Unless the Bhatias’ were out of town, the general store they ran under their two-storey house in Burari would open by 6 am every day, as neighbours and customers from around the lane would line up to buy milk and bread. On Sunday, when the store didn’t open till 7 am and phone calls by neighbours went unanswered, Gurcharan Singh (79) climbed up the stairs to their house — only to find familiar faces, hanging motionless from a railing on the ceiling.
Eleven members of the family — seven women, two men and two teenagers, aged between 15 and 77 years — were found dead. The family’s dog was tied in a corner on the terrace, alive. “I went to their house after 7 am; the door was not locked from inside… I opened it and saw the bodies. It was unbearable and scary. I couldn’t look beyond a few seconds, I thought I’d faint,” said Gurcharan, who moved across the Bhatias’’ house in 1997.
Word soon spread and a PCR call was made by a neighbour. Even though police barricaded the area, hundreds of people gathered to take photos and videos of ambulances that hurried past them, carrying the bodies. By evening, the case was handed over to the Delhi Police Crime Branch. Another eyewitness Kuldeep Singh, who lives next door, said, “It was a nightmare… to see all members of the family dead less than 12 hours after I last saw them. The general store was open till 11 pm on Saturday.”
Gurcharan said, “The family would usually switch on their water motor by 4.30 am, which didn’t happen on Sunday… they didn’t open their shop by 6 am either, and didn’t take anyone’s calls. That’s when I went upstairs with other neighbours… We realised something was wrong, but didn’t expect to see this.”
As the seemingly close-knit neighbourhood came to terms with the deaths, conversations in the lanes and on terraces revolved around what caused it. “I saw the whole family dance in joy at Priyanka’s engagement on June 17… they were well-off. There was never a day in the last 21 years that I’ve known them where they saw a bad financial phase,” said Gurcharan.
Another neighbour, Kuldeep, said, “If there was a problem in the family, we would have known… we were like family.” Pappu (29), who worked at the general store and ran errands for the family, said, “I’ve worked here for seven years… I would come by 9 am and leave at 10 pm after dinner. On Friday, I ate at their home… all was well. In fact, everyone was excited about Didi’s wedding.”