This story contains some spoilers for Season 1 of Indian Matchmaking.
“Marriages are breaking like biscuits.”
The Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia delivers this meme-friendly one-liner in the seventh episode of the hit Netflix series Indian Matchmaking. Her sentiment seems antithetical to the title of the show, in which she travels tirelessly between Mumbai, Houston, San Diego, and Delhi to find the “perfect match” for her clients. Indian Matchmaking joins other recent reality dating series such as Love Is Blind and Too Hot to Handle—except the first dates are often in the company of one or both sets of the daters’ parents and the sex is nonexistent. In her questions about her clients’ preferences and her scrutiny of their lifestyles (and closets), Taparia is no different from any other matchmaker who promises relationships that can last forever. But she departs from this well-worn model in her attention to one extra characteristic: caste.
This silent shadow hangs over every luxurious living room she leads viewers into. “In India, we have to see the caste, we have to see the height, we have to see the age,” Taparia, the show’s central narrator and driving force, says in the first four minutes of the series. She lumps an entire social system, which assigns people to a fixed place in a hierarchy from birth, together with anodyne physical preferences. Though it’s rarely mentioned by name on the show, caste appears on almost every criteria list that Taparia’s marriage-hopefuls lay out. By coding caste in harmless phrases such as “similar backgrounds,” “shared communities,” and “respectable families,” the show does exactly what many upper-caste Indian families tend to do when discussing this fraught subject: It makes caste invisible.