Indian gumshoe finds boom in busted marriages

Indian gumshoe finds boom in busted marriages

by Paul PeacheyWed Jun 13, 1:25 AM ET

The successful Indian businessman had a wife, a lover who was an exotic bar dancer — and an awful lot to lose, so he practised exceptionally safe sex.

His first precaution was to get on a plane and put nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) between his wife at home in Dubai and the hotel in the western Indian city of Mumbai where his mistress waited for their regular weekend trysts.

In case anybody was watching, he left his car at one hotel and sneaked out the back exit of the car park before checking in at another hotel nearby.

It did him little good. When he answered his hotel doorbell early one Sunday morning it was not room service but his angry wife and his parents who had just arrived on a flight from Dubai to catch him out.

Rahul Rai was not there to see it. He had telephoned Dubai to tip off the wife after his team of "street smart" graduates and ex-detectives tracked him down after a 45-day surveillance operation.

With the job done they discreetly pulled out to leave the family to it.

For Rai, 30, an undemonstrative MBA graduate based in a suitably unobtrusive small first-floor office in a sprawling and dusty industrial estate in Mumbai, it was another successful outcome from an expanding caseload.

He runs one of India's many businesses benefiting from the growing wealth of the country's middle-class.

Most of the 50 people who contact him daily are put off by the 6,500 rupee (160 dollars) a day investigation fee.

Yet he still runs up to 20 simultaneous investigations a day across India, up from one or two when he took over the family concern seven years ago.

Failing marriages provide the bulk of the work for the Globe Group's investigative wing. His operatives rely largely on surveillance, secret photography and fake phone calls from credit card companies to trace and track the targets of their investigations.

A team of four will trail the suspect across the city. If the target is a woman, a female sleuth will be part of the team in case she travels in one of the city's women-only train carriages that take millions of people to work every day.

Globe employs 450 investigators, some on the payroll and some freelance, and the little reliable data available suggests they are tapping into a growth industry with divorce on the up in urban India.

In the past many Indian women could be relied upon to suffer in silence in an abusive or adulterous relationship.

They are now heading to the divorce courts in growing numbers despite the potential for six of seven years of financially ruinous proceedings.

By Western standards, India's divorce rate is tiny. The 2001 census suggests that 3.3 million people are divorced or separated — fewer than one percent of married people in a nation of more than one billion.

But the figures hide the story of growing changes in a nation where the vast majority of marriages are arranged.

After marriage, women traditionally move in with their husband's parents, an arrangement that has long been regarded as a model for family stability, but within which domestic violence has been a constant sore.

Thousands of women are killed every year over their family's failure to provide more money in dowry payments.

A new domestic violence act was introduced last year, designed to protect women from abuse in the home.

Lawyers and campaign groups say the new law is just one of a series of social changes, including a new generation of urban women going out to work, that has fuelled the popularity of divorce.

"Women are getting a better position in the family," said Aafreen Siddiqui, from campaigning legal group Lawyer's Collective.

"They are feeling a sense of empowerment and they have a better negotiating power in relationships."

Sudhir Shah, a leading lawyer in Mumbai with 40 years experience, says about 10 percent of couples in the major cities were divorcing.

"Since they (women) are now earning, society has accepted that a woman staying alone is acceptable and they are fighting for their rights," he says.

"They don't tolerate any nonsense if their in-laws are repressing them."

One academic study that looked at 10 years of divorce court papers in Mumbai revealed that more women than men were instigating divorce. Cases lodged had risen by more than 50 percent in the decade to nearly 3,000 in 2001.

Rahul Rai normally sees the collapse of the marriage before it gets to court but is surprised that two-thirds of his wealthy clients had "love marriages," still a relative rarity in India where an estimated 95 percent of marriages are arranged.

"That's very shocking since they go into love marriages and later they find they are not fit for each other," he said. "In the olden days they also used to be unhappy with each other but due to social pressures they carried on. Now they know they can go for divorce."

It is his job to reveal the evidence of his investigations to the suspicious, fearful and occasionally disbelieving.

He has comforted those who have broken down in his office. He even set up an investigation for a man in his 70s who — wrongly, as it turned out — believed his similarly elderly wife was having an affair.

But there are upsides to the emotional carnage. "It is much more interesting than corporate investigations," he said.

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