Revisiting the fundamentals of the Burari Mass Killings

It is about one of the most horrific, hideous and dreadful mass killings which shook the nation when bodies of 11 members of same family were found hanged. This incident took place in the night of 30th June, 2018 and bodies were found on 1st July, 2018. It is a matter of utter surprise that […]

Court seeks report on loss to victims in riot case at Burari
Court seeks report on loss to victims in riot case at Burari

It is about one of the most horrific, hideous and dreadful mass killings which shook the nation when bodies of 11 members of same family were found hanged. This incident took place in the night of 30th June, 2018 and bodies were found on 1st July, 2018. It is a matter of utter surprise that a case of this sort did not find much space both in media reports and retention of the masses. The Burari Case still comes of shock and disbelief among common citizenry.

The Chundawat Family
Also known as Bhatia family, lived in double-story house in Burari, Sant Nagar vicinity for around two decades, after shifting from their native-born town in Tohana, Haryana. The family ran a grocery store and plywood business in the area. The family had three generations of members living together happily under one roof, quite an example for modern day families in cities. They held high regard and respect in the community and everything seemed to be going good for the family. The family had 11 members namely, Narayani Devi (80), mother of Bhuvnesh, Lalit and Pratibha, Pratibha Bhatia (57), widowed daughter of Narayani Devi, Bhuvnesh (50), elder son of Narayani Devi, Lalit (45), younger son of Narayani Devi, Savita (48), elder daughter-in-law of Narayani Devi, wife of Bhuvnesh, Tina (42), younger daughter-in-law of Narayani Devi, wife of Lalit, Priyanka (33), daughter of Pratibha, Nitu (25), elder daughter of Bhuvnesh, Monu (23), younger daughter of Bhuvnesh, Dhruv (15), only son and youngest child of Bhuvnesh, Shivam (15), son and only child of Lalit.

The story
The occurrence of the incident was brought to notice by neighbour named Gurcharan Singh who used to go to morning walks with one of the deceased found bodies of the family hanged, blindfolded, wire messed hands, knotted scarf over neck, (later cotton rubs found in ears) and called for an alert for the people. At first sight it clearly seemed to be a case of mass murder with 11 members of the family killed overnight but subsequently after due course of investigation police found very peculiar aggregation of evidences which surely negated murder as a possibility reason being that the women of the house were found to be wearing all the ornaments and no signs of stress were found on the body apart from the neck marks. This also negated the burglary as a reason. Many components were raised in support of the mass suicide but the contention that the bodies were hanged, cotton plugged in ears, blindfolded seemed to be a lot of task to fit in onto the definition of suicide. Narayani Devi (80) was found lying dead in the other room beside her bed with a half-turned body. One more point which was peculiar to this case was all the bodies were just few centimeters above the ground which gave certain doubts that maybe the crime was through with at some other place and later were the bodies brought back to the house, but then 11 bodies? Was it even possible? And that too in that time period? Another point to note was that the pet of the house named Tommy was found tied at the roof of the house. Neighbours confirmed that they heard Tommy barking whole night. When found, he was weeping and was in high fever, he was rushed to vet clinic. The youngest of all Shivam (15) was found to be playing cricket last night around 11:30 pm with his friends. There were numerous questions around the horrific incidents. Bhopal Singh, husband of Narayani Devi died in 2007. The reason of his death was found to be of natural causes but it was noticed that Lalit Bhatia post that incident became really very drawn-in and introvert and started spending time in lone most of the times. He was noticed to be involved in paranormal activities as well, although not duly confirmed. It is at this stage that rumours did their part well in this case.

