Updated: Jul 28
Three generations of the Bhatia family of Burari willingly embraced death, and sent to the whole country an irrecoverable shockwave. Based on the diary entries, the police suspected it to be a case of a ritual gone wrong, leading to what could be called a “mass suicide”, marking Lalit, the youngest son of Narayani Devi and the patriarch of the household- mastermind behind the heinous act. Psychoanalysts have remained perplexed about the genesis being supernatural or psychological that pushed the eleven members ranging from ripe age of 15 to the oldest 77, into a tragic state of oblivion. Here, I'll break down Lalit's undiagnosed psychosis and what made the entire family follow in his footsteps, and dive deep into his mens rea.
1. Tabooed mental health issues
In a developing nation like India, mental health is still a very stigmatized subject. Research suggests that patients with mental illness may be more prone to violence if they do not receive adequate treatment, are actively experiencing delusions, or have long-standing paranoia. Patients in this state will frequently show ill symptoms, including command hallucinations. Individuals who suffer from traumatic brain injury, display higher prevalence in the onset of psychosis than average (McAllister, 1998). Lalit having encountered multiple traumatic accidents in his life, didn't receive medical attention for serious physical impairments, includingi) A major bike accident in his youth resulting in a serious brain injury; ii) A failed attempt by his competitors to kill him in a warehouse fire, causing him to lose to his voice for about a year. Instead of consulting a professional about his condition, the family swept the matter under a rug and pretended everything to be normal. His psychological condition was also disregarded, that goes without saying. Lalit himself left his trauma untreated on the belief that only 'mad' people go to a psychiatrist. This negligence would later make Lalit fall victim of psychiatric illness.
2. Unquestioning submittal to patriarchy
Average Indian family has one ingredient in common, that is a head patriarch figure, on which the members pose their reliance. In 2007, the death of Bhopal Singh, the familial head and also Lalit's father, shifted the dynamic and exposed Lalit to a burden of responsibility and the newfound head patriarch position. Perhaps the absence of an authoritative figure made Lalit internalize his father's persona, given his already physical and emotional vulnerability. The family was reported to be highly dependent on him, both financially and emotionally. The overwhelming power dynamic within the family could have prevented members from expressing their concerns or doubts. The eleven diaries were centred around Lalit and provided instructions on how the family should conduct themselves and the routine for the day, sentences including ‘if you want solutions to your problems, then you must follow Lalit's instructions’.
3. Conformity and groupthink
Another psychological factor that played a significant role in the Burari family suicide is the tendency to groupthink a.k.a Conformity. Conformity refers to how an individual adopts the behaviours of a group irrespective of one's own opinions. It is the act of “following the herd” (Solomon Asch, 1951). For a close knit family where everything remains within four walls, confirmity is easily born and influenced among the members, even to teenagers who are most inquisitive. Blind submission to patriarchy also fed their confirmity, that no one in the family questioned the bizarre happenings of Lalit's father visiting Lalit's body, or them following a series of strange practices. Everyone seemed to have submitted to the transaction and ingrained it into their routine. The fear of deviating from the group's consensus and the desire to maintain harmony within the family might have overridden individual rationality.
4. Socio-cultural impact
In India, where spirituality and religious beliefs hold significant sway, it is possible that the family's spiritualistic inclinations were reinforced by cultural and social influences. The auditory hallucinations Lalit experienced were turned into Lalit's father speaking through him. The directional commands altered their lifestyle into a promising outcome, which worked as a binder for their blind submission to Lalit, or Lalit's deceased father for that matter, even if there was mere correlation. Secrets in families are common, however they were controlled to keep the happenings inside the family and instructed to live a certain way that will reap them fruitful results. The final ritual, badh tapasya, also hints at a prosperous outcome for the family, which they couldn't endure unfortunately. The amalgamation of above-mentioned factors developed a delusional system as a result of their close relation and association with a person who is delusional. This can be assigned as shared psychosis. The monstrosity of this particular disorder made a normally functioning, socially involved educated family fall prey to the claws of superstition and blind faith. Their sense of coherence was distorted to an uglier extent. Failing to cope with the death of a loved one, they became emotionally tied to the concept of Bhopal Singh's spirit residing in Lalit.
Analysing every element, this can be concluded that the commands generated by a possesed Lalit were nothing but the morals and observations underlying in his subconscious, aided by his own beliefs and the societal duties expected from him and others. Lalit perhaps had the hardest time accepting the death of his father. As an earning male member, he was directly influenced by the patriarchial pressure. In the process of filling in the role of Bhopal Singh, Lalit Bhatia instilled his father's persona inside him. Series of deep-rooted traumas manifested into a dangerous situation of psychosis which upturned his perception of reality. Moreover, his delusion was fed by the other members of the family who submitted to him due to confirmity and hierarchy. In spite of belonging from an educated background, everyone was succumbed to the idea of a spirit directing them and not the possibility of an onset of mental disorder... Because yes, in the socio-cultural plot of India, religious spirituality is regarded on a higher pedestal whereas people whisper about mental illnesses. This macabre of a disaster follows the same recipe, that is unquestioning obedience to a patriarch, dismissing mental illness, secrecy, shame, and excessive dominance over the lives of other family members. All of these could be prevented had the adults in Lalit's family arranged proper treatment for his well-being. Finishing with the quote of Alok Sarin on his insight about our society as a collective cultural unit- “The secrecy with which this (the death of the Bhatia family) happened speaks of the lack of interconnectedness of our society, in terms of addressing mental health issues. We need to have these conversations, even if they’re unsettling because telling the true story of these people is in itself giving closure to both- them and us.”
Keywords: Burari, Mass Suicide, Psychosis, Bhatia Family, Mental Health, Psychology, Delusion, Lalit Bhatia, Spirituality, Patriarchy, Ritual