The Burari death case, which unfolded in July 2018 in Delhi, India, sent shockwaves through the nation as a seemingly ordinary family became entangled in a perplexing and tragic mystery. The incident centered around the deaths of eleven members of the same family, leaving both investigators and the public grappling with questions and theories.

Before the 2007 death that marked a turning point, the Chundawats, known as the Bhatia family, led a typical middle-class life, focused on building a brighter future. Despite external perceptions of the family finding solace in spirituality, the true events within the confines of the Burari house remain elusive. This article explores the extensively debated case, presenting various perspectives and available information to unravel the untold story behind the closed doors of this 11-member family.

Mysterious death of 11 members of a family

On the fateful morning of July 1, 2018, the bodies of ten family members were discovered hanging from an iron grill on the ceiling of their home in Burari, a locality in North Delhi. The eleventh member, a 77-year-old woman, was found strangled in another room. The victims ranged in age from 15 to 77, and the apparent suicides initially baffled authorities.

The same residence housed three generations of people. Each member was a well-read and socially adept individual. The family residing in that Burari, Delhi, home was eleven in number. The matriarch, Narayani Devi, was a widow who had raised three sons and two daughters, two of whom had lived in the house with her at one point. Lalit was the youngest son and Bhuvnesh the older. Both were married, one to Tina and the other to Savita. Lalit and Tina were raising only Shivam, their lone kid, while Bhuvnesh and Savita had two daughters and one boy (Maneka, Neetu, and Dhruv). Priyanka, the sole daughter of Narayani Devi, was born to Pratibha, her daughter. 

The family-owned a general store, and Lalit, the younger son, was engaged in a successful plywood business. According to neighbors, the family enjoyed prosperity in both ventures. Described as religious, the 11-member family was universally perceived as kind, generous, and harmonious, with no reported conflicts among themselves or with others. The children displayed intelligence, excelling in academics and exhibiting respectful behavior. Additionally, family members were known for their willingness to assist relatives and friends in times of need. Sujata Nagpal, the surviving sister, and the eldest brother, Dinesh, affirmed the positive opinions of the neighbors about their family. Contrary to the notion of a mass suicide attempt, none of the family’s relatives could fathom such an occurrence. This disbelief was fueled by the fact that merely 14 days before the tragic incident, the family had hosted an elaborate celebration for their daughter Priyanka’s engagement.

The Delhi Police’s role

Rajeev Tomar, who served as the Head Constable at Burari Police Station from 2017 to 2020 and was also the family’s former neighbor, received the initial information about the distressing incident, initially presumed to be a suicide. Tomar, an eyewitness to the events, observed that the formation of the apparent mass suicide resembled a banyan tree. When Manoj Kumar, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Burari Police Station from 2016 to 2019, arrived at the crime scene with his team, he expressed astonishment, stating he had never encountered such an incident in his entire career.

Despite the lack of circumstantial evidence, signs of burglary, or a suicide note, the police officers faced a multitude of questions. The absence of conclusive evidence added to the mystery. Given the family-owned grocery store’s morning crowd, news of the incident spread rapidly, attracting media, curious residents, and onlookers to the locality. Controlling the crowd and preserving the crime scene became a top priority, skillfully managed by the Delhi Police.

The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Delhi was alerted to the gruesome incident, prompting their expert team’s arrival. Both the FSL and police investigators sought to determine the motive behind the incident. Reviewing CCTV footage from the house’s exterior wall facing the lane from the night before until the incident aimed to eliminate the possibility of outsider involvement.

Despite the family members’ assertion, the police initially registered a murder case, though there was disagreement between the surviving family and law enforcement. The police’s First Information Report (FIR) detailed the entire incident and the evidence collected. Police officials, not family members, properly transported the bodies of the 11 deceased to the mortuary. Post-mortem reports confirmed death by hanging for all members, with the eldest, Narayani Devi, having died due to partial hanging. The presence of fecal matter in the large intestines of all victims suggested an absence of stress. The case was subsequently handed over to Dr. Joy N. Tirkey, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, Delhi, and his team.

The investigation conducted by the Crime Branch

The crime branch’s assessment of several items, after considering every last detail in the residence where the incident had occurred, was:

  • Bhuvnesh, the elder son, showed signs of struggle as clear evidence indicated attempts to free his tied hands.
  • The children were not only bound by their hands but also cruelly tied at the feet using telephone wires. There were no visible signs of resistance, with taped eyes and mouths, and cotton-stuffed ears.
  • Narayani Devi, the eldest family member, was found dead in another room next to her bed with a belt around her neck, leaving visible marks.
  • Each family member had a scarf around their neck, used for hanging themselves, suggesting a ritualistic element to the tragedy.
  • Evidence of a ritual the night before was discovered, including a remaining pyre with ashes indicating recent use.
  • On June 28, 2018, as captured by CCTV, Tina (Lalit’s wife) and her son Shivam purchased four stools. On June 30, 2018, at 9:40 pm, Tina and Neetu were seen carrying newly purchased tools, while at 10:29 pm, Shivam opened the plywood shop and took a small bundle of wires upstairs.
  • Preparations for the following day were evident, such as a packet of milk in the fridge, phone recharges by Lalit, and soaked chana dal (black gram) in the kitchen for the anticipated supper.
  • A register beside the house temple revealed 11 diaries, with entries dating from 2007 to the night before the incident in 2018.

