‘House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’: How Patriarchy & Superstition Destroyed A Family!

Netflix’s ‘House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’ dwells into the shocking death of an entire family of 11 in one night. It throws light on gender roles, superstitions & mental health in Indian households.

(Trigger Warning: This story delves into a documentary about alleged suicide/murder and may be triggering. Spoilers ahead). 

Directed by Leena Yadav and Anubhav Chopra, Netflix’s latest three-episode documentary ‘House of secrets: The Burari Deaths’ traces what happened with the Bhatia family in 2018. On a usual summer morning, 11 members of the same family were found suspiciously hanging from the roof in the suburb of Burari. Later it was concluded to be an occult ritual gone wrong.

One important aspect that the documentary goes into, is making the discussions about patriarchy and mental health in an average Indian family. “Did the women of the house have the right to not participate in that ritual?” asks journalist Barkha Dutt in the documentary. 

How the patriarchy influenced the Burari deaths

The Burari deaths case made sensational headlines with everyone asking, what went wrong with such a happy-looking family? The documentary series dwells on understanding the case from a deeper perspective.

Through the three episodes, the documentary asks questions about what is normal and what is not. With the use of actual media footage, personal interviews and expert analysis the documentary tries to emphasize the shocking aspect of the case. 

In the documentary, we see how the Bhatia family was like any other average middle-class Indian family. We get to see that the family consisted of three generations.

It had a head patriarch– the grandfather Bhopal Singh who used to take care of the family matters. This included directing who will do what and how things will go in the family. After the death of the grandfather, we see that the family was left with a void. Although the grandmother, 77-year-old Narayan Devi was still alive,  we see how the neighbours noticed that the family had indeed lost someone who would guide them on what to do. 

In one scene in the second episode, we are introduced to Lalit’s friend Chander Mehta and his wife Parveen Mehta. Chander mentions how the Bhatia were just like any other middle-class family.

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He comments that in an Indian family like his family, the oldest male member of the house, holds veto power and authority. He talks about how even today his wife cannot go out without the consent of his father. His  father has never said no but he does hold the veto power. 

Lalit would ‘hear’ his dead father’s voice & command the family!

The documentary highlights the gender roles where a male head of an average Indian family holds importance. This also shows how normal it is for women in usual Indian households to have zero agency to voice out their opinion or will.

Further, we see in the documentary, Lalit Bhatia the youngest son of the grandfather who allegedly had an undiagnosed mental illness fills the void of that patriarch in the family.

Through the diary entries, it is revealed that Lalit used to hear his father’s voice and command his family what to do. The void of authority that the grandfather had left was filled by Lalit. We see how Lalit’s psychosis soon became a shared psychosis of the family. 

The hair-raising details mentioned in the diary shows how the family used to blindly follow whatever Lalit used to say. The reason behind this was that they believed all of this was coming from the head patriarch, the grandfather.

They were manipulated to believe that if they don’t do whatever Lalit is saying then something bad will happen to the family. All members of the family believed in Lalit and did all sorts of superstitious things that he used to say. The diary had proper details on what everyone needs to do and how they need to live their life. The sense of authority was clear through this. 

‘Did the women of the house have the right to not participate in that ritual?’

We also get to see how no one shared anything about this with anyone. We see the neighbours and other relatives pointing out ‘the family looked so happy and normal’. Also, the point to add here is that many women in the family from the third generation were highly educated and yet they believed in whatever Lalit said.

This shows how often in Indian household women have zero agency to question the patriarch. We see in one of the diary entries how Lalit ensured that his wife remains subjugated in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

At one point we see journalist Barkha Dutt say, “To me what this raised was a question of power. Did the women of the house have the right to not participate in that ritual? And if they didn’t can it still be called suicide? Or should it be called murder?” Can we really call the Burari case a mass suicide? Or is it a mass murder?”

It’s important to talk about gender roles & mental health in Indian households!

Also, the fact that no one talked about Lalit’s illness showed how in our society mental illness comes with an added amount of shame and denial. How even educated people of the family agreed to the superstition aspect rather than the mental illness, raises major questions about the stigma around mental health in our society. 

This also highlights how superstitions concerning men and women are treated differently. Often, we see women with such superstitious inclinations are termed as witches while on the other hand men are given the sense of authority and are blindly believed on. This shows the underlying deep roots of patriarchy in our society. 

‘House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’ as a documentary doesn’t go into solving the case. That is something which has already been done. The show instead goes on talking about the how and why? How can a full family of 11 people believe in such a thing? How can it be governed by one authoritative figure? How can all the 11 people be silenced? 

It makes you think that how a normal neighbourhood family can have such dark secrets.  ‘Burari Deaths…’ makes us think about how it’s important to talk about gender roles and mental health in every average Indian household!

Image source: YouTube


About the Author

Nishtha Pandey

I read, I write, I dream and search for the silver lining in my life. Being a student of mass communication with literature and political science I love writing about things that bother me. Follow read more...

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