Scouring for the Hidden Skeletons: The State of Matrimonial Verification Services in India

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A friend recently entered, what his family considered as ‘the marriage-able age’. He has done well – gone to a reputed engineering institute, bagged a prestigious job in the campus interview, went abroad for a long term project and finally settled in Bangalore. In short, time was ripe for the bride-hunting to begin and it had begun in all earnest.

I met the guy sometime back, while on a trip to Bangalore and while we sipped latte at Barista, I asked him about the criteria being considered when his parents were looking at a prospective bride. He said a lot of things, but the gist was:
1. They were keen to verify the job she had mentioned in her online profile.
2. They were checking her personal background including the education.
3. They were trying to check the background of the family. Were they really the kind of nice people they projected themselves to be, or were there some hidden skeletons in the cupboard?

Fair enough. For both parties. You would love to know that much before tying the knot for life. And even fairer since arranged marriages still rule the Indian matrimonial landscape.

The state of matrimonial verification services in India
The problem is how do we carry out such verifications? As an off-shoot of the arranged marriage scenario, the Indian matrimonial landscape is flooded with websites and databases about prospective brides and grooms (BharatMatrimony, Shaadi, Jeevansathi, SimplyMarry, to name just a few), but there is hardly any satisfactory way to run a background check.

Therefore, people generally inquire about the whereabouts personally, or in some extreme cases, employ the service of a private investigation agency. The former is too informal and the latter quite expensive. Unfortunately, there is no single, unified database for such checks, and if someone decides to hide something, it is well-nigh impossible to figure it out before the marriage.

Solution
This is where a service like JantaKhoj might be relevant. JantaKhoj brings to the reach of individuals the best of consumer services like matrimonial, tenant, domestic help, and driver verifications that have so far been under-served. For citizens, it means a considerable relief from the uncertainties that abound in a typical urban setting. Given that personal information is poorly integrated and is haphazard, JantaKhoj is a definitive move ahead. So the next time you want to carry out matrimonial verification, you know where to head to.

Stop worrying. Start the Khoj!

Education Verification in India: The Problem and Some Solutions

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The Problem:
About a year ago, Ashwin (name changed), a friend of mine, had the most horrid experience of his life. He had secured high score in GRE, was selected for a prestigious US university and was all set to fly high and far. There was a small issue, the university he applied for, asked for a transcript for his degree. As it turned out, his institute didn’t have a transcription facility. So they directed him to the University. The university had a single point of contact for the transcript services and that person was on leave for a week.

My friend went nuts and ran around every possible place before somehow managing to get it done, well, just about in the nick of time.

Such problems are frequent in India. It is particularly common for those bright students who studied in India and then managed to bag scholarships abroad. Higher education aside, there are other reasons too when one might need education verification services. Suppose you want to check the background of your employee. Or, something more delicate, like checking the background of a prospective groom. Now how do you go about that?

What is absent?
Now most of the universities have started maintaining online records of their students. However, development of the system and implementation going forward will be fast but retrospectively will take time, they have a huge data to transfer from the old system to the new online model. So, a unified, centralized educational database will still be absent. Yes, you can go to the universities and check the old records, but there are hurdles associated with that. Thanks to the endless sinewy protocols in Indian academic institutes, it can take a long time for the university authorities to find and verify the record you are looking for.

What is the solution?
Now, what could be the solution for this problem? The universities themselves can take the step and solve the issue by creating a centralized, online database. To curb the malpractice of fake degrees, the universities can issue smart cards to students. Students can provide their smart card number to the prospective employer or foreign universities for reconfirmation. Additionally, the Indian universities should come together to set up the equivalent of National Student Clearinghouse in USA. This would go a very long way in streamlining the education verifications.

People Search – A Brief Introduction and Landscape Review

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People Search refers to an online service which allows you to enter either name or other personal details to search and find out more about a specific individual. Such services typically gather information from a wide variety of public records. The key advantage of using such services is that you are able to save time by not having to search across a wide range of public websites and sources. It is also important to understand that People Search does not mean searching of suitable candidates for hiring. Also, it does not mean searching for lost or missing individuals.

