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Battling Online Matrimonial Fraud

As the Ministry of Women and Child Development mulls over the idea to bring in a “model” prenuptial agreement, it simultaneously faces the challenge of first resolving the issue of online fraud and harassment of female users on matrimonial websites. It is not merely about lewd and indecent comments on these portals which are indeed alarming but the fact that these cases of harassment and financial fraud need immediate redressal. The reason why these websites are responsible for these untoward incidents is because significant details of the users on their domain (including their name, address, phone number and email addresses) are made available.

After an inter-ministerial meeting in November last year on the issue of fraudulent users on matrimonial websites, the Women and Child Development Ministry is currently formulating guidelines which will be issued to curb the menace of harassment by these users. The Ministry has also set up an inter-ministerial panel (with representatives from WCD Ministry, Ministry of Information Technology, and Ministry of Home Affairs) to frame the guidelines. Recently even the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) in an advisory role for drafting the guidelines. But the pertinent point is will these guidelines be able to address core issues which affect the users?

For starters, these websites need to have a bold disclaimer stating the purpose of that particular website, which is strictly for matrimonial and not dating. Most users creating accounts on these portals in their chats claim they want to date, then why do they log on to these websites? There are “free” dating apps and websites available now. These matrimonial portals must gauge the “intent” of the user once they create an account. Most importantly each of the details uploaded by the users must be verified by these portals. After all these websites do not offer free services, they charge a hefty amount. So why not offer safety? Marriage is a sanctimonious institution in India which binds families together. Marriage in India is a serious affair, not a frivolous subject like dating.

One of these web portals has the author Chetan Bhagat as their brand ambassador promoting the idea of falling in love and getting married through the website. Shouldn’t Mr. Bhagat also mention in the advertisements that he appears on television stating the intent of these websites is only “marriage”. If Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan have been pulled up for endorsing Maggi, so should Chetan Bhagat be hauled up for selling a dream to the users of these matrimonial websites, without mentioning the sole intent of the users of the websites? Disseminating information on the online space and also spreading the word on fake and dubious profiles should also be added to the promotional campaign of these websites.

Above all there are some immediate concerns regarding matrimonial websites, which include why don’t the websites inform the user regularly of new proposals? After one finds a match, why don’t these websites help in pursuing the case? Why don’t they intervene when inappropriate emails/ chats are sent? They do not contact the family of the user, to inform them of the prospective matches, giving a detailed background of the profile. 

Why is there no attempt for a regular interaction (calls/sms/emails) with the user after the account is created? After all one has paid for the services they offer but don’t in fact render.

Notably the matrimonial website managers should be able to identify objectionable words in the chats or emails (specifically enabled on these websites) of the users which can help them gauge the authenticity of the profile. This means if someone is typing to their prospective partners asking their view on inappropriate issues example: asking for “nude photographs” or sending across “pornographic content”. Then the website should be able to access these accounts, disable them, and take strict action against them.

Most importantly all those people using these portals must stand up and voice their concern regarding any case of harassment or fraud they have faced on these websites. For these websites it is a business venture but for the users it is a matter of their entire life.
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