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The Mystery of the Burari Deaths

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In 2018, 11 members of the Chundawat family were found dead in their house in Burari, Delhi, India.

In 2018, 11 members of the Chundawat family were found dead in their house in Burari, Delhi, India.

A Horrifying Discovery

July 1st, 2018 seemed like a normal morning in a typical middle-class neighborhood in Delhi. There was a cacophony of noise on the street, the boisterous sounds of the vendors, and the occasional peals of bells from distant temples.

But strangely, the home of the Chundawat family (they were also known locally as the Bhatia family) was quiet, and their neighbors, getting a bit concerned, went to check on them.

Neighbors Gurcharan Singh, Kuldeep Singh, and Pritpal Kaur found the main door of the Bhatia house open. Perplexed, they continued to the house's first floor, where they saw a horrifying scene that shook them to the bones.

Nine family members were hanging from an iron grill fastened to the roof ceiling in a circular formation. The tenth member was hanging opposite the circular formation. The oldest member, the mother, was lying dead in an adjacent room. The family members were blindfolded with their hands and legs tied. The only surviving member was a dog locked out on the terrace and barking continuously.

As Rajeev Tomar, head constable and the first policeman to enter the house, said later:

"In my career of 17 years so far, I have never seen a crime scene like this, and I hope I do not ever have to. It was shocking. I stayed only for 10-15 seconds before rushing downstairs to call my seniors. At the time I did not see whose hands were tied and whose eyes were covered. I just saw a lot of bodies hanging, just like branches of a tree."

Was it suicide, murder ... or something out of the human realm? The baffling details surrounding the deaths shocked an entire nation.

The baffling details surrounding the deaths shocked an entire nation.

The baffling details surrounding the deaths shocked an entire nation.

The Chundawat Family

The Chundawat family originally hailed from the Rajasthan state of India before moving to Burari, Delhi, in 1989-90. Until his death in 2007, Bhopal Singh was an authoritative patriarch of the family who commanded respect from everyone and was fondly called “Daddy” by most people.

Three generations of the family resided in the same house. Bhopal Singh and his wife Narayani Devi were the parents of three sons and two daughters; two sons and one daughter lived with them in that house.

Bhuvnesh and Lalit were the elder and younger sons, married to Savita and Tina, respectively. Bhuvnesh and Savita had two daughters and one son (Maneka, Neetu, and Dhruv). Lalit and Tina were parents of one son Shivam. Bhopal Singh’s daughter Pratibha was the mother of her only daughter Priyanka.

All family members were well-educated and had good standing in their social circles. The family's children were good in academics and intelligent, and the family members shared a harmonious and warm relationship with their neighbors. The family had a general store, and the younger son Lalit had a plywood business, both of which were doing well financially.

In 2007, Bhopal Singh died of a respiratory illness, leaving the family devastated. The responsibilities and decision-making powers of Bhopal Singh were quickly passed on to Lalit, who shared the same temperament as his father. Lalit took over his father's mantle and became the new patriarch of the house, and his instructions were followed by other house members without question.

With no further evidence available and the absence of any witnesses, the police concluded the deaths to be a case of a suicide pact with reasons unknown.

With no further evidence available and the absence of any witnesses, the police concluded the deaths to be a case of a suicide pact with reasons unknown.

The Delhi Police Investigations

At the crime scene, the investigating officers found some strange peculiarities:

  • The front door was open, but there was no sign of any burglary. All the women were decked in ornaments.
  • There was no suicide note, and eight family members had their eyes blindfolded, all with their hands and legs tied.
  • Narayani Devi, the mother and oldest member of the family, was found in another room; she had been strangled.
  • The family dog was locked on the terrace and was barking continuously. Why did the neighbors not hear it barking?
  • The police found detailed handwritten notes with specific ritualistic instructions to be executed. The family seemed to have followed the instructions that included details like: how hands and legs are to be tied, the circular formation of the bodies, and how to overcome fear by blindfolding themselves. Who gave those instructions?
  • Evidence of a ritual that was performed one night before was discovered. A leftover ritual pyre was also identified.

A CCTV camera in the outside street identified Tina, Lalit’s wife, and her son, Shivam purchasing four stools on 28th June. Further, on 30th June, Lalit’s son, Shivam, was seen carrying a small bundle of wires to the house. No outsider was seen entering the house at any point after 28th June.

The police initially filed a murder case based on the claims of the family's relatives. But the post-mortem reports revealed that the deaths of the members were due to hanging only, with only Narayani Devi strangled to death. As one of the officers conducted the probe said:

“It is possible that the elderly woman was strangulated since she was not in a condition to climb a stool. We are probing whether the children were killed or were convinced to take the extreme step.”

With no further evidence available and the absence of any witnesses, the police concluded the deaths to be a case of a suicide pact with reasons unknown.

The lone survivor was the dog, who was locked on the terrace.

The lone survivor was the dog, who was locked on the terrace.

What Happened That Day?

However, not everybody is willing to buy the suicide theory, and over the course of time, many theories have tried to explain the bizarre happenings on that fateful day.

Shared Psychotic Disorder

Psychologists deduce that the deaths might have happened due to shared psychotic disorder, a condition in which family members blindly follow orders without raising questions. In this case, the mastermind might have been Lalit, who was instrumental in convincing the family to take this extreme step.

Murder

The relatives still believe that the Chundawat family was murdered in cold blood. They refuse to accept the theory that a family of 11 happy-go-lucky people can choose to commit mass suicide.

However, they have been unable to come up with any motive or a suspicious person who could have been involved. Also, the evidence proves that no force was used against any of them.

Ritual Gone Wrong

The handwritten notebooks mention rituals performed by the family with detailed instructions. The family was deeply religious and was known to be involved in conducting many ceremonies for attaining higher salvation and peace.

Is it possible that some ritual went horribly wrong on that fateful day, and the family inadvertently hanged themselves in the process?

Is a "Godman" Involved?

Another theory talks about the involvement of a "godman" or an occultist who may have influenced the family to take the drastic step. So far, the police have been unable to link any rogue godman to the deaths. Also, the notebooks containing instructions go back to 2007, suggesting that the family had been involved in these rituals for quite some time.

The Burari case may have been closed, but the spine-chilling scene of the hanging bodies would continue to haunt the psyche of an entire nation until the unanswered questions are closed. As Leena Yadav, the Mumbai-based director who made the Netflix documentary series House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths, says about her experience:

“When we were making this film, our first impulse was fear, too. Every single member of the team, including me, had nightmares at some point during the filming. It was an emotionally draining process for all of us. The reaction of the audience is mirroring the graph we went through. I believe this documentary is not necessarily about the case. It is about us.”

Sources

© 2023 Ravi Rajan