The heroes in detective stories are largely men but here in Delhi, it’s women like Lahiri who do most of the snooping. “More than 60% of the detectives across Delhi are women,” said Baldev Puri, vice president of Association of Private Detectives and Investigators, adding that six of the private detective agencies in Delhi are also run by women.
It’s not a new trend. Lahiri got into the field around the time the Berlin Wall came down. “I have been in the profession for 25 years but even my closest friends don’t know how I operate,” she said. Her agency, National Detective & Corporate Consultants (NDCC), which she set up in 1994, has men too and takes up marital disputes, besides cases of fraud and corporate espionage.
Puri said pre-nuptial checks and marital disputes make up 70% of the private detective business in Delhi. So women, with their better social skills, have an advantage. “They can enter a house posing as friends and collect information from men and women alike.” Lahiri also said people open up easily to a woman.
“I look like any other woman enquiring about basic things. Why should anyone have a problem with that?” said Bhawna Paliwal, checking her mobile phone for updates on cases. She runs Tejas Detective Agency in Rohini.
But trailing a person 24×7 exposes women to greater risk and stress than men. Lahiri said she has managed to last in the business with family support. “I have a supportive family and I manage housework and my profession together.”
Akriti Khatri, owner of Venus Detective Agency, has a one-year-old child. “Ours is not a registered profession and being a woman makes us vulnerable to different types of abuse. Nonetheless, we manage to stay out of trouble.”
When Paliwal decided to give up a career in television journalism to become a detective 15 years ago, there were only a handful of women detectives. Now her Tejas Detective Agency in Rohini gets 5-6 cases a day “that can only be solved by a woman”.
“There are cases of elopement and cheating which police won’t solve for you. But being a woman, I can always go and gossip with the other women in the family for clues,” Paliwal said, adding that increasing insecurity and intolerance in families have spurred the demand for detectives.
“In one case a 30-year-old married woman fled with a 19-year-old, and her family reported her missing to police before coming to us. They had no clue about her whereabouts,” Paliwal said. “We travelled to her village and found out about the paramour there.”
Divorce cases have become the mainstay for detectives. When marital disputes reach court, both parties look for solid evidence to back up their claims, and an extramarital affair can be a clincher. Bindu Sharma, a detective with an agency in Bhikaji Cama Place, said pre-nuptial checks have also become common as matchmaking has gone online.
Financial crimes can be trickier. When an Okhla-based agent duped an NRI on the pretext of getting a college seat for his daughter, Lahiri had to do some play-acting to crack the case. A male detective collected the basic information and then she went to the agent as the victim’s mother. “I went to his house with money to catch him red-handed. The whole operation was recorded on a camera. It would have been impossible if the detectives were men.”