More strange details emerged over what appears to be the ritualistic deaths of a family of 11 in Burari in North Delhi on Sunday, even as police started investigating the role of godmen or occultists in the incident, and the autopsies revealed that all 11 died from hanging.
A police officer said on condition of anonymity that investigators have come across four possible numbers of occultists or godmen in the phones of the dead, and were following these leads. The phones themselves were taped, in silent mode, and stored in a cupboard in the house. Interestingly, detailed notes recovered by the police asked people practising a ritual that promised “salvation” to not use mobile phones during the ritual.
The police say the notes also promised practitioners that “God” would, at the last minute, prevent them from dying, even if they hanged themselves.
“One of the godmen we are focusing on leads a group of devotees of a deity. Based on findings from the call records, we are also looking at the role of followers of another deity whose temple is located in Rajasthan,” said the officer.
The 11 members of the Bhatia family who were found dead included 77-year-old 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. Nine of the victims were hanging from a metal frame that covered the courtyard.
The search for a potential occultist comes after the possibility that Narayan Devi was strangled dimmed. The initial autopsy said she died of “partial hanging”. Police suspect Narayan, whose body was found on the floor away from others, died after she was hanged from a doorknob.
The viscera samples of all 11 people have been sent for forensic examination to ascertain if they were drugged or poisoned before the hanging. The autopsies went on for nearly 24 hours, making it possible for only six of them to donate their eyes despite the family approving donations by all.
Alok Kumar, joint commissioner of police (crime branch), said the relatives, friends and neighbours of the dead were being questioned for clues. “All possible angles are being probed,” he said.
The police have not ruled out the possibility of a twelfth person’s presence in the house during the deaths. While the CCTV footage from 6pm on Saturday until Sunday morning did not show any suspicious person visiting the house, the police are checking videos beginning last week.
“The only person seen in the footage was a delivery boy who visited the house at 10.40pm to deliver 20 chappatis. The delivery boy told us that the family had not ordered any curry, dal or vegetables,” said the first police officer.
Sujata Nagpal, one of the two surviving members of the Bhatia family, refused to buy the police version of a suicide pact or a ritual gone wrong. “I believe it was a planned mass murder,” she said.
The first officer said the notes recovered are in two notebooks used by Lalit since 2015. “He appears to be the main motivator, but refers to all the ritualistic activities of the family to ‘upar se aadesh’ (orders from a higher power).”
Lalit was unable to speak for three years following an accident but then made a miraculous recovery, friends and relatives said. The police are investigating whether he was merely pretending to be mute. The relatives and friends said he lost his voice when a plywood plank fell on him ten years ago.