As traditional marriages are increasingly arranged online, detective agencies are in great demand for ‘thorough background checks'.

Arranged marriages continue to be a popular tradition in the country, with a majority of men and women between the ages of 17 and 25 in major metros such as New Delhi and Mumbai approving of them. The way these marriages get arranged, however, in the fast-changing urban centres is changing with the times.

In the past, parents or relatives searched their own social networks for suitable prospects. Today, family members and prospective brides and grooms browse matrimonial Web sites, which offer a convenient alternative to the traditional matrimonial sections in newspapers.

As people who meet online know little about each other, the anonymity offers huge potential for fraud and deception. So people are now hiring detectives to check out the prospective brides and grooms and the requests for their services have steadily risen in the last few years. The most common requests are related to finances and past relationships. “The number has almost doubled in the last two years,” says Sanjay Singh, CEO of the New Delhi-based Indian Detective Agency. “Earlier it was just high-profile and very rich families that were engaging our services. But now, it's mostly the middle class.”

The number of premarital investigations, say detectives, is higher in arranged marriages, as opposed to love marriages. The total registration base of India's biggest online matrimonial portal, Shaadi.com, was 91 lakh in 2007 and the site reported that 7.2 lakh marriages were enabled by it. Registration on Bharatmatrimony.com is close to 90 lakh.

“It is necessary to get some kind of check done on a partner before marriage,” says Prashant Rana, Marketing Manager, Fireball Investigation Services. “But people don't have that kind of time or resources to do a thorough check.”

New Delhi has over a hundred registered detective agencies and thousands of smaller one-man shows. The Indian Detective Agency alone receives at least 30 inquiries a week for premarital investigations.

Timing and secrecy

Investigations typically take between a week and 10 days, and can cost up to approximately Rs 56,000, depending on the company and the depth of the investigation. Families or prospective brides or grooms often hire them for the first part of the screening process, when personal finances and character are the most important considerations.

Considering that families now spend several lakhs on a wedding, the cost for a seven-day investigation isn't considered too big an expense. Investigations are very discreet; only the parents are usually privy to the results, hence there is no shame or taboo if something negative turns up. Even if it's all positive, the fact that an investigation was undertaken is not mentioned to anyone. “It's a sensitive issue,” says Singh. “If your prospective spouse finds out you've been sending detectives after him, he's not going to like it. Simple.”

Investigators provide details about previous and present relationships, education, career, financial position and the family. Experienced investigators, pretending to be on some other mission, get inside the house, talk to the family and try to establish what kind of people they are, how they treat others and, most important, how they treat one another. In order to do this, detectives follow their subject's every move. A team monitors their target for 7-10 days, dressing up as rikshaw-wallahs, bouncers at a night-club or, as Rana says, even a cleaner in their doctor's office.

“Its human nature that within seven days, you'll repeat every habit,” says Rana. “If I have a girlfriend, once a week, I'll go see her. If I drink, I'll do it at least once a week. If I enjoy partying, again, I'll do it at some point during the week. That's why we do our surveillance for seven days. Within that time, we make the report.” “Just like in the movies,” he adds.

Women clients

Of the hundreds of cases that come to him each month, Rana says 80 per cent are women or their parents who want future spouses investigated.

As women are often required to live with their husband's family after marriage, some consider it essential to know as much as they can about the family they'll be spending the rest of their life with.

Men, on the other hand, are only concerned about past relationships.

If the investigation turns out well, the woman and her parents take things forward. If it does not, there is rarely a confrontation, detectives say.

Matches can be blown when major obstacles resurface from the past, or sometimes for small transgressions, such as lying about a smoking habit.

And since the intended are not romantically involved, the parties cut their losses and move on.

Ankita Kohli, 23, a single advertising professional, disapproves of the trend.

“You're starting the relationship by questioning his very identity and then keeping it from him,” she says.

“Because it's a matter of life, take control and do the investigation yourself. There are so many ways of finding the truth about a person; why trust a second-hand source and risk your relationship in the process?”

Dishonest lives

Of the investigations undertaken by Fireball, Rana says about 40 per cent of the people they've scrutinised have been “very dishonest” about their life and work.

One such case involved a man whose mother was certain that the intended fiancée was not honest about her background and hired Rana's company to verify. The investigation threw up a previous marriage and a son; the woman's husband had left her and fled to Iraq.

“If the marriage had happened, it would have been a big problem for that family,” says Rana.

“But the mother opted for verification, and they were saved.”

© WeNews/ Women's Feature Service

(This article was published on August 4, 2011)
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