Popular Asian matchmaking website Shaadi.com has removed its skin tone filter following an online backlash.
The backlash was brought about by three women who have never met but whose combined outrage and action led to the change.
It all started with Shaadi user Meghan Nagpal, based in Toronto.
She had decided to get back on the dating site around the same time that protesters were taking to the streets in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The site asked users to indicate the color of their skin using descriptors like “fair,” “wheatish,” and “dark” and allowed users to search for potential partners on the basis of their skin color.
Given the renewed focus on racism and discrimination, she tweeted the website asking them if it was time to retire their skin color filter.
Nagpal copied her tweet into a Facebook group for South Asian women, prompting a discussion about its relevance.
A week later, on June 10, she emailed Shaadi.com about its policy and was told by a representative that the filter “is required by most parents.”
The word shaadi means marriage in Hindi and the website is the largest dating site catering to the Indian community and diaspora across the world, replacing the role of a traditional matchmaker.
Nagpal posted the company’s response in the Facebook group sparking outrage from another group user, Hetal Lakhani who lives in Dallas.
Lakhani was so fired up she decided she had to make Shaadi.com change it.
“The only way you can do it is if you have signatures on a piece of paper and you can see here, so many people want you to make a change, so please make a change,” she told CNN.
That same day, Lakhani created a Change.org petition to “Remove the colour filter from Matrimonial Website.”
An excerpt from the petition reads:
“The obsession with fair skin is still notorious within South Asian communities. The notion that fair skin makes a better bride/husband is still of significance. Whilst completely ignoring the personality, experience of life and the ability to make a good partner and son/daughter in law.”
“Now is the time to re-evaluate what we consider beautiful. Colorism has significant consequences in our community, especially for women. People with darker skin experience greater prejudice, violence, bullying, social sanctions, and all kinds of skin-lightening treatments are recommended to them under the guise of ‘making them desirable’ or ‘making them more beautiful.’”
Both Nagpal and Lakhani tweeted about the petition as did other users of the group and it picked up steam online.
“Within an hour it had 500 signatures,” Lakhani told CNN.
Hours later, the petition was noticed by influential blogger Roshni Patel who shared it with her 80,000 followers and also tweeted Shaadi.com.
It was her tweet that the company responded to.
The next day, on June 11, Shaadi.com posted on Twitter that the filter was a “blindspot” and that it had been removed.
“Since we do not collect or capture this information on our platform, one cannot filter profiles using this,” the tweet read. “Hence, this search filter has no implications on matchmaking. That said, the search filter was blind spot from our side and we have removed it.”
It’s not the first time the website’s policies have caused controversy.
Earlier this year, the site came under fire in the United Kingdom for reinforcing caste-based discrimination through its algorithms. A report in The Sunday Times revealed how a profile set up for a higher caste person was not offered lower caste potential matches unless they adjusted their preferences to include all other castes.
Shaadi.com denied any caste-based bias.