Netflix's 'House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths': I lived there, I saw more

Netflix’s ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’: I lived there, I saw more

The Delhi Police finally filed the closure report in the Burari Deaths—the case involving the deaths of 11 members of the Chundawat family in North Burari—declaring that there was no sign of foul play and that the deaths appeared to be the result of a family suicide pact.

New Delhi: The Delhi Police finally filed the closure report in the Burari Deaths—the case involving the deaths of 11 members of the Chundawat family in North Burari—declaring that there was no sign of foul play and that the deaths appeared to be the result of a family suicide pact.

Recently, Netflix launched another of its original docu-series titled, ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’ on the gruesome incident that shook the conscience of Delhi and the country at large. 

I was a neighbour of the ill-fated family and for the first time, I have been able to muster the ginger to actually pen down what I saw and how I knew the family.

To say the least, there is more to the incident and the family than what the series says, even as it says a bit more than what was, creative license at work I suppose.

Eleven members of the Bhatia family, as it was popularly known as, were found dead and hanging in their house on July 1, 2018, early in the morning. The police ruled the deaths as mass suicide, with an angle of shared psychosis being investigated. The Bhatias had been living in the double-story house in Burari’s Sant Nagar neighborhood for around twenty years, after moving from Tohana, Haryana. The family originally came from Rajasthan. The family ran a grocery shop in Sant Nagar and a plywood business in the area.

Tommy, the pet dog of the family, was the only survivor in the house. He was chained on the terrace and was suffering from a high fever when the police found him after discovering the 11 bodies. It was not clear who had tied him up there. He was later said to have been convalescing at Noida’s House of Stray Animals, where he was immediately taken after being rescued. Even he died. Tommy died of a heart attack on Sunday, July 22, 2018.

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I stayed near their house in Sant Nagar, Burari, just another ‘gali’ apart and regularly interacted with the family. Mr. Lalit Bhatia, who owned a hardware and wooden ware store, came to my house several times when in 2017 we were renovating our furniture and turning our kitchen modular. He was the one contracted for the upgrade.

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A few times, when I visited their shop to select the ply, it was all normal, in fact, Mrs. Tina was sweet enough to offer me water and tea.

Suspicious. No, he was not. The family was not. They appeared as normal as a middle class family comes around to be. They were sweet, outspoken and friendly.

Mr Lalit Bhatia was a quiet person. The kids in their family were outspoken and it was always pleasant to interact with them.

Talking of the Netflix series, Sant Nagar is nothing like shown in ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’. It is a predominantly middle class neighbourhood and not one with stray cattle roaming around or shanties sprawled all over. Families are always standing up for each other, there is robust community life, children play together in the streets and women chat their day out. The roads, houses, the market are nothing like shown in series. It is a pretty good gentry.

Coming to the ‘Bhatias’, nothing about their family was suspicious. Only Mr. Lalit seemed a bit off, so to say. He was a domineering personality: he would just give the kids playing in the ‘gali’ a look and the latter would creep inside their houses.

He was the family leader: everyone used to do exactly as he said.

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The older brother, Mr. Bhuvnesh Bhatia, better known as ‘Bhupi Bhaiyya’ ran a grocery shop. It was doing very well as it was by the main road. Nearby families bought milk from them on a daily basis. His wife and he were sweet people, one who would chit-chat with customers. A week prior to the incident, I brought soft drink tetra pack from their shop as I was on my way back. It was the first one I found after getting off a rickshaw.

On the fateful July morning, I woke up to several calls from a relative. He was panicking on the phone; just wanted to know what had happened in my neighbourhood? Was it really true? Were we all safe? Remember, till that time just the deaths had come to light and not the cause. We were shocked, dismayed, disoriented and equally frightened. We did not know what had hit the neighbourhood.

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I stepped out and went straight to the ‘House of Secrets.’ It was bizarre! Media personnel, reporters, families, neighbours, police, everyone had gathered around the house, shocked to the bone.

I asked Mr. Kuldeep Singh, who lived just beside the ill-fated house. Himself a police head constable with the Delhi Police, he was the one to have seen the bodies first. He was also the first to call the Burari Police station.

What he told me was so shocking that tears just started rolling down my cheeks. Just a week ago, I had talked to Mr. Bhuvnesh; I met Menaka in the gym almost every week. Just a few days ago, I had seen Priyanka when she was getting her eyebrows done for her engagement party, she was just so excited.

Suddenly, it had all came crashing down. While I was still wobbling in my flashback, my WhatsApp pinged with the inside video of the house. It literally shocked the hell out of me. I just lost it. I felt so weak in my knees that I sat down for some time. Eleven ambulances rolled one after another to take the bodies away. The moment the first body came out, everyone went numb and a pall of silence descended. A crowd of hundreds and an eerie silence; it is unforgettable. Even the reporters were quiet. One by one the bodies were brought out.

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On one hand, reporters were blurting out different angles of the story, on the other, the Bhatia family, or what was left of it, was wailing and crying on the road. It was just heart-breaking. The whole family was no more just like that; life snuffed out of kids of 15-16 years.

On the right side of the building, there were 11 pipes, 4 straight and 7 slightly bent: there were 4 males in the family and 7 women. Everything in the house was 11 in number: there were 11 ventilation shafts, 11 windows. Before this tragedy, we had never noticed this pattern of 11. It was like a revelation in what we had seen daily for years.

Murder, mass suicide, misunderstanding… what was it? The question was haunting everyone.

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The background story of Mr. Lalit shown in the Netflix docu-series is completely true, even the reasons behind his ‘dark’ behaviour.

Psychologists have said these deaths were a result of ‘shared psychotic disorder’ in which members of a group blindly trust one among them and follow instructions without question, in this case, of Mr. Lalit, who “talked” to their father in his dreams.

Police filed a murder case, but later when the CCTV footage appeared. It was seen the Bhatia family brought the stools for on their own. It was then said with some certainty that it was mass suicide.

The reason still remained unknown until one of the forensic experts found a register/diary near the small temple inside the house. After reading what was written inside, things started becoming clear. The pattern they had followed was exactly how it was scribbled in that diary.

Police found 11 diaries in the house, all of them maintained for a period of eleven years. Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Alok Kumar stated: “We have found handwritten notes detailing how hands and legs are to be tied and are quite similar to the manner in which the bodies of 10 persons were found. They are exhaustive notes and we are studying them.”

Details/directions provided in the diaries match how the bodies were found with their faces covered, mouths taped, and cotton balls in ears.

The diary also mentions: “everyone will tie their own hands and when the kriya (ritual) is done then everyone will help each other untie their hands”, indicating that the family was not expecting to die.

It was an ‘anushthan’ (ritual); they were to hang themselves and keep water by the side. Their dead father was to come back from heaven, the water’s color was to change and then they were to untie each other. After the ‘anushthan’ was successful, they would have gotten a lot of money and success in business. Everything was supposed to go back to normal and no one was supposed to die.

One thing that no one told was that a lot of cash had been found in the house. They never planned on dying; it was their superstition that killed them.

first published:Oct. 26, 2021, 6:52 p.m.

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