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Religious ritual gone wrong or suicide? Delhi Police look for clues in home where 11 of family found hanging

Police found handwritten notes in the house that prescribe a ritual hanging which would not result in death, since it is believed God would rescue the individuals. There were also signs of ‘havan’ in another room.

delhi Updated: Jul 02, 2018 07:05 IST
Karn Pratap Singh and Shiv Sunny
Karn Pratap Singh and Shiv Sunny
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi,Burari,Family found dead
An ambulance carries away the bodies of the 11 members of a family who were found hanging in their house in New Delhi’s Burari area on July 1, 2018. (PTI)

Eleven members of a family, including children, were found dead under mysterious circumstances inside their house in North Delhi’s Burari on Sunday morning in what police suspect to be either a suicide pact or a religious ritual gone horribly wrong.

A police statement said some handwritten notes were found in the house “which point towards observance of some definite spiritual/mystical practices by the whole family”.

Nine of the 10 bodies that were found hanging had their limbs tied, their eyes blindfolded, ears plugged with cotton balls, and mouths covered with tape, a police officer said on condition of anonymity. They are suspected to have died from hanging. The eleventh body, of an elderly woman, was found in an adjacent room with ligature marks around her neck. The marks have prompted the police to register a murder case at Burari police station and transfer the probe to the crime branch.

According to a second police officer who asked not to be identified, investigators found several hand-written notes in the prayer room, detailed steps to be taken to obtain salvation and meet God.

The officer, who is directly involved in the investigations said the notes said that the ritual hangings prescribed would not result in death, with God coming to the rescue of the individuals in their last moments.

A police team found signs of a ‘havan’ (a ritual burning of offerings such as ghee and grains) in another room and suspect one was performed before the family members took their life.

Police are probing if the ritual was advised or suggested by the family’s priest or someone else, perhaps a cult leader that the family may have been following. Vinit Kumar, additional deputy commissioner of police (north) said: “ The notes have strong similarities with the manner in which the people were found dead.”

The dead included a 77-year-old woman Narayan Devi, her two 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), 15-year-olds Dhruv and Shivam. Narayan’s two other surviving children, Dinesh and Sujata, live with their families in Kota and Panipat. Narayan and Pratibha had lost their husbands many years ago.

Originally from Rajasthan, the family had been living in their three-storey building along the Shanti Swaroop Tyagi Marg in Sant Nagar, about a kilometre from the Outer Ring Road. Right across the road is the spot where four persons were killed in a shootout on June 18.

The ground floor of the house, undergoing renovation, has two shops – a plywood business run by Lalit and a grocery shop managed by Bhavnesh. The family was well-off. The only other working member of the family was Priyanka who was engaged on June 17 and was set to be married in December. Relatives and friends said the family was financially comfortable and very religious. On Saturday afternoon, Priyanka reminded one of her neighbours about her wedding.

The deaths came to light at 7:25 am on Sunday when Bhavnesh’s regular customers found the grocery shop closed and milk crates left unattended outside. One customer then alerted a policeman.

“I knocked on the door and got no response. I tried pushing the door and found that it wasn’t locked. I walked upstairs and found nine of the family hanging from the iron grills of the ceiling. Pratibha was hanging separately from a door frame in the same hall,” said Kuldeep Singh, a head constable.

Singh looked around for Narayan and found her lying dead face down on the floor, in the adjacent room.

The police teams were quickly followed by journalists, hundreds of curious onlookers and politicians including chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP’s Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari. The house was not ransacked, police claimed and all jewellery was also found intact.

According to the police, the hand written notes mention that the ritual must be performed on a Tuesday, Saturday or a Sunday and that widows were supposed to hang separately from the other members.

Police have sent the bodies for post mortem, which will be performed by a medical board. “We will talk to neighbours and relatives. We are probing why one woman was strangled , unlike the others who were found hanging. The crime branch will conduct a thorough probe,” said a third police officer who asked not to be identified.

First Published: Jul 02, 2018 07:05 IST