House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths – Going Beyond Unsettling Details

Burari Deaths
House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths – It is ironic that on the occasion of World Mental Health Day I subjected myself to watching a highly disturbing documentary film on OTT. However, in hindsight, it feels that director Leena Yadav’s House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths was a befitting watch for the occasion as it raises many crucial questions on mental health and the social stigma around it.

*Trigger warning: This article may contain graphic details about an incident.

Be warned, House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths is an unsettling watch, largely because the incident it is based on is itself stranger than any fiction we have read. In 2018, 11 members of a family living jointly in old Delhi were found dead inside their homes. The deceased were between ages 80 and 14. What followed was a high profile police investigation, descent into crass and shamelessly sensational media coverage of the incident, followed by neglect from all corners as the loose ends of this mystery were tied up by the police, while it was duly replaced by another story in mainstream media.

If you have followed the Burari deaths, like I did, you know even before you begin watching this documentary that it will creep you out. I say this having survived The Keepers and Don’t F**K with Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer. However, Yadav needs to be commended here for trying to humanise this case, also focussing on the mental health angle, instead of the hocus-pocus stories that Indian media resorted to.

The documentary doesn’t showcase gory details, pictures or videos of the crime (at least not to an extent that we see on fiction and non-fiction shows these days). It is just that the entire crime and its unravelling itself is disturbing. But when you manage to put your uneasiness aside, you can focus on how Indian media made a mess out of this investigation. With jarring graphics, exploration of paranormal angles and wild speculations, Indian media played a huge role in distorting the conversation around the Burari deaths. What was supposed to be disturbing and heart wrenching, was reduce to popcorn entertainment that gave competition to some corny horror movies from the last decade.

There was no one left in the deceased family’s corner to call out this over-the-top coverage. Media reporting back then was unfiltered and speculative, and over the years have seen it unravel only further. Could controversies around reporting of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death have been avoided if Indian media had faced strong criticism and legal action for its coverage of the Burari deaths? One can only wonder.

House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths also brings in voices of many therapists and investigating officers to give a more logical perspective of the case. Which prods us to introspect on a social level. We are introduced to the friends and relatives of this family. People who had been part of an engagement ceremony it hosted just two weeks before the incident, people who used to interact with them on a daily basis, who they had grown up with. No one had any idea. No one knew how this family had descended into a cult-like fervour without a word slipping to the outside world.

If you can summon the courage to revisit the case, do watch House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths because it isn’t just about the mysterious deaths in a family, it is also about power structures in Indian families and the stigmas around mental health. It is really sad that we only talk about mental health in wake of tragedies, whereas we can try to prevent these incidences from unfolding with timely intervention.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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