Armed with spy cams, voice recorders and audio bugs, Bhawna Paliwal can give Nancy Drew a run for her money when it comes to solving mysteries. Owner of Tejas Detective Agency, 36-year-old Paliwal happens to be one of the few women sleuths in the country. Since 2003, she has ferreted out crooks across India while investigating pre-matrimonial and post-matrimonial frauds, corporate and bank scams, and false employee verification.
"There has been a rapid increase in the number of matrimonial frauds in the country, and parents want to make sure that the person they have chosen for their daughter is the right one," says Paliwal, who idolised Kiran Bedi while growing up in a small village in Uttar Pradesh. With grooms lying about their background on the Internet, parents are coming to Paliwal to confirm the veracity of the claims. "There are cases when young men come from abroad to get married and then abandon the brides once they go back," she says.
Technology plays a vital role in her investigations, with button cameras, pen cameras, ear buds and table bugs helping her amass evidence. "One of my early cases, which was also covered by The Washington Post some years back, was cracked with the help of a spy cam," she smiles. The case in question was a pre-matrimonial verification of a young software engineer who on the surface seemed the perfect groom. But on closer investigation, it was found that apart from being a chain smoker, he was having a roaring affair with the house help. Paliwal spent days under cover, befriending the maid and videotaping her with a spy cam. "I finally got a tearful confession from her about the affair. I also found out that the prospective groom was prone to violence, with a heated altercation having left him with a knife wound on his stomach," says Paliwal, seated in her plush office in Pitampura, a residential area in North West Delhi.
Most of her gadgets carry a 'Made in China' label and are available at agencies such as Spy India in Patel Nagar, a bustling neighbourhood in central Delhi. "These gadgets cost between Rs 10,000 and Rs 50,000 depending on the battery backup. The high-end ones have backup capacity of two to three hours," explains Paliwal. "Audio visual recordings during a sting operation usually lasts for half an hour. The still cameras that I possess have a resolution of 5 to 6 megapixels, while the bugs have an audio range of 50 metres." Spy India also offers a GSM Voice Bug which sports a dual microphone design, 900/1800/1900 frequency and SMS control.
While investigating corporate and bank frauds, Paliwal's tools of choice are a luxury car keyring and a digital table clock, each embedded with a camera. During a recent investigation into a fraudulent property case, the keyring came in handy because of the ease of manoeuverability. "Also, it added to my undercover role. I had rented a luxury car for the meeting and the key just added to the authenticity of the disguise," she says.
Another case where these gadgets helped her was that of a Class XII boy, who his parents suspected consumed intoxicants. "I now have 10 to 12 members in my team, so one of them befriended the boy. We found out that he was mixing the rat medicine with his cold drink to get a high. We filmed him buying the stuff from the chemist and mixing it in the drink," she says.
Paliwal clearly loves her job because it allows her to assume disguises for each assignment and do something positive. While gadgets and technology have their place in her investigations, Paliwal believes that there is no substitute for commonsense. "You need to have your wits about you in a difficult situation and no amount of technology can teach you do that."