Priest plays Cupid by launching introduction meetings
Indian Christians adopt Hindu ways to find a soulmate
Kiran Bhabor has good jobs as a hostel warden and nursing college teacher. But the 33-year-old doesn't have a husband. For over a decade, she has looked unsuccessfully for a suitable partner. Even the efforts of her Bhil tribal family have failed to turn up any candidates.
But Bhabor has hopes that her luck might soon improve.
She says her search has failed because most of the men in her community in Madhya Pradesh state are economically and educationally “backward," making it a difficult prospect for educated women like her to find an appropriate groom.
In India, finding life partners is a social and family responsibility; more so among the country’s tribal communities because it ensures that young people do not stray outside their tribal and faith communities for the sake of a spouse.
A “suitable match” traditionally means meeting the parameters of caste, sub-caste, age, education and religion. In recent times, employment has also become a significant factor.
Bhabor's options are even narrower. As a Christian Bhil tribal, she must find a Christian Bhil man with her level of education who is older than her – not an easy thing in such a small minority of the population.
In contrast, finding a mate is easier among Hindus, as their communities regularly conduct parichay sammelan - introdution meetings - where women and men who want to get married come, along with their families, to meet prospective partners.
Taking a cue from such meetings, Catholics in Indore diocese in central India have begun to organize their own introduction meetings along the same lines.
Bhabor and her father were among the 152 multi-denominational participants – 86 girls and 66 boys, along with their families – of the first such meeting in late January.
There she found one prospective match, and her family is now working to finalize a marriage agreement.
Abhilesh Kochele, who also joined the meeting, said the selection process was easy for him because prospective brides and grooms speak openly to the group about the qualities they expect in a life partner.
Dasil Thomas, 64, came to the event in search of matches for his son and daughter.
“I have zeroed in on three matches each for them, and am hopeful of finalizing their marriages shortly,” he said.
The process has the added benefit of being trustworthy and reliable because of the involvement of the Church, said Sheffi Saldanha, 22, a prospective bride.
Father Joby Anand, director of the diocesan Youth Commission and organizer of the introduction meeting, said the initial results were good and the meetings will continue regularly.
He said in recent years educated women have given up the prospect of marriage because of a lack of educated men, or have begun seeking parnters outside their communities.
Educational institutions run by the Church have provided better opportunities for tribal families to educate their children – an advantage that others in the community don’t have.
“Since the Christian community is small and scattered, the meetings help bring women and men together and know each other,” Fr Anand said, noting that Christians comprise less than one percent of the population in Madhya Pradesh.
This month’s event also included youths from Maharashtra, Chhattisgarth, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan states – all with similarly small Christian communities made up mostly of migrants from the south or tribal and lower caste converts.
Young Christians marrying outside their faith has become a great concern for the Church, according to Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore, who sees the meetings as a good tool to remedy the problem.
“We want our youths to marry within our faith," he said. "The meetings will not only help them find a suitable match, but also make them stay in the community.”
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