Eleven members of a family, including two minor boys, were found dead under mysterious circumstances at their home in north Delhi's Burari on Sunday, with the police suspecting the family followed some religious practice to "attain salvation".
Ten of those dead were found hanging from an iron-mesh in the ceiling for ventilation, while the body of a 77-year-old woman was lying on the floor in another room of the house, the police said.
Two of the deceased were children — both aged 15.
Those who were found hanging had their mouth taped and their faces covered with cloth pieces cut from a single bedsheet. The woman found dead on the floor was without a blindfold and had been allegedly strangulated.
The hands and feet of the children were tied, the police said, adding that stools were found overturned at the spot. The police found handwritten notes which indicated a "religious or spiritual angle" to the deaths. A police officer said a probe will be conducted to find "if the family indulged in occult practices" or they followed "any godman".
"We have found handwritten notes detailing how hands and legs are to be tied and the manner in which the bodies of the 10 persons were found reflected what was written in the notes. They are exhaustive notes and we are studying them," Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Alok Kumar said.
Another officer said the notes were found in registers. "They talk about how a person can overcome fear by covering eyes and mouth, how a person can attain salvation, and how the human body is temporary but the soul continues to live on," he said.
"The notes talk about if a group of 11 people follows these rituals, all problems would ease out and they would attain salvation. Some notes have dates on which they were written while others don't. All the notes talk about reaching the end and gaining peace," one of the investigators said.
While a murder case has been registered, the police suspect the deaths to be a case of a suicide pact.
"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," one of the officers privy to the probe said.
According to the police, they were informed by a neighbour that six to seven people have committed suicide. On reaching the spot, they found 11 people were dead.
The deceased were identified as Narayan Devi, who was found dead on the floor, her daughter Pratibha (57), her two sons Bhavnesh (50) and Lalit Bhatia (45). Bhavnesh's wife Savita (48) and their three children - Meenu (23), Nidhi (25) and Dhruv (15). Lalit Bhatia's wife Tina (42) and their 15-year-old son Shivam were also among those found dead.
Pratibha's daughter Priyanka (33), who was engaged last month and would have married by the end of this year, was also found hanging.
Bhavnesh ran a grocery store on the ground floor of the house. He used to open his shop around 6 am, the family's neighbour Amrik Singh said.
"Today, the shop was not opened till 7 am. The milk van had arrived outside the shop. A couple of neighbours had gathered because the van driver was continuously honking," Amrik Singh's father Gurcharan Singh, who claimed to be the first person to have seen the bodies, said.
"Then, I opened the main gate and went upstairs. What I saw there left me shocked," he said, adding that one could enter the house as the main door was not locked from inside. Another area resident said, "They were all hanging with 'chunnis' while Lalit had a telephone wire wrapped around his neck along with a 'chunni'." After that, the residents called the police.
A senior police official said the crime branch will investigate the case from all angles. The police have not ruled out the possibility of a foul play. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari visited the Burari colony where the incident took place.
The family was also into plywood business. They were living in the locality for more than 20 years, residents said. They said they were in a state of shock after hearing what had happened. Members of the family, who had come from places outside Delhi, alleged that the 11 members were killed.
Narayan Devi had three sons and two daughters. The eldest son Dinesh Bhatia lives in Kota, Rajasthan. Pratibha, who was younger to Dinesh but elder to Bhavnesh and and her other siblings, was a widow and was living with her brothers.
One of Narayan Devi's daughters, Sujata, lives in Panipat with her family. "I can't believe that they committed suicide. Everyone was so happy. Someone has killed my family and the police have to find them," a sobbing Sujata said.
The post-mortem examination of the bodies is being carried out, the police said, adding that the report will give a clue about whether one of the family members killed the rest and then committed suicide or if the deaths were a result of a suicide pact.
Relatives dismiss 'religious angle', suspect foul play
A relative of the 11 members of a family suspected foul play in the incident, saying that "they were educated people and not superstitious". He said it was a prosperous family. "They were not facing any financial issues and had not taken even a single loan. Everything was fine. Why would they kill themselves?" he said.
Nagpal contended that even if they had to commit suicide, they would not have covered their faces and taped their mouth. Another relative said they had spoken to the family last night. They sounded "normal" and did not show any signs of depression, he added.
"The family did not have enmity with anyone. But we suspect someone killed them," he alleged. The relatives claimed that there was no "religious angle" linked to the deaths. "They believed in God but who believes in such things (referring to handwritten notes talking about salvation). They were educated people and not superstitious," said one of the relatives.
Saw them playing cricket last night, says friend of 2 minors
A friend of the two minor boys said he had seen them playing cricket last night. The 15-year-old boys were Class 9 students of Virendra Public School, their friend, Jatin, said. He said, "I saw them playing last night. Bhavnesh uncle was happy seeing them. It is hard to believe they are not here with us."
Devesh Malik, one of the neighbours of the family, said their children were finding it hard to come to terms with what had happened. "Our children are scared. They are not able to gauge what has happened," he added.
They were very helpful, say neighbours
Neighbours also added that the members of the family always helped others. Amrik Singh, one of the neighbours, said the grocery store owned by the family used to open by 6 am every day and close only after those living in the lane had gone off to sleep. Today, when the shop did not open by 7 am, everyone was surprised.
"The milk van had arrived outside the shop. A couple of neighbours had gathered because the van driver was continuously honking. I opened the main gate and went upstairs. What I saw there left me shocked," Amrik's father Gurcharan Singh, one of the first persons to see the bodies, said.
Devesh, another neighbour, said, "Sometimes, they would even open their shop at 5.30 am if someone requested for some small item. The nearby chaiwala was usually the first customer as he would come to the shop to buy milk."
The locals also described the Bhatias as the "largest family" living in the lane. "They were living here for over 22 years. Never once did we see them quarrelling with anyone or troubling the neighbours," said another resident. Jatin, 15, who was friends with the two boys among the deceased, said he had seen them play cricket on Saturday night.
"They looked happy and were playing around 11 pm. Bhavnesh uncle was watching them play from his shop. We played cricket with them during holidays and it is hard to believe that they are no more," he said.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jul 02, 2018 11:02:06 IST