What Burari deaths tell us

Burari village is in North Delhi, near Model Town 3.  Eleven members of a family committed suicide by common consent. They are described as a normal, healthy family, who had danced at the engagement of one of their daughters, aged 33, who was employed with a multinational company. In the transition between town and country, between metropolis and it’s hinterland, the news hits the Delhi citizen with shock.  Nithari had  a self confessed cannibal but it could have been professional kidney donation mafia.  (www.ndtv.com September 14, 2014) Burari  looks like suicide, but could have been murder, operationalised by belief in a Godman.

 The  known norms are not in existence, or if in existence, are not understood or accepted. Anomic suicide is the result. The combination with the type that Emile Durkheim called Altruistic Suicide, results in an individual’s personal interests being subsumed within a larger group, which it identifies with. As a result, in this case, the father of the sons of Narayan Devi, appear in a dream to the younger, and cures him of  voicelessness, (which was a result of a  work place quarrel,)  by prescribing a puja.

This younger son, ostensibly, becomes a captive of his dreams, and the ‘return of the father’ becomes the apocalyptic space in which the family wants to return. Inspite of the everyday rational world in which they live, running a grocery and a plywood shop,  where business is booming and neighbours are friendly, the patriarchal impulse to ‘see the father’ becomes a shared site. The consent to suicidal impulses, (even by the young woman who is to be married in the winter) is so infectious, that no one can negotiate out of it.

 The logic of preplanned suicides thus holds good. They had donated their eyes, the bride ‘to be’ discusses wedding shopping, one of the young boys offers to play cricket at 11 pm with a friend. The contradictions of their normal behaviour and the consequences of living in a city where people lead dual lives and perform their duties with a straight face while living in the throes of death (their own, or other peoples’)  are only too well known. The dog does not bark, or alert the neighbours, there is no intruder. The Blue Dolphin, in this case a swami whom all the family calls before dying has obviously thrown the chip of his phone away. The food, 10 rotis for 11 people and a dog, is provided to  some of them before their death. The house is left immaculately clean.

Their home is a concrete structure, it has no vents for air, so the contractor builds in some pipes on request, which are shaped as  symbols of the badh puja, or banyan tree puja. There is an extinction planned, which is an urban legend, in which the whole family is tacitly involved.


The family,  by habit, wakes up early, the shop is open at 6  am, and shuts at 11 pm. Everyone loves them, but clearly, in this concrete fort, in the city of Delhi where water and electricity are a problem, they believe by dying they can go to some place better.  The distance between their balcony and the concrete structures of their neighbours is a narrow street, yet no one heard the macabre doings where these poor people committed suicides in two shifts. The old mother too was murdered, but the autopsy shows that she too was tacit in death, and the belt which partially strangled her was taken off by someone, the last to leave and also keep front doors open.

Abetment to suicide is murder.  The phone company should know what calls transpired between the godman and this benighted family.   The family  must receive justice, and the haunted soul of survivors appeased. The epitaph in a post modern society cannot be “puja killed us.”

According to the notebooks the younger son left behind for us to read,   they believed they would go to a better place, be born again, have a more peaceful life. Every school child is taught, “If I say jump into a well, will you do it?” and they are trained to say “no!” In this case, the family had no such safety catch.

Breathing in 900mg petroleum carbon every day in the air, a house built without air shafts   or water vents, and the temperature goes upto 43 degrees C, the symbolic image of the banyan tree, and the badh puja was a contradiction in terms. The banyan tree was the  previously the symbol of lineage continuity and of future. In this case, however it became symbolic of  tree felling and death. The water table runs out in 10 years, and the 100-year-old trees have been cut in the city. This family short cutted themselves out. We don’t know how, poisoned and strapped up, and cremated with several hundred quintals of mango wood. 

(The writer is professor of sociology at Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU)

Susan Visvanathan