Rajeev Tomar, then Head Constable Delhi Police, Burari Police Station and also the family’s former neighbour was the first one to be abreast about the spine chilling incident which was presumed to be a suicide initially. Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) was informed of the direful and awful incident. Later in the reports of the FSL about the faecal matter in the large intestines of the deceased it assured that the members of the family were not in stress, this formally negated the possibility of murder anyway. Police recovered handwritten notes about “attaining salvation”, found in two registers, have foxed the investigators who said that they never saw anything of this sort earlier. It mentioned of ‘badh tapasya’, which indicated that one had to get into a formation like a banyan tree with branches hanging, surprisingly that is exactly how the body formations were found to be. The notes stated as an instruction that, “God would be happy with these acts”. After rigourous investigation 11 diaries were found from the house with the oldest entry dating as back as to 2007 and the latest entry was made last night before the incident took place. The language used in the diaries were instructional, commanding and directing. The Handwriting division, FSL submitted its report stating that the notes were being made by Lalit, Pratibha’s daughter, Priyanka, and Bhuvnesh’s daughter, Neetu. Few became witness stating that the Lalit and his wife were found to be buying the four stools from a shop late at night on 28th June, 2018. Further, on 30th June 2018 at 9:40 pm, Tina was seen to be carrying some newly purchased tools with Neetu. At 10:29 pm, Lalit’s son, Shivam, was seen opening their plywood shop and carrying a small bundle of wires upstairs. Evidence of a ritual that was performed the night before was discovered as well. A leftover ritual cumulus pyre was found. From the ashes that were lying around the pyre, it was clear that the same was used a day prior to the incident. The Chundawats changed their way of life as well. They ceased to consume and prepare non-vegetarian meals. At home, Bhavnesh quit drinking. Pujas became a common occurrence. The number of stores expanded from one to three, including Lalit’s plywood shop, Bhavnesh’s grocery store, and the third one they were opening jointly, as well as the house’s floors. The relatives said the Bhatia family was gearing up for the wedding of Priyanka who got engaged last month. She was among those found dead. The 33-year-old, who worked for an IT company in Noida, discussed her upcoming wedding with cousins the evening before she was found dead. 

It is interesting to note that during the further investigation, hearsay and scuttlebutt it was brought to notice that the family of 11 had some interesting affection to the figure 11. The number of diaries found were 11. Secondly, some people of the society specifically mentioned about the 11 pipes jutting outside the wall of the house owing some occult meaning. However, a very different story was portrayed by the neighbours stating that the said family was involved in plywood business and these pipes were installed specifically to make sure the toxic fumes could find easy exit. The Delhi Police, however, have clearly dismissed any link whatsoever between the pipes and the deaths. It was also speculated initially that the family suffered ‘shared psychotic disorder’. According to police, Narayani Devi’s youngest son Lalit Bhatia, 45, plotted the “mass suicide” and wrote down the notes with “instructions” although the majority of the writings were found to be written by Pratibha’s daughter, Priyanka, and Bhuvnesh’s daughter, Neetu, although even his contributions in writings could be denied at face of it. He began writing these notes in 2015. The notes clearly indicated that at some point of time the family had tried to unionize a “Social Assemblage” with Lalit’s father who died in 2007. It appeared that Lalit was in delusion or hallucination that his father was in constant touch with him and was providing instructions which he used to note down and the family seemed to agree and follow the same. There are also reports that avow his liking for spiritual, spectral, supernatural, apparitional, phantasmal and mystical literature apart from stating that he practised reiki, which is a Japanese form of alternative medicine. It is intriguing to mention that post an accident suffering injury Lalit Bhatia lost his voice and sense to communication verbally therefore always used a notepad to communicate with the customers. One of the notes by Lalit predicted doom and advised the family that they would be saved, which when translated read as follows, “in your endmost hours, while your last desire is fulfilled, the sky will be wide-open and the earth will shingle; do not be affright rather start chanting and vocalizing the mantra aloud. I will come to save you and family.” Lalit Bhatia allegedly told the family that he received this pass on from his father. The family was very superstitious and apparently believed that the end of the cosmos was near. The police however accepted that the same was evident that the family was blindly following all these “directions” without any force or whim and negation. One of the last notes read that that the mother would feed rotis (chapati) to each and everyone and the same was corroborated as the family did order 20 rotis from a nearby restaurant but surprisingly did not order any side dishes alongside. This is in furtherance to the fact that FSL found that after testing the faecal matter it was evident that nobody in the family was in stress and had these chapatis. The food was found to be partially digested and FSL found particles of chapatis in intestine. The police also found the restaurant bill in the house. The food was delivered to the family by around 10.40 pm.

