Being a woman detective is no mean achievement in a patriarchal society. More so if you belong to a conservative Muslim family. But, Coimbatore-based Yasmin managed to make her dreams come true and recently celebrated the 11th anniversary of her detective agency, ISY Verification Services. She has also published a book recounting her experiences with her women clients.
In an exclusive interview to The Federal, the spunky Yasmin talked about her thrilling, exciting journey strewn with thorns.
Why did you want to become a private detective? And, what were the challenges to open your own private detective agency 11 years ago?
I was always drawn to unique, challenging professions. Especially, the kind of careers which are not popular. Once, I learnt about this profession from a newspaper and it stuck in my mind.
I come from an ordinary middle-class family, but I was the family’s first degree holder. In my family, the girls were married off before they turned 18. So, getting educated was the first challenge. Becoming an entrepreneur was the next one. I somehow launched my own boutique and stitching unit, which I’ve successfully run till now. But, when I got interested in becoming a private detective, I was up against a wall as everyone tried to talk me out of it.
How did you manage to overcome your obstacles?
I had a lot of confidence and I decided to venture into this domain, which had become my passion, after 10 years of marriage. By then, I had two daughters aged 10 and four. They were very supportive. They knew it was something I had to do, ‘like a thirst I had to quench’.
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But, my husband was totally against it. He completely rejected my idea and said I should never venture into this profession. He even asked me if I had gone mad. “What will others say? It will not just affect you but the whole family. You will have a lot of enemies,” he warned me.
He was also anxious for me. In the process of trying to warn me, however, he was trying to instil panic in me. But I was firm in my decision. I convinced him that I will be able to stand on my feet without any consequences to me or to our family.
Did you have any prior experience in detective work? How did you equip yourself for the profession?
Honestly, I did not have any idea of the industry. So, at first, I joined a private detective agency. They assigned me various tasks which I did with the utmost dedication. Later on, I was given independent assignments and I was able to shine.
But, I started facing problems when they gave me a franchise. There were a lot of interventions, which I wasn’t able to tolerate. The same set of people who encouraged me as a professional tried to dominate me.
I started feeling that the world doesn’t like women doing well in life or in their careers. I didn’t want to lose my individuality, so I started my own private detective agency.
How did you hire detectives to work for you? Is it one of the most difficult parts of this business?
Initially, I hired people I knew as this profession is largely about credibility and the ability to keep secrets. Eleven years ago, there were just three of us. But, when the client base expanded, we had to hire more people. We, later on, widened the net and hired people who are passionate about being private detectives. From three employees, we have now grown into an organisation with 63 agents.
What has been your experience running a detective agency?
I was mocked at, looked down upon. But I kept my head down, hung on and worked round the clock. On many occasions, I would return home very late in the night. A case would require a visit to a pub — I would go because I can’t say no.
Initially, I wasn’t even able to tell my neighbours I was doing this business because of the privacy issues involved. I wasn’t able to show my case studies to prove to the outside world that I am doing something genuine. How can I expose my clients who have reposed faith in me?
How did you gain recognition?
It happened over a period of time. But I cannot forget the pain and trouble I went through in the early days. My neighbours, who were not aware of my profession, would view me suspiciously due to the late hours I kept. They would gossip about me behind my back. Only after a decade have they understood what I am doing and recognise me for it.
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But, some continue to humiliate me, saying it is demeaning for a woman to work in this field. Despite all these challenges, I am successful in this service industry today. I will carry on doing it; nothing will stop me.
What services does your private detective agency offer?
We do background checks and employee verification. We also get clients who want us to check out their prospective business partners. They want to know if he or she is dependable and has capability to manage losses, about their previous business etc. We do get clients who want to check on their family members, too.
Today we have clients not just in India but also in Canada, Australia, Dubai, Singapore and a few other countries.
How do you manage when the going gets tough? Do you regret choosing this career?
When we go through struggles we tend to feel low. I have experienced serious problems on multiple occasions and I have struggled. I have cried a lot quietly at night. But, not for a moment do I regret choosing this profession. I know I am on the right track. I always tackle my problems with an open mind, looking for solutions rather than complaining.