Such services are already quite well established in most of the developed countries. Many of them are paid services but some are available for free too. For example, this article from TopTenReviews covers the paid People Search services within USA. Another article at Findermind reviews a host of paid and free People Search services. Depending upon what kind of information you already have about the individual, the geography where the person lives, and what information you are looking for, you may have to try out a couple of these services to get the desired results.

While some of these global People Search engines cover the Indian population too, they still tend to perform much better if the person being searched is living in USA, Canada, Europe, and Australia. That is, the coverage on Indians is generally somewhat limited. So, the regular web search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are used for doing People Search on resident Indians. The advantage of the regular search engines is that they are able to present a really large number of results across a wide range of websites. The disadvantage is that sometimes the number of results may be overwhelming and finding out the relevant details may be very time consuming.

So the need still remains for a search engine which specializes in People Search on resident Indians. This is exactly what JantaKhoj.com aims to provide.

JantaKhoj Completes First Year

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Today, on 23rd June 2010, we have completed one year of existence since our incubation. I would like to thank all our stakeholders – site users, customers, business partners, fans, supporters, critics, investors and promoters, strategic advisors, team members, consultants, and friends and family members. It is through your continued support, faith and guidance that we have reached this point.

In this one year, JantaKhoj has moved from just being an idea to being ‘India’s first and largest people search portal’ offering people search and background verifications to individuals and businesses. While there is still a long way to go, we take pride and pleasure in the fact that we have been able to build something concrete and innovative which has been quite useful to Indian community.

I can vividly recall the day, exactly one year ago, when we started in the single room, rented in the premises of another software company in Madhapur/HiTech area of Hyderabad, armed only with our old laptops and the new business idea. Over the next few months, we shaped out the offerings, refined the business plan, expanded our team and moved to our current office. The public beta launch on 28th April 2010 was the culmination of these long months of hard work and persistence.

The media and blogging community has been very kind to us as our press page shows. We continue to reach out to and build our fan communities on Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn and Twitter. The site traffic and number of search engine results have continuously increased since the public beta launch. And we continue to get business from individual consumers and companies.

As we celebrate the completion of our first year, we are extremely excited about the next year and look forward to serving our site users and customers with even greater commitment and enthusiasm.

India’s Unique ID (UID) project – Aadhaar – and Background Verifications

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Some of our readers and occasionally, journalists and bloggers have asked us how does our work correlate to that of India’s UID project – Aadhaar. Also, they are curious to know the impact which Aadhaar may have on people search and background verifications.

Firstly, I would like to clarify that we are a ‘for profit’, business-focused start-up and neither we nor our services have any association with Aadhaar. Aadhaar is indeed one of the most ambitious technology projects which India has undertaken and it has the potential to transform the way state’s services are delivered to its citizens.

While the full extent of how Aadhaar will help in personal identification is yet to be understood completely, it does appear that the UID number and the associated smart card (with the biometric and certain personal details stored on it), will allow for verifying if the person is indeed who he or she claims to be. The UID FAQs mention – “Once a person is on the UID database the person will be able to establish identity easily. The UID will become the single source of identity verification. Residents would be spared the hassle of repeatedly providing supporting identity documents each time they wish to access services such as obtaining a bank account, passport, driving license, and so on.”

On privacy and confidentiality, the UID FAQs clearly mention – “In order to protect the right to privacy of the individual the information on the database will not be shared with anyone; all queries will get a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ response”. This official note makes it completely clear that the UID database will NOT be available to third party background verification companies and WILL be available only to certain government departments, government agencies and law enforcement bodies.

Additionally, the UID database is not going to cover elements like educational background, criminal history, work experience and past references. This major point, along with UID database being off-limits for general public including the background verification companies, makes it clear that the need for verifying address, education credentials, work experience, criminal background, and references, will continue to exist.

In summary, it seems that the publicly available people search and background verifications will not be impacted by UID project.

Five Top Tips for Domestic Help Verification

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The concept of domestic help seems to have an eternal life in India. Every urban household above a certain level of income or wealth is bound to have some or the other form of domestic help – servant, maid, nanny, cook, housekeeping, guard, gardener, cleaner or similar. Behavioural analysts and sociologists may debate whether the penchant for domestic help is due to our colonial heritage, history of caste based work allocation, or just a desire to display social status. The rest of us continue enjoying the fruits of labour of our domestic help providers, without much contemplation as they indeed make our lives so much more comfortable.

