Don’t look now, but there may be someone right behind you — especially if you have been cheating on your husband or wife. Suspicious spouses are hiring private detectives to spy on one another like never before.
A.K. Das, who heads Globe Detective Agency (GDA) in the east, has just confirmed this when his phone rings. It’s one of his agents informing him that a woman, whose husband suspects her of having an affair, has been caught entering a restaurant, holding hands with another man. The agent tells Das that he has informed the client, the woman’s husband, who wants the agent to rough up the alleged lover. “Should I,” the agent asks his boss. “Certainly not,” Das replies. “You know the rules.”
The rules are simple. “Our job is to follow and to find out,” explains Das, sitting in his Short Street office. “It begins and ends with that. Sometimes we get requests from angry clients to have the other man or woman beaten up or threatened, but that is outside the limits of a private detective’s job.”
Thankfully, for Das and clandestine lovers, such demands are rare. “Some clients don’t understand that we have to work within the law,” says Anindyo Sanyal, director of a detective agency, Relations Information Agency (RIA). “But once we establish that unreasonable demands are not going to be met, they don’t press us.”
Rarer still are requests to harm the spouse, though a few clients have voiced such demands as well. Sanyal points out the desire for revenge is usually limited to angry outbursts, such as, “I’m going to kill that bitch,” or “I’ll get that bastard,” at the agency office, when reports are submitted to the clients. There is also a lot of crying and cursing. Sometimes there is complete silence. What is not rare are the requests by suspecting husbands and wives “to do whatever is necessary” to find out the truth about whether or not their partners are being unfaithful.
So agents “shadow” their “subjects” day and night, on motorbikes and in cars, following them into bars, discotheques, restaurants and movie theatres and if possible into bedrooms or bathrooms. “Sometimes we have to jump a red light while chasing a subject or bribe a hotel bellboy to get as close to the target as possible,” Das says, grinning sheepishly.
Private detectives use all kinds of methods to gather evidence. Eavesdropping on conversations or zooming in on a couple cosying up in a park bench, using a camera phone may be unethical in polite society, but for private agents it’s a part of the game.
In detective parlance, there are predominantly two kinds of cases — “post-mat” or post-matrimonial cases, and “pre-mat”, or pre-matrimonial cases. According to Das, post-mat constitutes roughly 60 per cent of all “individual cases” — that is, cases in which individuals, as opposed to corporations, hire the agency’s services.
In pre-mat, the family of a bride or a groom asks the agency to check out a would-be spouse. These constitute 30 per cent of all individual cases. Only 10 per cent of cases are not related to matrimonial matters.
Grounds for spousal suspicion include sudden negligent behaviour, coming home later than usual, unexplained absences and furtive phone conversations. “But usually people seek the detective’s help as the last resort,” says Das.
still, in the last few years detective agencies have mushroomed — at last count there were some 25 in the city. And though not all of them are dedicated to post-mat spying, some of them claim that a substantial percentage of their annual turnover comes from such cases. Post-mat cases account for about 30 per cent of RIA’s Rs 55-60 lakh annual turnover. At any given point, there are 35-40 on-going post-mat cases, with anything from eight to 28 fresh cases being registered every month.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Even six years ago, pre-mat cases were higher in number than post-mat queries. Gradually, they became more or less equal in number. Then the post-mat cases took over. “And the number is going up,” stresses Das.
Divorce, clearly, is not the dirty word it used to be. A wronged partner often uses the evidence gathered from these snoop sessions as grounds for a divorce or a better alimony settlement. One of Sanyal’s clients, an employee of a Calcutta-based multinational software company, hired RIA to shadow his wife — who works in another office of the same company and who was having an affair with a colleague — solely to get photographic proof. He has filed for divorce, armed with this evidence. And for this, the man has willingly paid Rs 70,000 to the evidence gatherers.
The experts point out that money is more easily available today, and people no longer baulk at the idea of paying hefty fees to a private detective. A typical RIA package, comprising a 15-day “continuous shadow” period, costs Rs 25,000. If your spouse is taking the affair outside the city limits, you may have to dish out a little more — from Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000. For GDA, where you have to pay the entire amount in advance, the lowest price for a post-mat case is Rs 8,000 for a one-time surveillance. And there is, of course, no guarantee that you will find anything incriminating at first go.
But it is not easy being a detective. There are times when agents are caught and even beaten up. It takes days, sometimes months, to get to the bottom of a case. In one unusual instance, a government employee was so convinced that his wife, also a government employee, was flirting with office colleagues that he refused to take the detective’s “no” for an answer. When the agent gave up the search, after all his efforts to catch her in the act failed, the husband swung into action. One day a tall figure in a burkha was caught moving suspiciously near the woman’s office. The security guards demanded identification. The veil was removed. It was the husband.
In another instance, a rich Punjabi woman, the wife of a Calcutta-based businessman, had professionals follow her husband for months. She was a housewife and used the huge allowance that the husband gave her for his own surveillance. After months of bar hopping late into the night, with the subject under watch, the agent zeroed in on the culprit: it was an insatiable thirst for alcohol.
“Yes, it happens that sometimes the suspicions are unfounded,” says Sanyal. “But in most cases the client is almost certain that there is someone else.” According to data compiled by RIA in 80 per cent of the cases they don’t know who the person is and want to find out. In 20 per cent of cases, they know but want corroboration. In almost 86 per cent of the cases, proof of infidelity gradually emerges. In 7 per cent of cases the results are uncertain. In 3 per cent of the cases, there is no affair, but a spouse is found to have got entangled in “some vice or another” such as gambling, or visiting sex workers.
Only four out of every 100 husbands or wives who suspect matrimonial infidelity are wrong. For the rest, though, there is a fire behind the smoke.