What is the social and gendered nature of dating app scams in India?
Love has always been a controversial topic in the Indian context. In most societies, marriages are based on caste, community, ethnic, familial and religious level negotiations. Love is not the primary factor to be considered in these marriages which are seen as ‘arranged’ in nature (Palriwala and Kaur 2014). However, there have been significant changes in the way marriages are organized in a post-liberalized India, particularly with the entry of matrimonial websites (Kaur and Dhanda 2014).
In traditional arranged marriages, options for matches were limited as it was based on acquaintance and intermediaries. However, with the advent of matrimonial websites and subsequently applications, options increased. While even these websites are rooted in caste and religion-based parameters, one had the opportunity to find matches outside their immediate milieu (Titzmann 2016). But these marriages are not seen as based on love as families play a key role in them.
Along Came Dating Apps
In contemporary times, dating apps have become a crucial game changer in how young urban Indians find love. These apps have made it possible for urban Indian youth to explore love and sexuality without familial interference in most cases. But this has also meant that these apps have become sites in which different kinds of crimes are happening. In fact, the rising rate of scams related to dating apps led the Ministry of Finance, Government of India to release an advisoryasking people to be wary of matrimonial/dating app cons. Therefore, in this short essay, I intend to explore dating apps as a field for understanding crime in a Durkheimian sense.
Emile Durkheim in his monumental book The Rules of Sociological Method (1895) argued that some form of crime in every society should be seen as a normal social fact. Although all forms of crime are seen as ethically and morally flouting the rules that are set by society, according to Durkheim, crimes are not abnormal or pathological. They are part and parcel of every society.
Therefore, in many ways, the nature of the crime depends on the kind of society that exists. For instance, digital or cyber crimes did not exist in the past because the internet itself did not exist then. But with the proliferation of internet users in the world, cyber crimes of different kinds have become a part of how we understand crimes. There are state interventions like the establishment of Cyber Cells, Cyber Security Agencies and Cyber Police to regulate crimes in the digital world.
Dating App Scams in India
Thus, it is not surprising that dating apps have become the latest hub for digital crimes in India. They are still very new to Indians and thus, an easy tool to manipulate and scam people. However, it is my argument that most of these frauds and scams are rooted in the very nature of Indian society. I will exhibit my argument using two specific examples—marrying a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) and paying for restaurant bills.
One of the most popular kinds of scams on dating apps is by people who use fake identities to dupe others. In this kind of scenario, people, mostly men, create fake profiles and act as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) or foreigners who say that they are looking for long-term commitments like marriage. They also say that they are strictly not interested in casual relationships or short-term associations. After matching with a woman, the man promises to come to India to meet the girl. But then, he makes an excuse about some financial emergency and the girl is scammed into paying the money. While the dating app as a crime site is new here, the use of the NRI trope is old.
The Non-Resident Indian Scam
The NRI man has always been seen as a lucrative match in the Indian marriage market. He is someone who has a good job and earns well. Marrying an NRI man is a good marriage for a woman who is ‘lucky’ to land a good life abroad. A part of the attraction is also the fact that the woman will have more freedom and autonomy in decision-making as it will be a nuclear household.
Sociological literature has exhibited that the woman’s position is dependent on the kind of family that she has to live in—joint or nuclear. Living in a nuclear family makes it easier for women to negotiate their position (Jeffrey and Jeffrey 1997). As such, marriage with an NRI is coveted. Bollywood films like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Pardes and Monsoon Wedding have also popularized the NRI image. In recent times, Punjabi films have also extensively used the NRI trope to depict issues of migration and marriage.
It’s also interesting to note the gender dynamics—the modern, Western-trained man wants to marry an Indian woman with the right kind of cultural values. However, although matches with NRIs have been popular, they have also been ways of scamming women. Women have been victims of different kinds of scams after marrying an NRI. Thus, it is not unusual that women are the victims of such scams once again in dating apps. It is the attraction of the NRI man that makes these scams possible.
The Hefty Restaurant Bill Scam
The second kind of scam that I wish to highlight is men being scammed into paying hefty restaurant bills. In these kinds of scenarios, after a match, the man and the woman meet in a restaurant or a bar. It is then reported that the woman disappears after ordering food/drinks and the man has to pay the bill. On the face of it, it is a simple money laundering scheme but is rooted in how we understand financial transactions and security in the Indian context.
Most often, men are expected to pay the bills in restaurants as they are the primary breadwinners in Indian families. It is seen as a man’s duty as he is supposed to be the one who has financial stability. As such, the same expectation is also part of a date and thus, the scam itself is embedded in this patriarchal prospect.
Both these examples show that frauds and scammers take advantage of how we understand gendered roles in the ideas of love and dating. Thus, while the crime site is new, in reality, the nature of the crime is rooted in traditional notions of gender, marriage and family in the Indian context.
- Jeffrey, R. and P. Jeffrey. (1997). Population, Gender and Politics: Demographic Change in Rural North India. Cambridge University Press.
- Kaur, R., & Dhanda, P. (2014). Surfing for Spouses: Marriage Websites and the ‘New’ Indian Marriage in Marrying in South Asia: Shifting Concepts, Changing Practices in a Globalising World edited by Ravinder Kaur and Rajni Palriwala, 271-292, Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan.
- Palriwala, R and R. Kaur. (2014). Marrying in South Asia: Shifting Concepts, Changing Practices in a Globalising World, Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan.
- Titzmann, Fritzi-Marie. (2016). Changing Patterns of Matchmaking: The Indian Online Matrimonial Market. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies. 19(4): 64-94. Taylor and Francis.