Reincarnation, rituals and religion: The unsolved mysteries of Burari deaths
Hindustan Times tries to piece together the case, in which 11 members of a family were found dead under mysterious circumstances inside their house in North Delhi’s Burari on July 1, based on police’s claims and findings.
When 11 members of a family were found dead at their home in north Delhi’s Burari on Sunday, there was no immediate explanation for their mysterious deaths. But with the recovery of 11 notebooks from their house, the police said they were able to find answers to most questions that intrigued them and the public over the week.
Hindustan Times tries to piece together the case based on police’s claims and findings.
Who are the Bhatias?
Natives of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, the Bhatia family moved to Delhi over two decades ago. Living in the Burari home were 77-year-old Narayan Devi, her sons Bhavnesh Bhatia (50) and Lalit Bhatia (45), their wives Savita (48) and Tina (42) respectively, a daughter Pratibha (57) and five grandchildren, Priyanka (33), Neetu (25), Monu (23), and Dhruv and Shivam (both 15).
Lalit owned a plywood business and Bhavnesh a grocery shop, both operating out of the ground floor of their house. The only other working member of the family, Priyanka, was employed with a Noida firm and got betrothed on June 17.
What happened ?
When Bhavnesh’s grocery shop didn’t open at the usual time, neighbours entered the house to find all 11 members dead. Ten of them were hanging in the hallway.
Narayan was found dead in an adjacent room. Most had their limbs and mouths tied and were blindfolded.
Why was a murder case registered
Narayan Devi was on the floor, and not hanging like the rest. There were ligature marks on her neck.
The door of the house was open. The feet of three hanging people appeared to be touching the floor.
Recoveries from the Bhatia house
Police recovered 11 notebooks in which religious rituals were written in Hindi. Recoveries showed that a ‘hawan’ was performed hours before the deaths and the family ordered food from outside. Eight mobile phones belonging to the family were found taped and hidden in a drawer. Their pet dog was left tied on the terrace.
Autopsies and godmen
Eight of them had died due to hanging. The others had died of ‘partial hanging’. No force was used against any of them. Police suspect Narayan tied her neck to a door knob before falling off a bed. Initially, police suspected “external influence” and probed the possibility of occultists or godmen misguiding the family. There is no of that evidence so far.
Police said the handwritings suggested the notes were written by at least three different persons, including Lalit and Priyanka. The first of the entries was made on July 8, 2007, and the last on June 30, 2018.
The latest notes explained the ritual, the rules to be followed and what to expect. The older set spoke about the family’s problems and how Lalit had become their “saviour”. The ritual was a ‘thanksgiving ceremony’ for Narayan’s husband, Bhopal Singh, who died in 2007.
When it all began
The family battled financial issues and infighting until 2007 when Bhopal Singh died. Lalit took over as the family’s patriarch and convinced others that he was his father’s reincarnation and even began mimicking the late man. Police say Lalit was the brain behind the ritual.
Police say though the ritual, the Bhatia family wanted to ‘meet’ their patriarch, the dead Bhopal Singh. They wanted to ‘thank’ him for the good fortunes of the family. Priyanka, a ‘Mangalik (born under a so-called ‘faulty’ astrological combination) got engaged to marry and the family’s businesses were flourishing.
They expected death?
Police cited the notes to claim the family expected to see the patriarch the moment they hanged as he would save them. The notes spoke of the ‘sky shaking and the earth trembling’ and someone bringing down the hanging people. The members were supposed to untie each other after that.
Police said relatives, friends and neighbours found nothing suspicious in the family’s behaviour. The handwritten notes suggested the ritual was to be guarded from all outsiders. When guests were at home for Priyanka’s engagement, the family had waited for nine days for everyone to leave before resuming their rituals.
Interaction with neighbours and friends suggested the family looked forward to a tomorrow. A day earlier, Priyanka had invited a friend for her wedding in December and gave her clothes for laundry. Children watched football and planned a cricket match for the next day. The adults spoke to relatives over phone and planned meetings.
What CCTVs showed
Footage released by police showed Savita and Neetu bringing stools and Dhruv and Shivam carrying cables to the house around 10pm on June 30. Police said these items were used in the ritual. Bhavnesh was seen taking his dog out for a walk around 11pm.
A food delivery boy delivered 20 chappatis. No suspicious entry or exit was detected.
The number 11
The dead included seven females and four males. A day after their deaths, seven bent and four straight pipes were found protruding out of the house. The iron gate too had 11 rods.
The contractor renovating the house said the pipes were Lalit’s idea to ensure ventilation. Labourers fixed the pipe and no thought was given to the number. The welder, too, said the 11 rods were not Lalit’s idea. The police are yet to find a satisfactory explanation for the open door. The most plausible reason is the family expected their ‘saviour’ to enter through it.
The viscera samples have been sent for tests to rule out the possibility of family being poisoned or sedated. They are also probing the possibility of someone abetting the deaths. If both turn out negative, police could go for quashing of the murder case.
The CCTV footage, initial autopsy reports, lots of handwritten notes and statements of neighbours corroborating some contents of the notes are some of the ‘key’ evidence.
Psychologists see the deaths as a result of ‘shared psychotic disorder’ in which members of a group blindly trust one among them and follow instructions without a question. They feel Lalit suffered from a ‘delusional disorder’.
Relatives still believe the family was murdered. They refuse to believe all 11 could hang themselves. However, so far, they have been unable to come up with a motive for murder.
According to the notes, the family planned to replicate the ritual to help Tina’s sister who lives elsewhere and is facing personal problems. The sister was unaware of the plan.