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Friday, December 18, 2009

I Spy, in 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 and almost a 70 percent increase in the marriage sector.

It has become almost a ritual for parents of brides and grooms to contact sleuths to check on the 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 although Shraddha came out clean in the scrutiny, her family didn’t.

For Gyan Kalsi, father of a prospective bride, it is imperative to be certain of the background of the man he is marrying his daughter to.

Kalsi said Indian parents have always verified their prospective daughter-in-law or son-in-law’s background.

“Earlier people used to ask around in the locality or at the workplace. Nowadays, when professional help is available, why shouldn’t we go for it? After all every one wants to ensure their children’s happiness,” Kalsi said.

And often such investigation leads to unsavoury truths.

Ranjan (name changed on request), a UK based businessman, was engaged to a girl in Kolkata. He heard from friends that she was seen in the company of another man quite frequently.

He hired a private detective agency in Kolkata who found out that the girl had a long-term boyfriend and was marrying Ranjan to acquire a U.K. citizenship.

“She wanted to divorce me after getting citizenship and then settle here with her boyfriend. I was devastated. I couldn’t talk to anyone for weeks. But thankfully, I found out before the wedding,” Ranjan said.

However, in most cases marriages are cancelled for lesser reasons – like a blot in the family name or some past scandal to do with either the parents or someone in the extended family.

Matrimonial investigations, despite being money spinners are time consuming, and a little heavy on the conscience. For unlike detective novels or movies, it is not just about crime and punishment.

But the Indian sleuths have learnt to separate their emotions from the investigation process.

Ashish Mathur, a private investigator said, “Our job is to give the facts to our clients. We try to keep our emotions away from the cases.”

Mathur, 38, was an aeronautical engineer when the sleuthing bug bit him. Now he runs his own investigation company and loves every moment of it – aeronautics a distant memory.

He employs around 7-8 detectives and works with an additional 15 to 20 freelancers. He charges anywhere between Rs 20,000-30,000 ($400-$600) per case.

Mathur thinks that the upswing in the sleuth business in India is a result of increased awareness. “People now are more aware about how they can use the services of a private detective. Crime is also on an increase these days, so is the demand for security services,” Mathur said.

Ten years back, when Mathur started out, he received 3-4 cases a month. Now he has to tackle at least 15 cases a month.

“It is also a reflection on how our belief and faith in each other is on a downward spiral,” Mathur said.

Almost 90 percent of the cases Mathur receive deal with matrimonial verification.

Apart from matrimonial verification, gathering corporate intelligence, detecting insurance frauds, medical frauds, educational qualification checks have also seen an increase in demand.

It has suddenly made private investigation a new and lucrative career option for the Indian youth.

The Association of Private Detectives and Investigators (APDI) chairman, Kunwar VikramVikramVikramVikram Singh, said that the requirement of detectives will only increase with demands coming from new and newer sectors.

“You need house detectives in every malls and hotels. This is a totally new sector and was not there 5 years back,” he said.

Singh says that a lot of people come into the profession because of the glamor associated with it, thanks to spy thrillers and Bond movies.

“Most of them, however, do not make the cut when they are put on surveillance for 6-7 hours,” Singh said.

The average Indian sleuth is certainly much removed from the slick heroes of spy thrillers.He is trained not to stand out in a crowd. With plain features and a placid bearing, he looks and acts like a plain Joe whose main work is often just collecting facts or surveillance.

Singh’s company handles more than a hundred cases every month. “Thousands of cases have come to us after the 9/11 attacks. Every U.S. company, who is hiring someone from India, wants to get a background search done.”

Singh adds, “Nowadays people value the information detected by a professional. Personal relationships have changed. There is conflict of interest between spouses. Children's relationship with parents have also changed. There was a time nobody thought children could hire detectives to spy on their parents.”

And it goes the other way too – parents spying on teenage children.

Singh’s company handles 3-4 such cases every month.

“The parents of a girl, who was studying away from home, contacted me as they came to know that she was living a wild life and neglecting her studies,” said Singh.

The investigation confirmed the parents' suspicion. However, Singh did not close the case after handing over the information to her parents.

Instead he carried out psychoanalysis of the girl’s personality and helped her parents to deal with the situation effectively.

And that is where more and more private investigators in India are scoring – for them the case doesn’t close when they find the truth but rather is a starting point for providing a holistic solution to their clients.

India is at present home to 150,000 private investigators. 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.

Existence of a regulatory board will, however, also mean that every private detective in India will require a license.

"Presently, there are no courses in India that train people in private investigation. Most detectives are internally trained by the agencies they work for. Around 20 percent of private detectives in India, who are former security forces personnel, can claim to have some formal training," Singh said.

APDI has arranged for an online training in collaboration with a U.K.-based company and very soon Indian detectives will be able to acquire a formal certification.

With 80 percent of private detectives in India without any formal certification, it sure is back to the books for most Indian private eyes!



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