My elderly parents tell this story about how some marriages were arranged in their time: 'if the girl next in line to be married wasn't very pretty, when the boy's family came to see her, they'd show them the prettiest daughter, but actually marry off the other girl. Brides were heavily veiled so no one knew. And once you're married, that's it, you accept with good grace,' they'd add with a laugh. 'No divorcing in those days. Love comes after marriage anyway.'
Marriages were generally arranged by people who knew both families well and could vouch for the background and character of both the bride and groom. That is now a vanished era, but the arranged marriage, whether strictly arranged or 'introduced' still continues to be the method through which the majority of South Asians get married. However, they now have to contend with a society which has become international, and infinitely complex and intricate, combining new ideas and old moralities, new freedoms and old restrictions, new patterns and old traditions. Throw into the mix, the effects of social media and on-line dating, and you have a simmering cauldron of unknowables. Enter, the Arranged Marriage Detectives.
In urban India, they've become practically the norm, with Delhi boasting over 3,500 agencies, many run by women. Forget the pre-nup, it's the premat you need first: prematrimonial investigations into the character, earnings, background and lifestyle of a prospective partner. Generally it's women, or their families who hire such services, but prospective grooms have also been known to come to them. Bhavna Paliwal, Delhi's self-anointed "commander of detectives" in a Guardian article, tells the story of a young man, who had met a woman through a newspaper advertisement; they were from the same caste, the girl was well educated and running her own successful business; the pair became close quickly. "But just before the wedding, the boy began to feel a little doubt: 'Why is this person marrying me? I am shorter than her and earn nothing in comparison." It took Paliwal a month of investigating, which included tracing the girl's history and having her followed. "What do I find - the business actually belongs to the girl's boyfriend, a married man. He can't leave his wife because her family has stakes in his business, so he has taken a house for the girlfriend and put her up there. Now the girl's family in her village had come to know of all this and were very upset, therefore she needed to get married in order to keep her arrangement going."
In the UK, Arranged Marriage Detective agencies may be a new growth area but they're proliferating faster than daffodils in spring, with established investigation companies adding Arranged Marriage Detectives to their list and matrimonial agencies offering them as an additional service.
When Sunny Patel (not his real name), heard a rumour about the man his daughter had become engaged to through a family introduction, he decided to get him checked out. The future groom was a solicitor, working in London but who visited his family regularly in the Midlands. The detectives he hired, discovered that the man had a boyfriend but had been too afraid to reveal his sexuality to his family, fearing they would disown him. He wanted an arranged marriage as a convenience.
It's not just arranged marriages in the UK these agencies cover. Given the nature of the Asian diaspora their services often include investigative work across continents. An article in NDTV, recounts how Mr. Malhotra hired Raj Singh of Lion Services to check out his future son-in-law from India: "I contacted the investigators because I needed to be sure that everything was above board. The first time we met the family [of the prospective groom] it just didn't feel right - they were very interested in our way of life in England and my daughter's earnings," he said. After a three-week investigation, in which Lion Services used agents in India, he was completely shocked by their findings: the prospective groom "had openly boasted of his plan to marry his daughter only to get into Britain and then leave her once he was settled." To add insult to injury he'd also made fun of her weight. Mr. Malhotra gratefully paid the fee of £2,500 to the detective agency and breathed a sigh of relief his daughter had been spared abandonment and heartbreak.
Although the majority of investigations don't turn up such dramatic deceptions, one can't help but wonder if, in this day and age of complex social lives, they've become a necessary precaution. Arranged marriages may have changed and evolved but it seems the services of Arranged Marriage Detectives are essential to sealing the deal.