The last moments of Burari victims and how their bodies were found
Till a day before the deaths, the women in the family were planning to go shopping for an upcoming wedding, the children had arranged a cricket match the following morning, the family had given clothes to be ironed and family members were out till 11pm talking to neighbours.
Ten bodies hanging from the iron grill of a ventilation shaft, one lying on the floor, one sick dog barking furiously and an open house with no apparent signs of struggle. Even to experienced investigators, the scene at the house in Burari was unlike anything they had encountered before.
Rattled by what they saw in the house, police had no clue to what happened. It could have been a mass murder, a suicide pact, or a combination of both. With many missing links yet to be established, here’s a look at the last moments of the victims and how their bodies were found.
1. Narayan Devi, 77
Narayan Devi was the matriarch in the Bhatia family. Born in Rajasthan, she had a love marriage with Bhopal Singh in the late 1950s. She had moved around with her husband, who was in the army, for many years before finally settling in Delhi’s Sant Nagar. The plot of land on which they built their house was shared with her older sister, who is settled in America. The recovered notes had repeated mentions of how Devi had become “sad” and “silent” after her husband’s death. The notes in the diary also had instructions for other family members on how to keep her happy. Devi’s body was found on the floor in her bedroom, adjacent to the hall where the others had hanged themselves. She was the only family member who was found not hanging. A cloth and cable wire were found wound around her neck which had partial ligature marks. Her death prompted police to file a murder case. But the subsequent probe has suggested that she died of partial hanging, possibly from a door’s knob or handle.
2. Lalit Bhatia, 45
Lalit Bhatia was the youngest of five siblings born to Narayan Devi and Bhopal Singh. He and his wife Tina had a son, Shivam. He ran a plywood business from the ground floor of his home. After Bhopal Singh’s death in February 2007, Lalit was the most depressed. Around July 2007, he began claiming that he would see his father in his dreams. He soon began convincing others in his house that he was possessed by his father’s soul. He would mimic his father and would be called ‘Daddy’ by others in the house. Claiming that he was following orders from his dead father, Lalit began taking crucial family decisions. Police said Lalit wrote or dictated most of the notes recovered from the house and was the brain behind the entire ritual that ended in the deaths. He would punish family members, including himself, if anyone failed to follow the ritual perfectly. Lalit was found hanging from the iron frame of the roof ventilation in the hall. His mouth was gagged and hands were tied.
3. Bhavnesh Bhatia, 50
Bhavnesh Bhatia was the third among five siblings. He and his wife had three children, Neetu, Monu and Dhruv. He ran a grocery store from one of the two shops located on the ground floor of the house. Neighbours said his grocery store had been thriving. Local residents said they knew the family mainly through their interaction with Bhavnesh at his shop. It was the milk crates left unattended outside his shop on the morning of July 1 that drew the attention of local residents who checked the house to discover the bodies. He was the last member of the family seen in the neighbourhood on the night of July 30. CCTV footage showed him taking his pet dog out for a walk around 11pm on June 30. It was Bhavnesh who had paid ₹200 cash for 20 chapatis delivered at his home minutes before their deaths. Bhavnesh’s eyes were blindfolded, his mouth gagged and legs tied. He appeared to have tried hard to save himself after the hanging.
4. Tina Bhatia, 42
Tina Bhatia, a homemaker, had married Lalit around 17 years ago. The couple had a son, 15-year-old Shivam. Other surviving family members said Tina was known to be extremely religious. She, along with her husband, usually took the lead in all religious rituals in the family for the past 11 years. Tina was the only person in the family who had discussed Lalit’s “connections” with his dead father with some of her relatives. Police said some of her relatives had even urged her to take Lalit to a doctor, but she never wanted to question her husband’s beliefs. Her sister was facing personal problems and the recovered notes suggested that the Bhatia family had planned to soon replicate the ritual with her. Tina’s eyes were donated by her family after her death. Tina was among those hanging from the iron frame of the roof ventilation in the hall. Only her mouth was covered. Her limbs were not tied, suggesting she had helped everyone else tie themselves, police officials familiar with the probe said.
5. Savita Bhatia, 48
Savita Bhatia, a homemaker, was originally from Rajasthan and had married Bhavnesh in the early 1990s. They had three children — Neetu, Monu and Dhruv. Neighbours said every morning Savita and Neetu used to put up a wooden board containing religious and motivational quotes outside the family’s two shops. A CCTV camera in the neighbourhood showed the mother-daughter duo bringing a set of four stools to their house at 10 pm on June 30, the night before the family was found dead. The stools were later used in the hangings. The CCTV footage was crucial in leading police to determine that the family was not murdered. Police said the duo had purchased the stools from a furniture shop in the neighbourhood. The same evening, Savita had reportedly spoken to neighbours about preparations for Priyanka’s wedding. Unlike Tina, Savita had never mentioned Lalit’s unusual behaviour to her parents or siblings. Savita was found hanging with her limbs tied, mouth gagged and her eyes blindfolded.
