dubai.
“With Western passports, they can get high salaries and even if they lose their jobs or want to switch companies, they don’t have to worry about visa issues like the Indians and Pakistani passport holders do. The taxes here are nothing compared to where they live and it doesn’t affect their income. They love the weather here and the lifestyle,” he says.
In some recent instances, Merchant adds, prospective grooms have even expressed serious interest in investing in real estate in the UAE should they find a partner here. “Buying property here is easy for them and much cheaper [than the US or Canada] even as an investment or a holiday home,” he says.
The matchmaker highlights that finding a bride from the UAE is a huge factor in the visa and immigration process too.
“If they are moving to the US or Canada, it is much easier and faster for a woman to get her visa from the embassy here, especially if the marriage is conducted at the Indian or Pakistan consulate in the UAE,” he says, adding that the visa process from India or Pakistan takes far longer and involves significantly more paperwork.
If they marry men with US or Canadian passports, they can easily travel the world without a visa, and also come to Dubai anytime
Meanwhile, Indian or Pakistani grooms from Australia and the UK are not currently in demand, according to the matchmaker. “Nobody wants to go to Australia, it’s too far and in the middle of nowhere – and the UK is facing too many problems right now,” he says.
Arranged marriages or matchmaking is a popular tradition in the Indian and Pakistani community. Families traditionally prefer to screen for matches that meet basic criteria such as the same religion, sect, social status, education and income level. Contrary to popular outsider perception, while parents search for a suitable spouse for their children, the couple meets and makes the choice on their own.
“This is not forced – it’s just like a setup but it’s choosing from within a selected boundary,” Merchant explains, adding that finding common religious and socioeconomic factors between families increases the odds of success in a marriage.
To find a partner for their sons and daughters, families pay Merchant $5,000 to $10,000 for his consulting and marketing services, which involve placing matrimonial adverts in newspapers and on the radio, screening profiles, vetting potentials and setting up meetings. He meets each prospective as well as his or her family in person to collect details and ask all the awkward and potentially offensive questions around salaries, financials, health and living arrangements that families would want to know as part of their background check but would be hesitant to ask. He also coaches the candidates ahead of their meeting with their potential Mr or Mrs Right, advising them to focus on the positives and remain open minded or be willing to compromise.
In instances where men or their families are “too demanding”, he declines to take them on as clients.
“The families are still obsessed with ‘fair’, ‘slim’, ‘tall’ and ‘beautiful’,” Merchant admits, referring to the traditionally prejudiced Indian and Pakistani matrimonial advertisements in newspapers across the globe.
Merchant, who has even played matchmaker for the daughter of an Indian Ambassador in the Gulf, says he is a frequent advertiser in UAE newspapers including popular daily Gulf News.
“It’s just the old mind set, which still hasn’t changed. But mostly, nowadays, the men care that the women are professionally qualified, while the women care that the men are financially secure and moderate, not fanatic.”
I don’t match people who are not genuine. No matter how much money they offer
Merchant says he straightaway refuses clients where a man repeatedly rejects profiles because “he thinks the girls are not ‘beautiful enough’”.
“This is especially in cases where they are really not so capable. I tell them [what] they are asking [for is] out of their limits.”
That said, he does advise his female clients to diet if they’re overweight. “I tell them that after they get married, they can do what they like, eat as they like, because by then there is attachment between the couple,” he says.
Dowry is off limits in his matches, Merchant stresses, insisting that he is completely against the archaic Indian practice of gifts, jewellery, cash, property or goods like appliances, furniture, household items or even cars that the bride’s family gives to the bridegroom, his parents, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage.
The payment of dowry has long been prohibited under Indian law, but the practice continues to put financial burden on the bride’s family and often leads to crimes against women, ranging from harassment to emotional abuse and injury and in extreme cases, death.
“I clear everything between the families beforehand, including how the boy’s side will spend on the wedding or if they will share the cost 50-50, as well as that the girl will keep her gifts,” he says.
Asked if matchmaking websites and apps are taking a bite out of his business, Merchant insists that technology has helped his practice boom. First, because he is able to connect with and vet far more candidates across the globe.
“And because mostly the people on these [matchmaking] sites and apps are not serious,” he says. “The boys usually just want to have fun and the girls are losing out. Proper background check and safety is most important as this is a matter of a woman’s life.”
The matchmaker urges parents to be cautious about marrying their daughters to men without proper background checks, especially with the rise of cases of Indian women are trapped in fraudulent marriages with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) or overseas citizens of Indian origin. Last month, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj introduced a Bill on Registration of Marriage of NRIs in the Upper House of Parliament to protect Indian women from exploitation by NRI husbands.
“These things are happening much more, so it’s very important to get all the proper information before marrying someone,” Merchant warns.
Skills and investment knowledge could play a role in finding the right partner
While Sumeet Merchant mostly brokers marriages for Indian and Pakistani families seeking the right bride and groom, he has also successfully set up matches for nurses and healthcare professionals from the Philippines living in the UAE.
“Nursing is very much an in demand profession and a lot of older Norwegian men who are looking for life partners prefer to marry them because they can take care of them,” he says.
“In return, they get a good life in Europe, long-term security with citizenship, and they can bring their family members.”
In its 2018 Talent Shortage Report, global staffing firm Manpower Group listed nursing among the hardest skills to find in countries such as Norway.
Merchant adds that Indian men are also in demand with European women looking for partners. “European women really like them a lot because they are well-mannered, gentle, soft spoken and have a one-wife policy,” he says.
“But an Indian man looking for a European wife should consider investing in a business if he’s moving to be with her, because it would take him time to learn the language and get a job.”
The matchmaker stresses, however, that he’s vigilant about spotting frauds using marriage just to gain citizenship. “I don’t match people who are not genuine. No matter how much money they offer. I don’t arrange paper marriages.”