In India, if you think you’ve found Mr. Right, call the detectives
In many years as a private investigator, Ajit Singh has plumbed the depths of human malfeasance. People cheat, steal and scam – and then there are the weddings.
“When people are presenting a boy or a girl for a match, everything is made to look very rosy – and that’s when there’s a dire need for a private investigator,” he explained. “Bluff is on the very high side in alliances nowadays.”
Mr. Singh runs a busy detective agency in the Indian capital, doing typical detective things such as corporate due diligence and investigating fraud. But much of his work is what is known here as “premarital investigation.”
His business, Hatfield Detectives, is thriving at an intersection of the old India and the new. The country is modernizing quickly, but some things haven’t changed. Ninety per cent of Indian marriages are arranged, according to UNICEF, and a wedding is still much more than the union of two happy souls. It’s an alliance of families, in which the whole clan has a stake. Divorce, while increasing, remains rare and an embarrassment. So parents arranging a union have to be sure of their choice.
It used to be that a family could rely on its extended networks of family and friends to seek out the perfect match. But today many matches – 90 per cent, for Mr. Singh’s middle- and-upper class clients – are made online, through websites such as Shaadi.com, which claims 20 million people seeking partners, and through classified ads. Yet a website offers no village ghatak, as she is known in Bengal, no bicholia as they have in Punjab: the aunty who knows everyone’s secrets.
A young man’s Web profile says he has an MBA, makes $100,000 a year, doesn’t drink and comes from a close and loving family. But who can say for sure?
Present him the profile, and a picture, and he will dispatch a crack team. First is a female investigator such as Shweta Baksh. Chatty, unassuming in appearance, she drops by the neighbourhood and hits the soft targets: the neighbours, the maid, perhaps a colleague or two of a potential bride. Ms. Bakshi starts an idle conversation, slowly gleaning the critical information. Who owns the house? Does the family get along well with the neighbours? Any fights? Do they treat the servants well? Has the young woman had a boyfriend before? “Servants and neighbours – they know exactly what’s going on,” confided Ms. Bakshi.
Meanwhile some of the male investigators on Mr. Singh’s staff – many of them former members of India’s Central Intelligence Bureau – are running searches on property documents, bank accounts, business registrations and university degrees.
Many of the tactics used by premarital investigators are of questionable ethics, if not legality – impersonating employers or accounts departments or banks when they call the tax office or businesses. “We have to use pretext, because if we told a human resources department why we were asking they wouldn’t tell us anything,” Mr. Singh explained. He keeps an array of disguises behind his desk – fedoras, dark glasses, different jackets – and wears a pin featuring Sherlock Holmes’s deerstalker cap on his lapel.
Lest you think this is a rarefied specialization, every one of the country’s 2,000 detective agencies does matrimonial investigations, according to Vikram Singh, chairman of India’s Association of Private Detectives and Investigators. “There’s enough of this to keep us all very busy,” he said.
- The Globe