It Happens

Matchmaking for Exiles

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Meet marriage brokers who specialise in bringing together Sri Lankan Tamil refugees

Three decades of civil war have scattered about a quarter of the Sri Lankan Tamil population around the globe, across Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the UK. That’s an estimated one million, including a big number of young people desper­ately wanting to get married. Matrimonial websites echo with the plaintive, barely-heard sighs of their proposals. One lonely heart from Jaffna, who now lives in ‘Brugge, Belgium’, uploaded the following profile, unadorned by a photograph, on a matrimonial website for Sri Lankan Tamils: ‘Groom; Age: 29; Height: 6’4”; Job: Kook; Religion/Caste: I want married.’

Supplications like his have not gone unheard, particularly in the cities of Tamil Nadu, which about 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees call home. Chandran, a refugee wedding broker based in Chennai, is one such answerer of prayers. He fled his hometown in the Jaffna peninsu­la in 1990, when bombardments wiped out his spare-parts business, home and car. After a brief stint in the Sivaganga refugee camp, he was permitted to move out, and has been brokering weddings for refugees ever since. Most of the requests he gets come from members of the upper caste Vellalar communities, “anehama” (overwhelmingly) in Canada and London. The men, he says, want their brides “meliss-a, colour-a” (slender, fair), and four years younger than them.

One father, a client of Chandran’s who fled Mannar in the 1990s and has resettled with his family in Madurai, is anxious that his daughter might not fit the bill. “She’s a very tall girl, she’s 5’8”, and she’s 30,” he says. He turned to a broker for help, he adds, since “nowadays, it is difficult for girls; with so many males killed in the war, [eligible] males are a minority.” Eligible males, for him, would need to belong to the Mudaliar community or a comparably high caste, and should have “an average education, a job”, preferably neither in Sri Lanka (“they’d expect Rs 15 lakh in dowry”) nor in India (“Too many festivities, and they demand money and jewellery for every single one”). The broker’s fee for a foreign-settled groom—between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000, “depending on the groom”—is something he considers a relative bargain.