x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Love is sweet, but India's diabetics struggle to find a life partner

Prejudice against people suffering from diabetes in India meant diabetes specialist Dr Anil Kumar Jhingan found himself setting up a service to reconcile parents fearful that their offspring wanted to marry a diabetic, and even starting a diabetics' dating agency.

Dr Ashok Kumar Jhingan, diabetologist, at his clinic in Rajouri Garden, New Delhi.
Dr Ashok Kumar Jhingan, diabetologist, at his clinic in Rajouri Garden, New Delhi.

NEW DELHI // Squeezed between the busy bylanes and shops overflowing with colourful Indian wedding garments in the Rajouri Garden market, is a sparse clinic with a desk, two bookshelves stacked high with trophies and books, and a patient's bed.

The waiting room outside is twice the size of the cubicle, filled with nervous medical representatives and patients who are here to see Dr Anil Kumar Jhingan, a diabetes specialist. The doctor, 62, waits patiently for an elderly woman who rifles through her tattered phone book, trying to locate his phone number. He gives it to her again. As usual, it is an hour past closing time in the afternoon when he takes a break to go home for lunch.

In addition to the salesmen hawking the latest medical goods, there are others who wait to see him for more personal matters.

For Dr Jhingan is also a matchmaker, offering advice and counselling to patients and families who are afraid their children will never wed, or if they do, the discrimination they face will end a marriage.

Matrimony is big business in India. Yet for those with diabetes, it is a challenging alliance to make.

"The basic factor is myths surrounding diabetes," Dr Jhingan said. "That a diabetic cannot produce a child, will not live long, cannot have a normal life. In India, people don't come forward because of this and because their biggest fear is that their children will inherit this."

He calls India the "diabetes capital of the world" because of the growing prevalence of the condition, as well as the population's predisposition to the disease. In 2000, an estimated 31.7 million Indians were diagnosed with diabetes, according to the World Health Organisation. The number is expected to double by 2030. Genetics combined with obesity, sedentary lifestyles, a diet rich in processed foods and saturated fats and the typical Indian's love for sweets are all contributing factors.

While Type 2 diabetes occurs as people age, Type 1, juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes is most often diagnosed in children or young adults. Dr Jhingan estimates there is a 10 per cent incidence of it in India's 1.1 billion population. This is the group that worries him.

Udit Bhatia, 32, became Dr Jhingan's patient when he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes 10 years ago. It was his future wife, Swati, who introduced them, because she wanted the doctor's help in trying to convince her parents to let her marry Mr Bhatia.

"Ours was a normal love story but the difference is that she said she should be prepared when I told her I was a diabetic," Mr Bhatia said.

A meeting was called between Swati's grandfather, uncles, father and Dr Jhingan.

Dr Jhingan recalled the meeting, which the family thought would be an intervention: "They told me, 'Tell our daughter she is mad for wanting to do this'. I told them, 'You are mad, she is not mad'.

"She is now my role model," Dr Jhingan said. "She is the kind of people we need to get rid of the myths."

A survey conducted from 2004 to 2006 by his clinic, also known as the Delhi Diabetes Research Centre, revealed that of the married women who were Type 1 diabetic, nearly 50 per cent were sent back to their parents' homes within a year of marriage. Nearly half that number soon lost interest in taking care of themselves "due to lack of financial assistance from their husbands."

He launched the survey a year after he watched the disintegration of the marriages of two young women he had counselled as children.

In the first case, less than a week after her wedding, a young teacher was sent back to her parents' house because her in-laws called her an "economic burden" for taking insulin shots every day.

"They actually sent her back because they said she couldn't produce normal children," Dr Jhingan said. "Even though she was an earning member of the family, this was the case."

His second patient was tortured by the in-laws, he said, to the point where she stopped taking her insulin and attempted suicide.

"Women have the worst deal in this," he said. "Although the disease is equally found in both, socio-economic dependency means women suffer more."

As word spread of his work in trying to reconcile families and couples, Dr Jhingan would receive photographs and biographies of eligible candidates that he would stuff into the top drawer of his desk. Now it is empty. Like most of the urban Indian matrimonial market, the business of matchmaking has moved online.

From June to August 2009, Nielsen, the marketing and advertising research company found that of the 3,778 online companies launched, almost 500 - more than one in eight - were for matrimonial web sites. Online marriage sites are one of the fastest growing businesses in India, estimated at 10 billion rupees a year (Dh819m), with more than 9 million members.

Before Dr Jhingan launched his matrimonial website to match diabetics with other diabetics in 2008, he asked Basab Dey, who now manages the online site, to do some market research on behalf of his clinic.

"We were overwhelmed by patients complaints that because of diabetes they could not find the right partner," Mr Dey said.

The report concluded that people with diabetes said their condition exacerbated issues such as confrontation, separation and divorce in a their marriages. Nine out of 10 of those surveyed said they had difficulty being accepted as a life partner.

The site, which has more than 750 members, receives 50 to 60 hits a day.

Dheeraj Arora, 30, a businessman in Rajasthan, briefly posted his profile on the site before bringing his then girlfriend, Vandna, an aerobics instructor, to meet Dr Jhingan.

"All she wanted to know if we should go for adoption or if we can have babies," said Mr Arora, who was married last year. Her parents did not attend their wedding.

"Her parents were totally against it," he said. "Most people have this mentality that marrying a diabetic will ruin your life."