How Indians with disabilities find love through dating apps - Hindustan Times

How Indians with disabilities find love through dating apps

By, Delhi
Feb 23, 2023 12:20 PM IST

People living with disabilities in India are often met with discrimination and exclusion, and the dating scene is no exception. But a dating app with a focus on inclusivity might be a game changer.

Shweta Mahawar was in her mid-20s when her parents uploaded her profile onto a matrimony website in the hopes of finding her a suitable partner . Years passed, but she could not find a good match. Mahawar, a resident of Sitapur, a small town in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, has been a wheelchair user ever since she was infected with polio as a child.

People living with disabilities are often met with discrimination and exclusion. India's dating scene is no exception. (Shweta Mahawar )
People living with disabilities are often met with discrimination and exclusion. India's dating scene is no exception. (Shweta Mahawar )

"I was home-schooled and did not get any exposure to the outside world all the years I was growing up," the 43-year-old told DW.

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"Despite all the difficulties, I had always been optimistic about finding a potential match, but when I crossed into my 30s, I got really frustrated feeling that I may never get to marry, leave my house and experience life on my own terms," she said.

What challenges do people with disabilities face in dating?

According to a 2011 census, the latest data available, there were about 26.8 million people living with disabilities in India. At the time, 40% were not married. Though dating and navigating romantic relationships can be hard for anyone, people with disabilities can find the process to be particularly exclusionary and they can be met with discrimination and prejudice.

"One of the biggest challenges which people with disabilities face when trying to date is that they are often seen as asexual human beings," said Nipun Malhotra, a Delhi-based disability rights activist. (Also Read | What is a weekend marriage; know its pros and cons from experts)

Mahawar recalled her unfortunate experiences on matrimony sites, where she was confronted with exorbitant dowry demands.

"My parents did not have a lot of savings because they had to spend a good chunk of their income on my medical expenses, so meeting those dowry demands were out of question," she said.

Abhishek Shukla, who was diagnosed with osteogenesis, also known as brittle bone disease, has also had his share of bad experiences on matrimony sites.

"Matrimony sites are of no use to people with disabilities. They charge the full amount for their service, but have very few options for us," said Shukla, who quit his job at an Indian multinational company after his condition became more prominent.

"When I graduated from college and got a job, I used to get a lot of proposals, but later as people learned about my condition they distanced themselves," the 35-year-old told DW, adding that he continues the search for a potential partner.

How the Inclov app changed dating

In 2017, life started to look up for Mahawar when she came across Inclov, a dating app for people living with disabilities.

Having lived her entire life under parental supervision, curiosity pushed Mahawar to purchase a smartphone, and at the age of 38, she installed Inclov. Soon after she started using the app, she met her spouse and married in 2018.

"I met guys who just wanted to pass their time, I met people who were clear with their expectations and I am still friends with them, and I also met my husband through the app," she said.

Mahawar now lives with her husband, Alok Kumar, in Sitapur where he runs a tuition centre.

Inclov, however, shut its operations in 2019. At its peak, the app had about 50,000 people with disabilities registered as users. "Many users who matched on Inclov are now parents," Kalyani Khona, founder of Inclov, told DW.

Though people with disabilities still have the option to use mainstream dating apps like Bumble and Tinder, their experiences differed vastly, according to Khona.

"One of the most glaring difference users felt while using Inclov was in the treatment […] on Inclov, users empathized with people having disabilities," said Khona.

Besides launching an app, Khona has also organized social meetups inclusive of people with disabilities.

According to Khona, the stigma around dating people with a disability still persists in society, and "the apps only solve the discovery problem, but the process of matchmaking still requires a lot of effort."

Mainstream dating apps should be 'more inclusive'

Though apps have made it easier for people with disabilities to date and find spouses online, rights activist Malhotra said mainstream apps should also become more inclusive.

"Just like questions about sexual orientation, hobbies and interests, the dating apps should include questions on whether a person is open to dating people with disabilities or not," he said, adding that it would lead to more honest conversations.

He also highlighted how dating apps exclude people with disabilities. "Many apps require users to imitate hand gestures, which is not possible for a person with a locomotor disability like me," he said.

In September 2022, Minal Sethi launched her app MatchAble in India. Still in its early stage and with limited users, the app aims to provide people with disabilities with an avenue to forge relationships and socialize online.

"Through the app, we want to enable genuine connections and make it easier for people with disabilities to find people who understand them," said Sethi, adding that she intends to include an array of features to be inclusive of users living with disabilities in the next phase of the app launch.

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