The Delhi Police has questioned over 20 relatives of the Burari-based family in connection with the mysterious deaths of its 11 members and is likely to rope in a psychiatrist to assist the investigators in the probe.
The police has ruled out the involvement of any self-styled godman. It earlier found that the family had started following a Kondli-based godman, but nothing substantial was found on that front. The police recovered a third register with notes about “salvation”, “shunya” and “appeasing God”.
Some loose sheets of paper were also found containing notings from 2008, which indicated that Lalit Bhatia had turned towards spiritualism after his father’s death that year. The policemen questioned 20 family members, including the matriarch’s eldest son, her daughter and one of her deceased daughters-in-law’s sisters, all of whom denied that the family indulged in “occult”, said a senior police officer.
There were rumours doing the rounds that 11 rods on top of the gate had something to do with the case, but police ruled it out. The police has more or less ruled out the involvement of any self-styled godman in the case and is probing it as a case of “shared psychosis”.
A senior officer also spoke to doctors from VIMHANS on Monday who also opined that it was a case of “shared psychosis”, in which one person’s delusional beliefs are transmitted to others.
Ten of the 11 members of the Bhatia family were found hanging from an iron-mesh in the ceiling on Sunday, while the body of 77-year-old Narayan Devi, the head of the family, was lying on the floor in another room of the house. Devi’s daughter Pratibha (57), her two sons Bhavnesh (50) and Lalit Bhatia (45) were also among the deceased. Bhavnesh’s wife Savita (48) and their three children — Meenu (23), Nidhi (25), and Dhruv, aged 15, were also found dead. Lalit Bhatia’s wife Tina (42) and their 15-year-old son Shivam were also among those found dead, while Pratibha’s daughter Priyanka (33), who was engaged last month and would have married by the end of this year, was also found hanging.
The Crime Branch team again inspected the spot again on Tuesday, and found a register whose earliest entries were from 2011 and had psychological musings and notes about “salvation”, “shunya” and “appeasing God”. There were some other papers also found which indicated that Lalit had assumed his father’s alter ego and would often talk and behave like him. He would also observe maun vrat (vow of silence) sometimes.
While family members were clueless about this aspect, neighbours told the police that Dhruv had often mentioned it to kids in the locality that “kaka par dada aate hain” (uncle is often possessed by grandfather’s spirit).
The Crime Branch team also spoke to the delivery boy, who was the last person to see them alive and who had delivered 20 rotis to the family on 30 June, a day before they were found hanging. He said that he had delivered 20 butter rotis on 30 June and did not find anything unusual in the behaviour of anyone.
The questioning of the family members began from 10 am on Tuesday at the Burari police station. A Crime Branch team, led by a deputy commissioner of police-rank officer, questioned deceased Narayan Devi’s eldest son, Dinesh, her daughter Sujata Nagpal, and Priyanka’s fiance at the police station. They also questioned Lalit’s wife Tina’s sisters since the investigation had revealed that Lalit and Tina were the ones who had convinced the family about performing the rituals to attain “salvation”.
Some neighbours were also questioned and some distant relatives who had attended Priyanka’s engagement last month were also questioned.
Tina’s three sisters, who stay in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, denied any such things and claimed that their brother-in-law and sister worshipped God like any other person and there was nothing that would point towards their involvement in “occult” practices.
Lalit’s elder brother Dinesh and sister Sujata were also questioned and they also maintained that the family was not into occult or did not follow any tantrik (godmen). Dinesh told police that his younger brothers had shifted to Burari from Rajasthan 20 years ago.
Their questioning wrapped up on Tuesday since Dinesh and Sujata were supposed to leave from Delhi in the night. Priyanka’s fiance, who was also questioned, said that she was a normal woman and had never mentioned about “occult” practices. He said that nothing in her behaviour indicated that she was thinking of committing suicide. Theirs was an arranged match and even when things were finalised, the Bhatia family had not carried out any rituals that would arouse suspicion, he told police. He also said that Priyanka and he would talk often and would discuss their coming wedding.
These findings have led the police to believe that more than “occult”, this case is about the family’s psyche. The police suspect that the family might have been suffering from “shared psychosis”. “Shared psychosis means that delusional beliefs are transmitted from one person to another. In this case, it is suspected that Lalit Bhatia, 45, was the one who had the delusion of talking to his father even after his death. And his beliefs were endorsed by other family members too,” he said.
They might rope in a psychiatrist to understand the psyche of the family.