On 1 July 2018, a family of 11 was found dead in their house. Ten members of the family were hanging from the ceiling.
The bodies were identified as Bhavnesh Singh Chundawat (50); his brother, Lalit Singh (45); their wives, Savita (48) and Tina (42) respectively; their children, Neetu (25), Monu alias Maneka (23), Dhruv alias Dushyant (15) and Shivam (15); their sister Pratibha alias Baby (48) and her daughter Priyanka (33).
The mother, 77-year-old Narayan Devi, was found dead on the floor in the adjacent room.
The deaths were first considered mass murders, but later, the case was closed as an incident of mass suicide. The police reported the family attempted a deadly ritual from which they expected to come out alive.
In its closure report, Delhi Police’s crime branch ruled out any foul play. Some journalists have termed the deaths ‘accidental’ suicides, since the family had no intention to die.
Patriot visited Burari to find out the current situation of the neighbourhood which saw one of the most haunting cases to date.
‘We have moved on’
‘‘This street was closed (where the Chundawat family resided) when the incident happened. Now, everything is normal. It was scary only for a year. Everyone moved on with their business after that”, say the children in the area who are living in the neighbourhood.
The building where the family of 11 was found dead, is now occupied by two families. The ground floor is now occupied by a family which runs a grocery shop there. The neighbourhood visits the shop frequently.
The owner of the shop, who seemed visibly tired of constant media pestering over the years, says, ‘‘Deaths keep happening. We can do nothing about it.”
“Everything that was supposed to be said, has been said and done. There is nothing more”, quips his wife.
They moved into the building around 2.5 years ago, just a year after the incident. The adjacent shop now has a diagnostics lab. And the first floor, where the incident happened, remains unoccupied. The top floor of the building also has residents. A 2021 report from The Print, noted that the top floor was occupied by carpenter brothers, Afsar and Ahmed Ali.
‘Sant Nagar’s best family’
The media coverage of the case has been immense, and the Chundawat family has always been proclaimed as kind. The notion persists. They are fondly remembered by the neighbours who knew the family for decades, before the unfortunate incident.
‘‘There would be no family like theirs in this Sant Nagar. I knew them for 20 years. They never denied anyone help”, recounts a key maker at the entrance of the street. He continues, “They just spent lakhs of rupees on their sister’s engagement. Why would they take their own lives right after that?”
The place is inhabited by multiple aspirants who are preparing for UPSC, CA, IIT, and other competitive exams.
Sandeep, one of these UPSC aspirants who lives in the area, used to frequently make purchases from the Chundawat’s shop. “I never knew them personally. I was in school when this happened. I used to buy things from their shop. There always used to be a ‘thought of the day’ board outside the shop, with something positive written on it. I also vividly remember that uncle’s (Lalit Singh) face.’’
The case gained international media attention. There have been multiple documentaries on the same, with the most recent one being on Netflix – House of Secrets. These have piqued people’s attention – so much that people often visit the place to take pictures of the house and its surroundings.
One such visitor from Noida, Udit Kumar, had come all the way to see the house.
‘‘I have seen the movie (documentary) based on this case and wanted to see the house. I wanted to see the 11 pipes and the 11 rods of the gate, which was claimed to be of some mystery”, he says.
When the mass suicide was first reported, media and people were quick to notice that one of the house’s walls had 11 pipes installed. These 11 pipes were linked to the mass suicide since many speculated that the pipes were placed in the same way the family was found hanging. The fact that these pipes were installed just a few days before the incident added fuel to the fire. However, investigation revealed there was no specific relation between the pipes and the deaths.
“Nobody here talks about it now. It is the people from outside, who frequently visit to click pictures and record videos. There used to be foreigners, but their numbers too have reduced now”, says Manoj, who works at one of the coaching centres in the area.
Mental health? No mention
‘‘This happened because they were swayed by superstition. The head of the family, Lalit, could not speak for some time. Once his voice was back, they saw this as an act of miracle by their late father. Their belief became so strong that they believed they would come out of this (the ritual that the family was performing on the night of their death) alive”, says the key maker.
‘‘It was because they believed in some baba, and could not resist it’’, said another shopkeeper in the same street.
The neighbourhood does not talk about the mental condition of Lalit. They accuse the baba of manipulation, while some tend to believe it was Lalit’s father who ordered him to do so. Most of them believe that it was their superstitions that led them to commit this gory act. But mental health, and the role it played in the deaths of 11 members of what seemed to be a ‘happy’ family, barely receives any consideration.