On Saturday, at a time most families would have been busy with dinner, one in Delhi was preparing for a bizarre mass hanging, gathering wires and ordering what turned out to be their last meal. There was “no outside role” in the deaths of 11 members of the Chundawat family, establishes security footage exclusively accessed by NDTV, and notes in 11 diaries written over 11 years. There’s evidence that the family didn’t expect to die, that they had believed they would “emerge stronger” after the ritualistic hanging.
Footage from a camera with a view of the entrance of the Chundawat house shows a woman, her daughter and two children of the family bringing in the stools and wires used in the mass hangings. All the members apparently died together around 1 am.
The CCTV footage gives glimpses of a family voluntarily following the instructions of a man possessed – Lalit Chundawat, 45, the younger son of the 77-year-old matriarch Narayani Devi. The diary notes were his, and indicate that Lalit hallucinated about his dead father advising him on salvation. Another person who wrote in the diaries was Lalit’s 30-year-old niece Priyanka Bhatia, who had been engaged on June 17.
The diary notes also show that the family may have thought the spirit of Lalit’s father would save them. The last sentence in the final diary, written on the day of the suicides, read: “…keep water in a cup, when it changes colour, I will appear and save you.” After the “ritual”, everyone was to untie each other.
Footage shows that the family’s youngest, 12-year-old Dhruv and 15-year-old Shivam, went to a furniture store downstairs and brought up the wires used in the hangings. They were tied up by their parents.
The next morning, 10 members of the Chundawat family, including the schoolboys, were found hanging in the hallway of what has come to be known as the “house of horrors”. The wires were hung from a grill in a manner that could be managed only by an insider with access to the roof, the police say.
They were all blindfolded, gagged and bound – all except Lalit’s wife Tina, who may have tied up all the others. The 11th, Narayani Devi, was found dead on the floor, also from hanging. Nine members had shared five stools.
“This was a final thanksgiving to the spirits,” said a police officer, explaining that the family had attributed a run of good fortune to Lalit’s instructions. Their finances had improved vastly and Priyanka had been engaged after a long struggle to find a match.
In the final diary entry on June 30 (Saturday), there were instructions titled “Bhagwaan ka raasta (Road to god)”. It said nine people would hang from the “jaal” (a grill) and one person, “Baby” – the widowed sister of Lalit and his older brother Bhuvanesh – would be near the mandir (temple), on a smaller stool.
The notes detailed the exact time for specific tasks; food had to be ordered at 10 pm, “mother would feed everyone roti” and the “kriya (final act)” would be performed at 1 am.
The faces, ears and eyes were to be covered with “doctor’s patti (bandage)”.
The steps were followed to the second, according to the timeline pieced together by the police with help from the diary notes and CCTV footage.
10 pm – The older daughter-in-law of the family brings in the stools.
10:15 pm – the boys Dhruv and Shivam bring the wires used in the hangings
10:39 pm – 20 rotis ordered by the family are delivered
10:57 pm – Bhuvanesh, the older son of Narayani Devi, takes the dog for a walk
11:04 pm – The man and the dog go back in
5:56 am (July 1) – Truck leaves behind milk cartons, which remain untouched
7:14 am – Neighbour enters and finds the bodies
The police are investigating the theory of shared psychotic disorder that could have led to the mass suicide.