Shraddha was all set for a December wedding this year. However, the phone call from the groom's father came just when the trousseau shopping was about to begin. They canceled the wedding out of the blue.
NEW DELHI, India -- Private investigation is booming in India -- thanks to big, fat Indian weddings.
In the last five years, the overall sleuth business has seen a 60 percent increase in India in general and almost a 70 percent increase in the marriage sector, according to the apex body of Indian PIs. It has become almost a ritual for parents of brides and grooms to contact sleuths to check on backgrounds of prospective sons-in-law or daughters-in-law.
In Shraddha’s case, the groom’s family had hired a private detective agency to check on her background. And while Shraddha, 23, came out clean in the scrutiny, her family didn’t. The groom’s family found out from the PI that her father had married her mother when she was a widow. Shraddha doesn’t want to be identified by her last name because she is still embarrassed and shocked due to the rejection based on her parents’ past. “I am shocked that someone could hire a detective to dig up skeletons in my past.” Shraddha said. “I am better off not marrying in a family for whom my parents’ past matter more than our compatibility.”
Gyan Kalsi, the father of a prospective bride, said Indian parents have always verified their prospective daughter-in-law or son-in-law’s background, just in an informal way, using networks of friends and colleagues to know what they are marrying into. Now, like so much else in the modern world, those ties aren't always as productive as they once were.
“Earlier people used to ask around in the locality or at the workplace,” Kalsi said. "Nowadays, when professional help is available, why shouldn’t we go for it? After all every one wants to ensure their children’s happiness."
So for an average price of around Rs 23000 ($400), now parents can find out what they need to know. And sometimes what they discover is more than a little unsavory.
Ranjan, a UK based businessman who asked to be identified by another name because of the embarrassment he still feels about his broken engagement to a young woman in Kolkata. He heard from friends that she was often seen in the company of another man. Ranjan, 34, had to know the truth before going through with his arranged marriage.
The private detective agency he hired -- one of around 200 odd agencies operating throughout India, according to the Association of Public Detectives in India – found out that his fiancee had a long-term boyfriend and was only marrying Ranjan to obtain British citizenship.
“She wanted to divorce me after getting citizenship and then settle here with her boyfriend," Ranjan said. "I was devastated. I couldn’t talk to anyone for weeks. But thankfully, I found out before the wedding."
In most cases, however, marriages are canceled for lesser reasons – like a blot on the family name, or some past scandal involving the parents or someone in the extended family, said Ashish Mathur, a New Delhi-based PI.
Matrimonial investigations, in addition to being money spinners are also time consuming. Plus they can weigh a little heavy on the conscience of the PIs. But the Indian sleuths have learnt to separate their emotions from the investigation process.
Mathur said, “Our job is to give the facts to our clients. We try to keep our emotions away from the cases.”
According to APDI chairman Kunwar Vikram Singh, there are around 150,000 PIs in India at the moment. The government, taking into account the large number of sleuths, is trying to regulate the industry by passing a bill that makes licensing mandatory. Efforts are also on to form a National Detective Regulatory Board, which will determine the qualification of various agencies and institutions that run private investigation courses and determine the components of the modules. That will also mean that every private detective in India will require a license. As it stands now, only about 20 percent of India's private detectives, the ones who are former security service people, can claim some formal training, Singh said.
Mathur, 38, was an aeronautical engineer when the sleuthing bug bit him. Now he runs his own investigation company with a staff of seven or so private detectives at any given time, and another 15-to-20 freelancers. His charges are high - between Rs 20,000-30,000 ($400 to $600 US) per case.
Mathur said that the upswing in business in India is a result of increased awareness of their investigative options. “People now are more aware about how they can use the services of a private detective.” Mathur said.
Ten years ago, when Mathur was just starting out, he handled maybe three or four cases a month. Today it's almost five times that -- almost 90 percent of them involving matrimonial verification.
Checking up on the bride or groom to be isn't the only work PIs are handling these days. The investigations also cover corporate intelligence, insurance fraud, medical fraud, educational qualification checks. All are on the rise, according to Singh.
Now that spying is a lucrative business, private investigation has become a new career option for the Indian youth. Singh said that need for new detectives will only increase as more and more industries and individuals turn to them for information gathering.
“You need house detectives in every mall and hotel," he said. "This is a totally new sector and was not there five years back."
Singh added that many people join the profession because of the glamor associated with it, thanks to spy thrillers and James Bond movies: "Most of them, however, do not make the cut when they are put on surveillance for six-to-seven hours," he said.
Singh’s company handles more than 100 cases a month -- an increase that began after the attacks of 9/11 and continues to this day. Many of the customers are from other countries. "Every U.S. company who is hiring someone from India wants to get a background search done, Singh said.
The private investigation industry in India is all set to receive a boost from the upcoming Commonwealth games too. The Games organizers have been in talks with APDI to hire PIs to prevent violation of intellectual property rights on official trademarks. And if talks translate into action, there will be an added demand for PIs in India. With a regulatory board in the offing and APDI ready with an online course for budding PIs, the Indian PI industry looks set for a complete overhaul.