6. Pratibha Bhatia, 57
Pratibha Bhatia was the second of five children born to Narayan Devi and Bhopal Singh. Her family said she had a “disturbed married life”. She had moved back in her parents’ house with her daughter Priyanka soon after her husband’s death around two decades ago. Since her parents were facing financial troubles, she began conducting tuition classes for children at her home in the Sant Nagar neighbourhood. The hall where she conducted the tuitions was the spot where the bodies were found hanging on July 1. Neighbours told police she usually began her morning routine by taking a walk with her daughter in the neighbourhood. The routine was captured by a CCTV camera at 6am on June 30. According to the notes, she was to hang separately from the other family members as she was a widow. Her body was found hanging from a door frame in the hall, near the prayer room. Police said the stool used by her for the hanging was different and smaller than those used by others. Her eyes were blindfolded and limbs tied.
7. Priyanka Bhatia, 33
Priyanka Bhatia was the only child of Pratibha, who was the daughter of Narayan Devi and Bhopal Singh. Priyanka and her mother had moved to the Sant Nagar house two decades ago after her father’s death. Working for a multinational firm in Noida, Priyanka was the only earning member of the family apart from her uncles — Lalit and Bhavnesh. She had done her schooling from a government girls’ school in Burari and B.Com from Delhi University. As she was a ‘mangalik’, her family struggled to find a match for her for years. But she was finally engaged to a Noida-based software engineer on June 17 and was to be married in December. Police said it was Priyanka who had been taking down the majority of notes that were being dictated by Lalit. Her Facebook account showed she took interest in astrology and religious figures. Police said she had never mentioned the rituals to her fiancé. Priyanka was found hanging with her eyes covered, mouth gagged and limbs tied.
8. Neetu Bhatia, 25
Neetu Bhatia was the oldest of three children born to Bhavnesh and Savita. Having completed her graduation from Delhi University, she had been searching for a job. Neighbours told police that it was Neetu who had come up with the idea of every member of the family beginning their day by touching their elder’s feet. Every morning, she would put up a board carrying religious quotes and motivational thoughts outside the family’s shops. Neetu had also accompanied her mother to a local furniture shop on June 30 and was caught on camera bringing four stools to the house around 10 pm. The stools were later found to have been used in the hangings. Police said she had purchased two dupattas a week earlier. A shop owner later identified one of those dupattas as the one used by her father Bhavnesh for his hanging. Neetu was found hanging with her eyes blindfolded, limbs tied and mouth gagged.
9. Monu Bhatia, 23
Monu Bhatia was the second of three children born to Bhavnesh and Savita. She had done her schooling from Virendra Public School in nearby Timarpur and was a school topper. Her relatives said she was the “brightest” of the youngsters in the Bhatia family and her teachers remembered her as being “intelligent”. In school records, she was registered as Maneka Bhatia. She took keen interest in dance and was trained in Kathak. She had participated in local dance competitions and had won many medals. At the reception function of her cousin Priyanka, Monu was seen dancing on the stage with her sister Neetu. She had graduated from a Delhi University college and was pursuing a course in forensic science. Though police said that every member of the family was a willing participant in the rituals, several relatives insisted that she had always displayed a “scientific bent of mind”. Monu was found hanging with her eyes blindfolded, limbs tied and mouth gagged, police said.
10. Dhruv Bhatia, 15
Dhruv Bhatia was the youngest child of Bhavnesh and Savita. He was a Class 9 student at the Virendra Public School in nearby Timarpur. Dhruv took keen interest in music. His teachers said Dhruv was an “all rounder” who did not create any trouble at school. The teachers said his parents used to regularly attend parents-teacher meetings and took a keen interest in his academic performance. Dhruv was also a cricketing enthusiast who followed India’s performance in cricket and organised matches in his neighbourhood and school. His friends said that on the evening before his death, he had planned a cricket match for the next day. His Facebook account indicated he frequently played games online. One of the CCTV cameras in the neighbourhood had captured him carrying some cables, along with his cousin Shivam, from their shop into their house at 10.15pm the night before the deaths. Dhruv had his eyes blindfolded and his mouth and limbs tied when he was found hanging.
11. Shivam Bhatia, 15
Shivam Bhatia was the only child of Lalit and Tina. A Class 9 student, Shivam was the classmate of his cousin Dhruv at the Virendra Public School in nearby Timarpur. The teachers at his school said he took keen interest in music, performed well in academics and his parents were regulars at the parents-teachers meetings at the school. Shivam played cricket but loved watching football. He had met some of his friends from the neighbourhood a day before his death and had spoken about watching football the next day. He had also recently asked one of his friends to teach him how to ride a scooter. A CCTV camera had captured him and his cousin Dhruv carrying cables from their shop to their home at 10.15 pm on June 30 — mere hours before the family was found dead. Police said the family used these cables to tie their limbs before they hanged themselves. Dhruv was found hanging with his eyes blindfolded and his mouth and limbs tied.
12. Tommy (Dog), 6
Tommy was the only resident of the Bhatia house who was alive on the morning of July 1. The male Indian-Pitbull mixed breed dog was found chained at the second floor of the house after the deaths came to light. Tommy, who weighs 35 kilos, was barking ferociously and continuously ever since the house was crowded by police officers after the deaths. It took rescuers over an hour to control him. Since he had 108 degrees temperature, he was immediately administered medicine. Tommy was last seen taking a walk in the streets with Bhavnesh Bhatia around 11pm on June 30. The living members of the family did not want to keep the dog. Tommy was said to have been convalescing at Noida’s House of Stray Animals, where he was taken immediately after being rescued. However, caretakers at the animal shelter said Tommy died of heart failure at his newfound home on Sunday. Officials said Tommy had always appeared reluctant to mingle with other dogs at the shelter.