While there are dozens of dating sites available in India, it can be difficult for the LGBT+ community to find long-term love online, according to Urvi Shah, the founder of the Arranged Gay Marriage Bureau in Ahmedabad.
Shah set up the unique service as a way for queer people to “find a like-minded life partner where we act like their parents”, she tells SBS.
With a nod to the Indian tradition of matchmaking, the bureau uses an in-depth questionnaire to match potential partners according to their interests, personality traits and education.
Although same-sex marriage is not yet legal in India—and homosexuality is still technically criminalised—the bureau has so far registered 1400 clients worldwide.
“Most of our clients are from India, Canada, US, UK and Australia,” Shah tells SBS. “We have around 350 clients from Australia.”
Since the bureau was formed in 2015, Shah and her team have been responsible for 25 marriages (outside of India), 36 couples in a live-in relationship and 47 couples who are yet to move in together.
But despite these success stories, Shah has also gotten used to dealing with the backlash from some of the families of her clients, with stigma continuing to surround India's LGBT+ community.
“We have spoken to many parents who are against the sexual orientation of their children. They do come to our office with many questions and aggression,” she says.
“There are people who are strongly against our work and our idea of supporting LGBTQ community. We try to explain things, few people understand, many ignore… but the show must go on.”
Shah first became interested in setting up the bureau during her postgraduate studies, when she spent time interning at NGOs and became more aware of the unique issues faced by the LGBT+ community in India. She's also been inspired by the work of the openly gay Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, who uses his platform to champion LGBT+ rights.
"Gohil uses his fame and status to educate the gay community about safe sex and their rights in a country where gay sex is a criminal offence," says Shah.
"He is passionate about changing the perspective of people and helping out LGBTQ community for every possible thing. His passion also motivates me to work further."
Part of Shah's plans for the future includes opening a non-profit organisation that would employ members of the transgender and hijra community. "It is the most difficult task for Hijra community to get jobs in India," she says.
And as the bureau grows, Shah is hopeful about the advancement of LGBT+ rights in the country.
“We all have our fingers crossed and hoping for India to legalise same-sex marriage," Shah says.