How elderly citizens in India are finding love

More Indian seniors refuse to spend their twilight years alone and are turning to matchmaking and dating apps—breaking deep-seated taboos

The UN Population Fund estimates that India's elderly population will touch 192 million by 2030 (photo: DW)
The UN Population Fund estimates that India's elderly population will touch 192 million by 2030 (photo: DW)


Madhav Damle runs a home for senior citizens in Wai, a town in India's western state of Maharashtra. Years ago, his job made him face an uncomfortable truth—many of the town's residents were experiencing loneliness and stress, and had poor relations with their families and friends. At least one of the seniors under his care tried to take his own life by consuming sleeping pills. His adult children expressed little interest in taking care of him, says Damle.

Looking for ways to ease his clients' isolation, Damle had an idea—he tried forming them into couples with an eye on marriage. This worked especially well for clients in their mid to late 60s. But he then faced an unexpected obstacle, as some of the clients' children disliked their elderly relatives marrying, owing to inheritance issues.

"This is why I thought live-in relationships might be a good solution for the couples. We conducted a survey among some seniors in [the Maharashtra city of] Pune, and about 70 per cent of them were open to the idea of a live-in partner," he says.

'Time and love' as top priorities

India's society is remarkably conservative when it comes to marriage and relationships. The divorce rate in India is about 1 per cent—among the lowest in the world. At the same time, there is a social stigma against remarriage, or an unmarried couple living together.

The issue even made it to India's Supreme Court in 2006, with judges finding that a "live-in relationship between two consenting adults of heterogenic sex does not amount to any offence, even though it may be perceived as immoral".

Damle officially launched his matchmaking agency in 2012, and it later took the name "Happy Seniors". He manages and shares profiles, while also organising meet-ups and trips for his clients.

Nitin Savgave and Saroj Ghatani found each other through Damle. The two are now married.

"My only requirement from a partner was their time and love. I got that," Ghatani tells DW. She adds that her family did not approve of her new marriage, but this did not deter her and Savgave. "We enjoy each others' company and spend most of our time together," she says.

Savgave's family was more supportive. "She is vegetarian, whereas I eat meat frequently," he says. "But we have adapted to each other and enjoy the companionship."

Minefield of dating apps

Matchmaking is a time-honoured craft in India. But finding a partner online is growing increasingly common, and some older Indians are now turning to modern dating apps to find love.

Tina (name changed), 64, decided to do just that after walking out of an abusive marriage.

"I got married at 18 and was a mum by 20, I never got the chance to be myself. So after I split, I had all this freedom and no one to dictate my life," she tells DW.

After a while, she tried using dating apps in search of companionship. "I found a lot of men were married, and looking to cheat on their wives. There were also some younger men looking for an older woman. I got fed up with it," she admits.

But her search eventually paid off. She found a partner through an app, and after chatting for about five years, the two finally met.

"We're definitely not looking for marriage. Just companionship," she says.

Her children know about her relationship. Her partner also has one child and "the acceptance has not been forthcoming," Tina says.

Most of India's seniors lonely

Breaking taboos is likely to grow increasingly common as both India's society and its population shift. Today, about 5.7 per cent of India's senior citizens live alone, without the support of family or friends, according to a survey by India's PAN Healthcare conducted among 10,000 elderly respondents across 10 cities. The survey also found that a majority of respondents feel lonely at least some of the time.

With India now the most populous country in the word, the number of its seniors is climbing—the UN Population Fund estimates that it will touch 192 million by 2030, and by 2050, every fifth Indian will be an elderly person, defined by the UN as aged 60 or older.

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