World

India's foremost female private detective sees a boom during elections

MUMBAI As India's best-known female private eye, Ms Rajani Pandit has posed as a crazy, blind and deaf person to solve murders and unmask unsuitable suitors. But election time is boom time for the woman dubbed "Miss Marple".

In the world's biggest election, which ends on Sunday, Ms Pandit and others like her are in high demand from political parties to dig up dirt on the opposition and make sure their own candidates are clean.

"It's confidential but whenever a party finds one of its own candidates or an opposition candidate suspicious they ask us to investigate them," said Mumbai-based Ms Pandit.

"Often we are asked to look into their finances and how they have procured money to fund their campaigns. We try to maintain a low profile," the 57-year-old added.

INUNDATED

The world's largest democratic exercise is awash with cash. Some say the polls could cost the equivalent of $13 billion.

Ms Pandit says her team has been busy "integrating" themselves into political parties since January, inspecting finances and attending rallies before submitting reports to their clients.

"There's usually a surge of cases ahead of the elections. We've been inundated with requests and were only able to take on a few," she said.

Mr Kunwar Vikram Singh, chairman of India's Association of Private Detectives and Investigators, said "there's a lot of due diligence".

"(A candidate's) local reputation, influence, his stance in his own caste... all these things are looked into."

Private detective agencies are popular in India, with sleuths tasked with solving everything from petty household thefts to business deals gone wrong.

Ms Pandit has been conducting covert operations across India for over 30 years out of her small office in the Asian giant's financial capital.

The investigator - who does own a magnifying glass - was dubbed India's first female private detective by media outlets when she began cracking cases in the 1980s.

She has been featured in countless newspaper articles, often referred to as India's "Miss Marple" or "Nancy Drew", Agatha Christie's fictional spinster sleuth and the ever-evolving US amateur detective.

This has encouraged scores of women in male-dominated India to follow in her footsteps.

Several women-dominated investigative firms now operate in the country, such as Lady Detectives India and Venus Detective which are both headquartered in the capital New Delhi.

"Clients are open a lot more to having a female investigator. They feel we are more empathetic and that they can talk to us," Lady Detectives CEO Tanya Puri told AFP.

Ms Pandit has had to be the master of subterfuge to gather evidence, including donning "various disguises". But she says she received no formal training.

"Detectives are born, not made. I will keep doing this job until I am no longer alive," she said.- AFP

WORLD