India's attitude to arranged marriage is changing. But some say not fast enough

New Delhi, India (CNN)Ananya was 15 when she watched her older sister marry a man she barely knew.

Her sister was 19 years old at the time, and had only met her new husband once before, a few months earlier. They'd talked a handful of times on the phone.
"My oldest sister's marriage was traditional. I don't think she was prepared and she didn't seem to be that happy bride ... I think 19 is too young to get married," says Ananya, who requested to use an alias to discuss personal family matters.
    Ananya's parents chose her sister's husband, as well as partners for her two other sisters, who got married when they were 22 and 26 years old. Now aged 30, Ananya knows that her family would love her to settle down with a spouse. She's not so sure.
      Either way, she says she will have more control over her future than her sister.
      Arranged marriages are still the norm in India, but there's a growing trend for some women to choose their own partners -- or to not marry at all. Technology is also replacing traditional methods of matchmaking. Instead of relying on family connections, many young Indians and their parents are turning to online marriage sites to find a partner.
      While the methodology may be modernizing, many young Indians still say the old measures of compatibility -- such as caste and complexion -- are discriminatory and need to go.
        A bride exchanges flower garlands with a groom as part of their traditional marriage ceremony in Kolkata in July, 2020.

        How arranged marriage works

        Arranged marriages date back centuries as a way for upper caste families to maintain their status and consolidate assets. Over time, the system spread to other communities for similar reasons.
        Traditionally, families would write up a resume of their children's vital statistics -- weight, height, complexion and caste -- and share the list with the parents of prospective partners. Lists can also be shared with family friends, a local priest or even a paid matchmaker of the kind featured in Netflix's hit show "Indian Matchmaker," although that is increasingly rare.
        In the past, such information may have been confined to that inner circle, but now it's often also on the internet for the world to see.
        Matrimonial sites function in a similar way to dating sites, encouraging users to post their personal information to find a match. But while dating site bios are typically fun and witty, the information shared on a marriage site is much more personal. Occupation, income, religion and caste are all listed. For women, the post might also specify their weight, body type and complexion.
        Many families see such data as crucial for a successful match, but more liberal Indians view some criteria -- particularly caste and complexion -- as discriminatory.
        "You're made to feel like cattle. You're dehumanized to such an extent and I don't think the families even realize this," said Mira, a 26-year-old lawyer who lives in New Delhi. She requested to use a pseudonym to avoid offending her family.
        "When you are reduced to a set of qualities on a piece of paper, and I'm sure this holds true for men as well, it's profoundly objectifying and that's what puts me off the whole thing," she said.

        Finding a partner

        If a match is made -- either through a marriage site or word of mouth -- the prospective couple often then have a handful of "dates," usually chaperoned by family members. The couple are then expected to make a decision on whether to marry.
        While there are similarities with dating in the West, these marriages are not considered "love marriages," the union of two people who have fallen for each other. But these modern arranged marriages give the individuals involved more power than they might have had in the past.
        For instance, when Ananya was 25 she was asked to compile her own biodata -- years ago, her family might have done it for her. "I remember it was like making a CV and I sent it to my dad who forwarded it," she said.
        Ananya was already living a relatively modern life. She had moved away from her home city of Jaipur in Rajasthan state to the Indian capital, New Delhi, where she works for an arts events management company.
        After the information was exchanged, a family from a city near Jaipur approached her father about the possibility of marriage, but with the condition that their daughter-in-law would either stay at home or join the family business.
        "I found this strange because I was very clear about being independent. He said no to them -- but only told me later," she said.
        Ananya said her success outside the family home had helped to convince her father that there was no need for her to rush into marriage.
        "He's seen that I manage my own life and I work," she said. "Every year or so, they do ask when I want to take the decision to get married. It's in a concerned way, but casual -- not that you have to do this."
        An artist applies henna to the hands of a young Indian bride.