The whodunit ladies

Real life Miss Marples are making their presence felt in the cloak and dagger game, says Saimi Sattar

  • Published 10.07.16
Tanya Puri started working with her father, a veteran detective, while she was in school and now heads her own agency. Photo: Rupinder Sharma 

It was a TV serial that reflected the spirit of the times. Karamchand, the 1980s Doordarshan serial, was all about a detective who solved cases with occasional help from his sidekick Kitty. But in today’s world women detectives are no longer content playing Kittys to Karamchand. They’re out there on the frontline, following straying spouses and going undercover in offices — and winning clients on their own.

“Clients do not doubt women and feel that they won’t cheat them. Women detectives also handle sensitive matters more tactfully,” says Calcutta-based Preeti Das, who has been working with the Globe Detective Agency since 1980.

Anyone who doubts how times have changed should consult Tanya Puri, the youthful CEO of Lady Detectives India, who’s in her early 20s. Puri got a taste of detective work even before she finished school when she would be called in to help her father. But when the time came she decided to strike out on her own.

Bhavna Paliwal. Photo: Rupinder Sharma 

Puri isn’t the only one who’s the boss of her own show. Akriti Khatri started Venus Detective Agency five years ago, and her company has grown rapidly. And Taralika Lahiri’s the head of National Detective & Corporate Consultants, New Delhi, which specialises in corporate cases.

Lahiri tells the story of how she helped to nab a handful of executives who were siphoning off their company’s products. She was involved in tailing them and ensured that they were caught red-handed. Incidentally, Lahiri’s also the first Indian woman on the board of the World Association of Detectives (WAD), which has over 1,000 members worldwide.

To be sure, the bulk of cases that land up on the desks of these private detectives are all about chasing straying spouses or even keeping an eye on children who may be up to mischief when they’re out of the home. In one case, Puri was approached by the parents of a college girl who wanted to find out if she was doing drugs. The investigation revealed that not only was she doing drugs but was also involved in a sex racket. It helped that the youthful Puri could blend into college campuses easily. Her company Lady Detectives has been expanding and has offices in Mumbai, Bangalore, Amritsar and Jaipur.

Akriti Khatri. Photo: Rupinder Sharma 

Almost every detective agency needs its team of women nowadays. Take a look at Tejas Detective Agency where Bhavna Paliwal was instrumental in starting a woman’s wing. Currently Tejas has 10 employees of which four are part of the women’s wing of which three are women.

What jobs can these women undertake? The answer’s just about anything, though there are two views on whether women are better than men at tailing people. Says Puri: “During surveillance women aren’t noticed as quickly as men. She could be dressed as a maid or a vegetable vendor and no one would ask her anything. If a man’s seen loitering around a house, questions are inevitable.”
Others disagree saying tailing is best left to the men in a team. Says Paliwal: “Men can tail a person easily. Most men are adept at riding bikes and four-wheelers which makes it easier.” But Paliwal reckons that combined operations are best. “It’s best if men and women work in a team. Women are trusted and can enter a house or an office easily and also extract information,” she adds.

Taralika Lahiri. Photo: Rupinder Sharma 

Technology has had a two-pronged effect on women detectives. On the one hand, it has made surveillance easier. For instance, hi-tech cameras nowadays are both inconspicuous and easily available. Then, for electronic surveillance there are applications like Smash. “You just open one SMS and all your conversations can be tapped,” says Khatri.

But technology has also been a game-changer in another way: It has multiplied the number of cases coming to private detectives — especially where women are involved. In earlier decades, extramarital affairs were usually confined to the neighbourhood but today social media has widened the reach worldwide — literally. Says Paliwal: “If one spouse is on WhatsApp or Facebook 24x7, it naturally creates suspicion. I’ve had cases where people met over Facebook, had affairs and left their family. And yes, women are at the forefront of such trysts now.”

Khatri, who has offices in Delhi, Noida, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai, tells of another case which shows how times are changing. She says: “A woman asked me to get photographic and video proof that her husband was having an affair so that if she got caught, she could always tell him that she was not the only one guilty of cheating!”

Preeti Das. Photo: Rashbehari Das

Still, being a detective is not for the fainthearted. Paliwal talks about how, as a rookie detective posing as a salesgirl, she almost landed in trouble with an Intelligence Bureau employee who immediately spotted that she was trying to ferret out information. “I’ve never been as scared as that time,” she says.

Each of these detectives has had cases that were especially rewarding. In one case, a ship’s captain got in touch with Das about a child stowaway. After a great deal of effort, she got him back home. And Paliwal rescued a girl who had eloped with a boy who was planning to sell her off.

As the world changes, the women detectives are constantly facing new challenges — and proving that they are up to tackling them.