Psychology Autopsy
A higher-ranking senior doctor from the department of psychiatry at AIIMS Delhi suggested then that a “psychological autopsy” be conducted in the case to get to the bottom of the mystery. In layman’s term, a psychological autopsy would mean interacting with the victims’ relatives, friends and acquaintances to find if there was any pattern in the events outside the night of incident which could have been a catalyst in the action of the same, this could have been anything like were reading the same book or were part of any cult or were undergoing any treatment or maybe influenced by any occultist. People who are very emotionally and unstable are gullible, compromising, defenseless or vulnerable are prone to get into into suicide or self-annihilation pacts. Generally there are antithetical commonalities in such cases, whether of age, faith, religious belief or some other aspect. In this case we saw the entire array of age groups with three generations of people living together, the mind-set, outlook and the emotional status of individual who is aged 15 years is very different to the one who is aged 80 years. This is something really overwhelming noting the number of 11 deaths in the family. There is another theory which few clinical psychologists tend to believe i.e. apocalyptic theology. Mass or organized religion or cult self-annihilation and suicides happen more often than not in class or group that feel perplexed, confused and stuck in their living and beingness and they disbelieve the control that they can actually exercise in consequences of their life and leave it to the dismay of their lords (cult). Thence, they oftentimes consider that death is the only organic phenomenon possible.

The National Mental Health Policy of India says, “Poverty and mental ill-health are intimately connected in a negative vicious cycle and those from lower socio-economic categories are more sensitive to mental-health problems.” It pledges to enhance funding and ascertain the accessibility and availability of sufficient qualified and abled workers. The biggest problem with this is stigmatization of these kind of malady status which the policy is designed to combat but certainly fails to have any certain impact in the society. The preponderance of psychic morbidity is found to be overflowing in metropolitan cities and upcoming towns, where there is a higher propensity and relative cardinal frequency of dementia praecox, schizophrenic psychosis, mood disorderliness, and neurotic or stress-related diseases. The reasons behind the same could be fast-paced lifestyles, continuous and never-ending stress cycle, vicious city life, breakdown of support structures, loss of family members like in this case and issues of economic disequilibrium. The Burari death incident questioned the very macrocosm of the Indian society. This question becomes stronger and spine-chilling knowing the fact that the 11-membered family who killed themselves where educationally good and financially well-off, pointing out that the modern education and lifestyle definitely is either creating a void in human brain or rather enhancing the existing one or maybe unable to fulfill the desire of that one hooked corner of the human desire which they end up trying to achieve through unfavorable, planned and atrocious routes like these. The Bhatia Family was the perfect representation and example of the ‘Ideal Indian family’ which had its own hidden secrets for a lasting period of 11 cursed years. Mental illnesses are stigmatized, discredited and shamefaced across all social and economic classes. Resultant, patients themselves are hesitant to seek medical assistance. In India, there is virtually too less of a forensic psychiatric infrastructure and training available. The majority of psychiatric units lack a particularised forensic psychiatry ward. In an nonpareil perplexing and unclear case like this where there are no offenders found, no witnesses of the incident and no victims ideally, it is by and large very gnarly and knotty to reach a substantial and appreciating conclusion amidst wildfire rumours, irrational and superstitious beliefs. The Burari death case is somewhat like that therefore even though the police investigators, forensics, crime branch and other state actors involved did reach the conclusion that the entire case was a matter of accidental death although horrifying but simple to its determination, surviving family members and kin groups refused to concur the same till date.