The narrative behind the eleven diaries

  • According to the Crime Branch, the diaries exhibited instructional, commanding, and conversational language. The last page contained instructions that unfolded into the horrifying incident the family faced.
  • Bhopal Singh’s first mention in Lalit’s diaries was on September 7, 2007, instructing the family to remember him by placing his black-and-white photograph in front of them. A September message urged the family to pray for breaking old habits.
  • The last diary entry on June 24, 2018, detailed the “Banyan Tree Ritual” lasting seven days, along with the Badh Puja. The ritual’s time was noted as 1 a.m. Instructions for the Badh Puja included performing it for seven days, conducting it the following day if visitors came, keeping it hidden from outsiders, using dim light, closing eyes, tying a blindfold, gagging the mouth, and visualizing tree branches wrapping around the body. Narayani Devi was directed to lie down due to her age and weight.
  • The diaries meticulously documented the family’s daily activities, including witchcraft and occult practices, suggesting external influence or control.
  • Despite efforts by the Crime Branch to contact individuals with religious or spiritual backgrounds connected to the family, their attempts were unsuccessful as no relevant contacts were found.

In light of the Burari death case, expert testimony and statements

1. Bhopal Singh, the deceased husband of Narayani Devi, formerly led the Bhatia family. His death created a void in family dynamics, with responsibilities shifting to his youngest son, Lalit. Friends and relatives attributed Lalit’s leadership to his maturity and decision-making skills, contrasting with the image of the late Bhopal Singh as a nice and open-minded individual.

2. Diary entries began after Bhopal Singh’s death, primarily focusing on Lalit. The investigation suggested Lalit’s involvement in direct communication with his deceased father through dreams, where his father guided him on family matters. Neetu informed neighbors that Lalit was possessed by his grandfather’s spirit, altering his voice during these conversations. The diary outlined the regular visitations of Bhopal Singh’s spirit and the financial prosperity resulting from following his instructions. The family believed that the deceased father would save them after completing the Banyan Tree ritual, ironically leading them to orchestrate their own demise.

3. Savita and Tina, daughters-in-law of Narayani Devi, adhered to the stereotype of capable housewives, managing household chores and caring for family members with kindness and politeness.

4. Handwriting analysis by Dr. Virendra Singh from the Forensics Science Lab revealed that notes in the diaries were written by Pratibha’s daughter Priyanka and Bhuvnesh’s daughter Neetu.

5. As experts delved into the case, Lalit emerged as the central figure, revealing a sense of feeling out of control, as suggested by clinical hypnotherapist Anita Anand.

6. The Chundawats, formerly the Bhatia family, underwent lifestyle changes, adopting a vegetarian diet, quitting drinking, and incorporating regular pujas. They expanded from one to three stores, including Lalit’s plywood shop, Bhavnesh’s grocery store, and a joint venture, along with modifications to their residence.

Conclusion of the Investigation

Upon completing the on-site inquiry, the crime branch opted for a psychological autopsy, a process involving scientists and psychologists delving into the deceased individuals’ minds to unravel the events. The investigation revealed that Lalit was suffering from psychosis, and he had gradually influenced his family, resulting in shared psychosis. This explained why family members unquestioningly followed Lalit. Contrary to initial assumptions, the family did not plan suicide; instead, circumstances led them to such a tragic end. The crime branch concluded its three-year investigation, categorizing the Burari death case neither as murder nor suicide. No foul play was identified, and the incident was deemed an accidental death. Before cremation, the eldest brother generously donated the family members’ eyes.

The lessons learned from Burari’s deaths 

India’s first National Mental Health Policy, introduced five years ago, aimed to provide quality care for all mentally ill individuals. Despite genuine intentions, achieving objectives has proven challenging, particularly in combating stigmatization. The policy acknowledges the connection between poverty and mental health issues, with lower socio-economic categories being more susceptible. Mental morbidity is prevalent in metropolitan areas, linked to fast-paced lifestyles, stress, support structure breakdowns, and economic instability.

The Burari death incident, involving an educationally and financially well-off family, raises questions about societal mechanisms. Mental illnesses face stigmatization across all socio-economic classes, hindering patients from seeking help due to fear of shame and rejection. India lacks sufficient forensic psychiatric infrastructure and training, relying on psychiatrists without formal forensic training. The need for improved communication and openness in Indian society is evident, as many cases, like Burari’s psychological autopsy, go unnoticed.

In a society steeped in superstitions, reaching conclusions in cases without offenders, witnesses, or victims is challenging. Despite authorities classifying the Burari case as an accidental death, family members and relatives remain unconvinced, highlighting the communication gaps within Indian society.

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