My experiences have taught me to be physically and mentally fit. I also have to safeguard my family since issues that crop up at work can have a ripple effect on my husband and children. I don’t want that to happen. So, I just made myself strong and refused to go down the road of regret.
What is your advice to women who give up their dreams to stay within their comfort zones?
Every day, I get calls from women who share their stories. They talk of the paths they failed to take. Some tell me they loved to be independent and wanted to make a mark in a profession of their choice. But, they had failed or had compromised on their goals. They go into guilt mode and find solace in talking to me. Some of them want to join our organisation.
As such calls increased, we broke our earlier rule not to recruit people out of our circle. Now, we recruit people who are passionate about work but after doing some due diligence.
What are the challenges in training people in this profession?
We observe trainees for one month to ensure they are credible. Afterwards, we assign them a task to track a person. The person who is tracked will be our own employee. This will help us to understand their character and credibility. But, the problem is that if we train 100 people only one person will pass the test and get appointed. That’s the challenge of this industry. Field work has its own practical challenges. Oral, theoretical understanding won’t be of help in this industry.
It will appear easy when I say, ‘please follow them and get me particular information.’ But, tracking a person 24X7 is difficult. To monitor a person when they leave their homes or office, what they do in between, is challenging. These professionals cannot eat when they are hungry if they are following someone. They have to learn to control their hunger, thirst, sleep or rest.
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In the situations we face, we should be prepared to go anywhere, be it a forest or a deserted spot. Anything can happen to you. You have to safeguard yourself in such circumstances and somehow get the relevant information. Detectives have to be prepared for all sorts of dangers. That’s why all cannot survive in this industry. Only people who are tough, straightforward and have the ability to keep a secret manage to hold onto this profession.
How does it feel to be a woman detective in this male-dominated industry?
There have been a couple of women detectives before me. But, they have had a background, hailing from the police department themselves, or with spouses in the detective profession. Unlike them, I don’t have any background in the industry. It’s a male-dominated profession. Unfortunately, I didn’t even get my husband’s support initially. So, that was challenging for me. Only after three years into my journey, my husband started to support me.
There is no time for entertainment or leisure activities. I haven’t watched an entire movie in recent years. I go to the movie hall to keep my daughters happy. But, I have to take breaks in between the movie. Or, I will have to walk out of the theatre half-way. My children sometimes get upset with me and it is difficult to console them.
Do you think being a woman has advantages in this industry?
In a way yes, in a way no. It’s true that I can easily gain a subject’s confidence since I’m a woman. I can easily move into a few places. At the same time, there are disadvantages as well. When following a subject, a male detective can spend a lot of time in a tea shop or bakery. He can smoke to kill time while following people. He can use the alibi that he is waiting for a friend. But, a woman can’t stand around in a tea shop for long. Even if she moves around in the vicinity for long, men will assume the worst of her.
What are the ethical issues you face? How do you overcome them?
We try not to go beyond our brief when collecting information for our client. We just collect expenses for the services rendered as well because this is my passion and I make money with my other two businesses. Sometimes, we do get weird clients. One told us that he was having an affair with his wife’s friend. “She is not talking to me anymore. I suspect her and want you to check on her,” he told us.
We reject such clients; we don’t need them. Some ask us to plant information to give a positive impression about a person. We don’t take up such cases. We aren’t a spy or a PR agency.
What prompted you to write books?
I wasn’t inclined to write a book. Once I became well known, Salim Akbar wanted to write a biography on me. I wasn’t interested in a book about myself. Instead, I was interested in the detective’s domain. So, I asked him to focus more on the detective profession anchoring around my story. That’s how the book Yes, I am Yasmin came about.
The second book titled Detective Diary is a collection of essays I wrote for a Tamil magazine. All of them are focussed on women’s issues.
What are your plans for the future?
I always follow my instinct. It is my aspiration to support the elderly with an old age home. I took good care of my parents. But, many elders don’t have such an opportunity. That’s one dream I wish to work towards in the near future. I also sponsor the tuition fee of deserving students from poor backgrounds.