Friday, December 23, 2005

The Miss Marples of Mumbai

Permission to reprint or copy this article must be obtained from The Hindustan Times.

Women detectives are a rare, though rising breed in the city
By Shevlin Sebastian

S. Usha, of the Venus Detective and Security Services, remembers one of her most interesting cases. “The parents of a Hindu girl said their daughter had gone missing,” she says. “They told me they were getting a phone call every day and could hear the sound of a girl weeping. I stayed at their house for three days but no call came. I began to have my doubts: were the parents telling the truth or not?” Since they had lodged a complaint at the local police station, Usha went there to enquire about the case. There she discovered the girl had run away earlier, with a Muslim boy but she was brought back because was under 18. Through painstaking investigation, she located the couple in Thane district. “We produced her in the court and under oath, the girl, who had converted to Islam, said she had turned 18 and had left on her own will to marry this boy,” says Usha. “She came from a very rich family while the boy was just a mechanic. So, the client misguided me by saying she was kidnapped because they did not want society to know that the girl had run away with a Muslim boy.”
Women detectives are a rare, though rising, breed in Mumbai. There are Usha, Indira Bawa of Littlemore Services, Rajani Pandit of Rajani Investigations, and detectives of the Globe Detective Agency, among others. So what are the advantages of being a woman detective? “It is easy for me to enter a house because nobody can suspect I am a detective, especially in India,” says Usha. “When I ask questions, I get answers easily.”
Says Colonel V.V. Pai, zonal adviser of the Globe Detective Agency (GDA): “A woman will not speak to unknown men. Usually, another woman is the best source to obtain the information.”But women have their disadvantages. “They cannot work late at night,” says Pai. “Neither can they do surveillance work, because they immediately draw attention to themselves, by being a woman.” Agrees Usha: “For example, if I have to go to a dance bar, I would definitely need the presence of a male colleague.”
But Indira Bawa says times have changed. “Women have become so bold, I don’t think they have a problem in working at night,” she says.These women handle different types of cases. Usha does pre and post employment checks and financial fraud. Indira deals in surveillance, pre and post-matrimonial enquiries and background checks.
In GDA, women detectives do pre, mid and post matrimonial investigations while Rajani does pre-marital background checks of men and women. It seems like an exciting job, but there are dangers. “I was investigating a power theft in Oshiwara,” says Usha, who has been in the profession for 14 years. “Once, I had gone at 11.30 p.m. with a couple of male colleagues and it was very dark. The next thing I knew I was being beaten up by goons.” She received a few cuts on her forehead, and started bleeding. The doctor had to put a few stitches but next morning, she was back at work. A philosophical Usha, who is a spinster, says, “I always tell my mother if I come back, I am your daughter and if not, then I have become God’s daughter.”
Rajani gives another example. “A woman had her husband killed because she had fallen in love with somebody else,” she says. “Then she had her son killed because she heard he had hired a detective to find out how the father had died. I worked in the woman’s house as a maidservant for six months. The killer used to harass her for money. I overhead her tell the man not to come to the house because the police were keeping a watch but he did not listen. I informed the husband’s family members, who had hired me and, with the help of the police, they were caught.” For all the dangers they confront, are they adequately compensated? “I charge Rs 3,500 a day,” says Rajani. Usha charges a lump sum, which includes travel and all other expenses. Indira’s charges range from Rs 10,000 to Rs 2 lakh, depending on the case. In Globe, for an employee background check, it ranges from Rs 5000 to Rs 70,000 (depending upon the designation). For surveillance, the firm charges Rs 650 an hour. So, if you come across a woman, wearing an ordinary saree, and showing an inordinate interest in your life, have no hesitation in raising your eyebrows: this could be Miss Marples in disguise. .


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