Weddings in India are often seen as some sort of achievement. An accomplishment for both sides of the family, but more so for the woman. And this significant “milestone” comes with the trappings of societal approval. It is a subtle but definite win for the female, a sort of victory that marks her safe from a life spent alone, unfulfilled, with only cats for company. And while that narrative is changing, though largely in urban set ups, marriage is still seen as a goal.
It is perhaps this pressure created on women to “settle down” that keep the matrimony industry busy. The future for single women is made to sound abysmally bleak, and the implication is that all their achievements pale in comparison, if a spouse is not presented in tow. It is perhaps one of these or a combination of these factors that women turn to matrimonial sites and apps, hoping to grab the man of their dreams, the one guy that will check another box and get her the societal approval that’s essential to survive, or so they will have you believe.
And it shouldn’t surprise you then that in an attempt to nail down that elusive guys, women often fall for elaborate schemes robbing them of savings of a lifetime and creating crippling debt. In Tanuja Chandra’s Wedding.con, the director talks about precisely this and the stories of these brave women should keep you on your toes. Wedding.con is a true crime documentary streaming now on Prime Video. ELLE caught up with Tanuja Chandra to ask about the crimes, and stories behind these heinous acts.
ELLE: What about working on wedding.con surprised you the most? Was it the number of cons, the extent or the sheer deceit of it?
Tanuja Chandra: Right at the start, when Neha Khurana of BBC Studios approached me to direct this project, I was shocked by the scale at which online matrimonial frauds operate. Right under our noses but hidden in plain sight and hardly spoken about. And then, when I began working on the project, the modus operandi of the perpetrators and their manipulation of the victims to serve their own awful ends, surprised me. They employed complex and sophisticated methods, always many steps ahead of the unsuspecting victims, always prepared for things to go wrong so that they could turn the situation around to their selfish, despicable advantage. The constant human need for companionship and comfort never surprises me, but the extent to which criminals can go to exploit victims doesn’t cease to amaze me.
But what finally shocked me the most was that these women, who did nothing deceitful, fraudulent, or despicable stood to be shamed by their society and at times, even their loved ones. I can never get used to the fact that in a world that applauds righteousness, few stand by the victims or indeed, fight for them.
Money is just one of the losses in matrimonial fraud. There’s the loss of dignity, confidence, faith and trust – how do we account for that? How do women betrayed so deeply attend to their mental health given that even that is a stigma in our society. The damage isn’t of some months but possibly of a lifetime.
ELLE: How big a role do you think societal expectations play in making women feel inadequate and therefore susceptible to such cons?
TC: To be honest, each and every one of us is susceptible to the hope that happiness is just around the corner. Whether it be marriage that gives one joy, or love, or indeed one’s work. In most cultures, marriage is considered a kind of achievement, but especially in India. A person is seen as incomplete without it and there is tremendous pressure on women to ‘settle down ‘. So when a beautiful partnership suddenly appears to be within reach, most women become excited – this is exactly what the world and their own families wanted, after all. They feel loved and what’s more, they feel like they fit in. And yet, when this dream goes wrong, they are abandoned by the very society that insists that marriage is integral to a fulfilling life.
View this post on Instagram
ELLE: What were some key takeaways for women from this?
TC: I would never judge a woman for misreading someone who proclaims love for her; it’s more telling of the world we live in that trusting someone is considered a flaw rather than a sign of strength. I think the very lens through which we regard women is a faulty one. Instead of judging criminals for the lies and theft they perpetuate, we judge women for being taken in by a scammer. We must reframe the questions we ask: not, how could you let this happen to you, to the victim, instead, what kind of a world do we live in that this is allowed to happen to women at such an alarming rate?
For me, the key takeaways are for the law, the administrative authorities, the police, for marriage portals that don’t have adequate measures to check fraud – these are what need correcting more, not the women. I’m amazed that the onus for dealing with matrimonial fraud is placed on the women! That said, if I were to talk about the takeaways for women, I would recall our brave contributors mentioning that if this series can save even a handful of women from being cheated, they would feel satisfied that they participated in it. The real and almost insurmountable struggle is the fight for equality and that’s something each one of us should stand up for.
View this post on Instagram
ELLE :What sparked the idea of covering a topic like this for you?
TC: BBC Studios had been researching this subject for a couple of years before I joined hands with them. Our producers are almost all women, and with their hearts in the right place, they had searched long and hard for victims who would talk to us. And from many who had been cheated, there were just a few who were willing to come out and speak about it. I deeply admire the five who opened their hearts to us, and at the same time, I completely understand the ones who didn’t. I’m pretty certain that the day victims of matrimonial fraud feel supported by society, they will come out in large numbers to share their painful stories. After the release, all of us in the team behind Wedding.con have been receiving messages from people who’ve gone through similar nightmares, messages of gratitude as well as wanting their stories told, and my biggest hope is that some change will be brought about in support of the victims.