Time and again, we hear a story where the domestic help turns into ‘domestic criminal’, we gasp and feel shocked, but then resume our lives thinking that this cannot happen to us. With increasingly mobile population landing in newer locations, search for suitable, ‘safe and reliable’ domestic help continues to gain prominence. Many have taken recourse to domestic help placement agencies. Even these are not without their pitfalls as this story in Hindustan Times illustrates.

Here are five top tips for domestic help verification:
1. If your town police offer domestic help verification service, submit the application form at your local police station. This is by far the best thing you can do.
2. Verify the current and permanent address and ID proofs of your domestic help and retain a photocopy for your records.
3. Visit the current address and confirm the residence. Ask the local neighbours too.
4. Ask for previous employer references even if the domestic help is coming through word of mouth referral or through a domestic help agency. Call the previous employers and ask questions to confirm and learn more.
5. Retain a current photograph of the domestic help.

These steps cover the basic domestic help verification and also present partial deterrence against any future criminal intentions. These have to be backed up with regular monitoring and alertness.

What would you like to see in People Search?

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Right now, our free People Search service presents details on address, phone number, relatives and neighbours. These are gathered and indexed from the public records which are available in various online sources. We do understand that while this is useful, this may be just a starting point for People Search, and that you would definitely have some great ideas on how this service should evolve in the future.

We want to hear your ideas. What shape should the service take in the future? What do you think is useful? How can we improve the People Search?

You can respond via the blog / Facebook comments or by writing in to feedback [at] jantakhoj [dot] com. Share this with others so that they can participate too.

The best suggestion sent within the next seven days will get you an Infibeam gift coupon worth Rs 1000. This can be used for buying any product on their online store.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Tarun

Five Top Tips for Driver Verification (not the software one!)

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Having been associated with the software industry for nearly fifteen years, the first thing which comes to my mind on hearing ‘driver verification’ is checking whether a particular software driver comes from the genuine vendor! But here, we are referring to the real world ‘drivers’, the ones who ferry us from our homes to work places and back, to shopping malls, to nearby destinations for chores and to faraway exotic touristy places.

They are great folks – think of the trouble we would have if we had to drive everywhere on our own. But occasionally some of these great folks fall victim to greed or other such human weaknesses! A case in example is the recent story in The Times of India where the driver of a security agency took off with around Rs 42 lakhs! Also, on a lighter note, I think that ‘The White Tiger‘ authored by Aravind Adiga, may have created a bit of concern in the minds of those who have drivers.

As the mutual fund disclaimers say ‘Past performance is not an indicator of future performance’, a similar maxim can apply in the world of verification ‘Absence of criminal history is not an indicator of future honesty’. Still, it makes sense to be as sure as possible. Here are five top tips for driver verification:

  1. Verify the address and ID proofs of your driver and retain a photocopy for your records.
  2. Visit the current address and confirm the residence. Ask the local neighbours too.
  3. Inspect the driving license. Ensure that it is valid for the current period and vehicle category (for example, Light Motor Vehicle). Retain a photocopy for your records.
  4. Verify the driving license credentials with the issuing RTO.
  5. Ask for previous employer references even if the driver is coming through word of mouth referral. Call the previous employers and ask questions to confirm and learn more.

These steps should give you a basic idea about the driver and also present partial deterrence against any future criminal intentions. You can also check out our ‘Driver Verification‘ service if you are hard-pressed for time and cannot work on these five top tips yourself.

Wedding Woes and ‘Search People. Research Background’

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Whew!!! With the launch of JantaKhoj.com, I feel like Edmund Hillary after conquering the tallest peak. And so, taking a break from the entrepreneurial tasks and running after ‘n’ number of things, I am back here, to continue sharing the story of ‘Search People. Research Background’ with you.

