Patriarchy-Power-Mental Health…Does ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’ Throw A Light On Worrisome Traits Of The Typical Indian Family?

Hiding family issues to patriarchy, 'House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths' throws a light on several problematic aspects within the typical Indian family.   

The spine-chilling Burari deaths that happened in 2018 were brought to light again with the Netflix series ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’. The eleven member Chundawat family were like any other middle class family who had been living in the neighborhood for the last twenty years. They also had a grocery and plywood shop in the same vicinity.

Rajeev Tomar the policeman who entered the Burari house after the incident, stated that he had never seen a scene like this in his entire career and the visuals still haunt him. He was in shock to see the entire family hanging with their hands tied and their eyes covered. The documentary mentions that there were 11 diaries that were found with various other notes that further deepened the mystery surrounding the deaths.

A patriarch who had the need for absolute control, gender disparities, the denial of discussing about mental illness and superstitions were some of the factors that were the cause of these gruesome deaths. Interestingly the series throws light on things on several things that are problematic within the typical Indian family.

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‘House of Secrets…’ talks about stereotyping women’s roles & the repercussions of women speaking up!

In ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’ there were diaries with instructions for every family member. One of the women in the house was instructed to fulfil her kitchen duties well and not be slack in it. This was a subtle way of establishing hierarchy and defining roles for women. In the series, 48-year-old Savita who was the eldest daughter-in-law, spent most of her time in the kitchen. This was on the orders of ‘Bhopal Singh’ her deceased father-in-law, as told by the family patriarch Lalit.

The neighbours stated that she had no other hobbies or interests other than catering to the needs of her family. She was the obedient wife whose only job was to toil in the kitchen on the orders of her dead father in law.

Traditional and joint Indian families often follow the patriarch’s decisions in the house. You are not allowed to disobey or even question what the patriarch says, however illogical it may be. The patriarch expects the absolute submission by all the family members. Suggestions are not welcome and if you are a woman, however educated you might be, you dare not voice your opinion.

There are various mentions in the ‘diary’ that state that if the instructions were not followed, there would be consequences. In many families, women are discouraged and threatened with dire repercussions. if they even think of revolting  Women and children speaking up in front of the men is uncalled for, and any sort of deviation from the normal, results in negative after-effects for the women.

Male dominance & autonomy that cannot be questioned!

‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’ may leave us with a lot of unanswered questions and theories but they do throw light on the sad reality of many families. The documentary not only highlights how mental illness is ignored but also shows the plight of women and children in patriarchal families.

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Lalit, the new patriarch,  laid down the so-called rules and instructions for the family. This included their responsibilities, how they should conduct themselves and the rituals that they need to follow. The seemingly normal- looking family followed his every instruction and never spoke a word about what happened in their house to anyone outside.

If they actually believed what he said or if they were forced to believe it, is something we will never know as their secret is dead with them. We’ll never have the answers for so many questions, all we can do is assume and infer. Did they willingly do what was told or were they influenced by Lalit stating that this is just a ritual which would end soon?

The male dominance in a family is often undisputed and prevents women from having basic human rights like ‘freedom of speech’. The arrangement they are forced into prevents them from voicing their opinions, doing as they please and doesn’t let them explore their full potential. Women are treated as second class citizens and expected to be submissive beings.

Ghar ki baat ghar mein rehni chahiye (a house’s secrets should remain within the four walls)

Keeping secrets within the family come with lot of complications. Secrets are practical arrangements that families come up with so that their internal issues are not shared with the world. To share secrets fosters intimacy in the family but there are times when it does more harm than good.

What baffled me most in ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’ was that none of the women married into the house, spoke about this ritual to their parents or to anyone in their maiden homes. I doubt if it was faith in Lalit’s words or the belief that their dead father-in-law was guiding them. They were more likely taken over by fear which stopped them from spilling their dirty family secrets. Maybe they feared that their families would question their in-laws and husbands about the bizarre rituals they followed and in turn their marriage could be jeopardized.

There are so many women who tolerate harassment and violence from their in-laws but never speak a word of it to the outside world for the fear of being judged. Women are time and time again reminded that they shouldn’t forget their place and they don’t have any rights just a truck load of responsibilities to fulfil.

Children as young as 15 years lost their lives forever just because of the unquestionable authority of one man and his excessive control over the family members. If only women were given a change to stand up for themselves & their families and refused to suffer silently. Women are not powerless creatures who need to be submissive and avoid confrontation. It is time women speak up when subjected to inequality in their families, we have all seen the damage that secrecy and ignoring mental problems can cause.

Ghar ki baat ghar mein rehni chahiye (a house’s secrets should remain within the 4 walls) is a saying we all have heard. None of the children or elders spoke about the details of the ritual with anyone outside their family. If only one person would have shared their dilemma with a third party, things would have been different for the Chundawat family!

Patriarchy, power-play & mental-illness make for a deadly combination!

We are in the 21st century and we still cannot escape patriarchy. Women are still told how to dress up, what careers to choose, how to raise children and behave as per family and society norms. One man’s beliefs destroyed an entire family and pushed the lives of their extended families and friends in chaos.

The three generations that lived under the same roof were all guided (read misguided) by the patriarch of the family who assumed that he knows it all.

Lalit’s niece was engaged just few days before the ritual. She would soon be married off and go to another house. It may have dawned upon Lalit who assumed the role of the patriarch that her niece could spill the family secrets to her new family and they would in turn be judged and chastised.

There is a theory doing rounds that this could have created a sense of insecurity and loss of control in Lalit which could have been a trigger for this heinous act. A lot of times when an authoritative man feels he’s losing his hold over the family, he may resort to extreme measures and go to any length to establish control all over again. Now if we add the element of psychosis to the authoritative man, then the mix is deadly.

Superstition is still common among Indian families!

The word superstition means a belief in the supernatural or indulging in something that has no rational explanation. We all have a reasoning mind however when it comes to religion most people don’t use their reasoning ability.

The family had 11 members across ages. In this age of technology and smartphones, it baffles me that not one of them protested or questioned these rituals.

I can understand that a 77-year-old grandmother could be superstitions but does the same go for a 15-year-old child and the women in the house? Can we believe that not one of them protested about this for so many years and not one of them spoke about this to anyone outside their house?

Lalit’s untreated trauma due to some unpleasant experiences combined with the death of his father is said to have made him delusional and caused psychosis. His wife fully supported him and there are mentions in the diary asking the others to follow Lalit and his wife’s footsteps.

On the unfortunate night that the 11 members lost their lives, no one knows what happened. The ‘House of secrets: The Burari Deaths’ lingers on in your mind long after you’ve watched it.

It makes you wonder about the typical Indian family with all its problematic areas. Like why Indian families give no importance to mental health and why are we so accustomed to hide our so called ‘family secrets’. It is an eye-opening tale on how ignoring patriarchy, mental illness and superstition can end up in devastating consequences!

Image source: Still from ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’


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