Indians embrace dating apps

It is redefining how young men and women form relationships

A member of the TrulyMadly staff in New Delhi demonstrating how her company's dating app works on the smartphone.
A member of the TrulyMadly staff in New Delhi demonstrating how her company's dating app works on the smartphone. ST PHOTO: NIRMALA GANAPATHY

Mr Ankit Vengurlekar, a full-time blogger based in Mumbai, India, went on United States-based dating app Tinder over a year ago, first out of curiosity.

The 33-year-old, who has since been on many dates through Tinder and other Indian dating apps, called it a "revelation", particularly in a country like India which is still largely conservative with dating seen as a Western concept.

"What is interesting about an online dating app in a country like India... is the casualness of it all. There is an interesting mix of people. I have even been on dates where within minutes women were propositioning for casual sex," said Mr Vengurlekar.

In a country where matrimonial websites have dominated for years and families fix marriages on the basis of caste and religion, dating apps are redefining how a small but growing number of women and men in their 20s and 30s meet.

In the larger cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, urban educated professionals, that include scores of women who move to the big cities for employment and studies, are increasingly deciding where they study, work, live and date.

Tinder started gaining traction in 2013, opening an office in India last month, while Indian dating apps like TrulyMadly, Woo, and - which all promise a more lasting relationship - have since gained attention in a country where over half of the 1.25 billion population is under 35. The apps are popular with those between the ages of 18 and 34.

Mr Sachin Bhatia, co-founder of TrulyMadly, which has 500,000 active users, said one indication of how attitudes were changing was in how his company decided to remove an option for users to reveal their religion within a month of its launch in 2014, after women users said it was irrelevant. "In our mind, 22- to 26-year-olds are our core audience. They don't have a lot of inhibitions on their mind. They want opportunity to connect and meet new people," said Mr Bhatia.

Growth has been fast. Tinder has seen more than a 400 per cent increase in downloads over the last year. Over the last six months alone, it has gone from 7.5 million to 14 million swipes every day. Users swipe right if they are interested or swipe left to reject.

"We have grown on the basis of word of mouth. For example, in India, users have the longest chat conversations on Tinder of any market worldwide," said Ms Taru Kapoor, head of Tinder in India.

"In terms of potential, there is incredible room for growth everywhere as more and more Indians adopt the smartphone."

India has 160 million smartphone users.

Another app, Woo, grew from 10,000 users in its first month in the southern city of Bangalore to two million subscribers across the cities when it launched in 2014. It promises "connections not swipes", targeting those aged 25 and above.

"A key driver for our business and entire industry is the growing impact of economic growth with people moving to big cities and becoming financially independent and more women coming into the workforce," said Mr Sumesh Menon, CEO and co-founder of Woo, which recently launched in Indonesia and is looking to expand in South-east Asia.

Still not everyone is a fan of the dating apps. Ms Keerthana Varadarajan, based in southern city of Bangalore, signed up for Tinder after her friends told her to stop "living under a rock".

"I feel that men were just looking out for 'interesting conversations' and commitment was not even on the agenda," said Ms Varadarajan, 30, a software engineer.

She has now removed her profiles from all dating apps except on Floh, an app that also helps people meet up in events in real life. " I am not too sure how this will pan out... Casual fun and flings are so not me."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline Indians embrace dating apps. Subscribe