Oh! I forgot to tell you, that’s our logo tagline. You must have noticed it already though. Anyway, coming back to what I was telling, after reading my first blog, many of you might be wondering why, after working on high-tech products and services, I chose to start a mass-market targeting Website, which allowed people to search on-line for basic information on people and to request background checks on prospective domestic help, servants, maids, drivers, life-partners or employees.

The idea took few years ago when I packed up with my stint in USA and moved back to India. Back in the warmth of the family fold, the first few weeks were spent catching up with family and friends.

Family chatter invariably turned to updates about groom/bride searching woes for cousins. During one such conversation it dawned on me that there was only so much that we could unearth about a person or a family we have met though newspaper advertisements. It is not uncommon to have cautious parents discreetly interview neighbours of the prospective in-laws and some even land up at the place of employment.

That’s when I thought of starting www.JantaKhoj.com to lend a helping hand to people in their research to find the ‘right’ life partners for their loved ones.

You must be wondering if Mrs. Kapoor’s nephew Bunty, who lives in Gorakhpur and has never files a tax return for the small grocery store, would turn up in our people search. Were you resigned to undertake the overnight train travel to Gorakhpur to check if the guy was right for you precious niece?

Leave it to us! Rest assured www.JantaKhoj.com works across many online and offline public databases which may not come up in a normal internet search and will surely give you enough information for a preliminary research on the prospective groom. If required, you can follow up with a more comprehensive matrimonial verification.

Now, with the Website formally launched, all of us at JantaKhoj are wondering how would www.JantaKhoj.com fare in future? Will the risk pay-off? We will get to know soon, and you can follow the journey on this blog.

Signing off for now,
Tarun

The JantaKhoj Story

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Welcome to JantaKhoj!

Thanks for visiting our site and for taking time to read this page.

I am sure you must be wondering what it is all about! Okay…first tell me, leaving a cushy job, flashy job title and a fat monthly pay cheque in a nightmare would easily make even the strong amongst us sweat and be glad that it was only a dream, right?

Then why would a sane person give up all these hard earned trappings of a corporate job, and trade in for the all consuming 24/7 entrepreneur’s life? These are the questions I have asked myself often on the frequent bumps of my voluntary flight from the corporate jungle to hop on the roaring, soaring Indian entrepreneurs’ bandwagon.

But, then again, at some point of time or other, like many of you, I have also felt the need to just type in the name of a childhood friend or an old time neighbour or maybe a nearly forgotten relative, in a web search engine and have the power to re-connect with them. Or at least get some information which tells me where they are and what they are doing. But I have realized (a pretty sad realization) that while the regular web search engines are pretty powerful and can crank through a vast amount of information residing on the web, there still remain many online and offline databases which they just do not cover. So, I am yet to find the whereabouts of many of my childhood friends and neighbours.

And with this, I also realized that this challenge becomes even more acute in India, where there is still a long way for the public databases to come online and become accessible to the search engines. Combined with the fact that India has the second largest population in the world, the need for such people search tools becomes even more significant.

At the beginning of 2009, the desire to solve this problem brought Ajit and me into a series of lengthy, expensive phone calls between Silicon Valley and Cyberabad (Hyderabad). Between these two cyber-hotspots, we continued to investigate the people search and background verification tools within India and elsewhere in the world.

The conclusions were pretty clear. While the developed countries had reached a stage where such services were pretty much commodity, there were no practical or reliable tools in the Indian context. We decided to take a shot at building such tools. Over the next months, we had convinced Suresh (our Head-Engineering) and Smitha (our Head-Verifications and Subject Matter Expert) to join hands with us and had a rented room in another software company’s office, to begin the work. We understood that people search is just the beginning of the search process. And that people are looking to learn more deeply about certain individuals which whom they may be about to enter into a business or personal relationship.

And here we are, a year later, with www.JantaKhoj.com in front of you. Give it a good spin. We hope that you will find the site useful and will return to it time and again, as you run into a new person whom you want to look up or as you think of those nearly forgotten folks from your past. Do let us know if you love it or hate it. You can use the feedback form or mail feedback [at] JantaKhoj dot com. Or, if you like to have a more personal interaction, feel free to chat with us on our Website. We look forward to your bouquets or brickbats.

Signing off for now,

Tarun