By Kahini Iyer Jul. 02, 2018
Eleven members of a family in Delhi’s Burari killed themselves and initial investigations suggest that they were part of a deadly cult that promised them salvation. What does the Bhatia family have in common with the Jonestown Massacre?
Sunday morning’s alleged suicides of 11 people in Delhi is a bit of a shocker, even with the capital’s appetite for horror. An entire joint family, consisting of matriarch Narayani Bhatia, her two sons and their wives, her daughter, and her five grandchildren, were all found dead in their Burari flat. The entire family had hanged themselves, while Narayani herself showed signs of having been strangled, leading the police to launch a murder investigation.
In a strange and terrible twist, police found a diary at the scene, filled with elaborate religious instructions on achieving redemption in death. While suspicions are running rife at the moment, it wouldn’t be the first time a group of people have been brainwashed into mass suicide by religious ideas of eternal salvation.
The Jonestown Juice Cleanse
The Jonestown suicide of 1978 is the stuff of legend, and the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” has become a ubiquitous rebuttal for free-thinkers and edgy conspiracy theorists the world over. The cult, begun in remote northern Guyana by American reverend Jim Jones, famously ended with the deaths of over 900 people who were forced to drink Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. About a third were children, whose parents had brought them to Jones’ commune.
While Jonestown wasn’t strictly motivated by religion, the cult instead espoused an extreme form of communism. Several victims left behind suicide notes, pledging all they had to the Communist Party of the USSR, and Jones himself referred to the suicides as “revolutionary”.
The Adam House Horror
Closer home than Guyana, was the 2007 mass suicide in Mymensingh, Bangladesh, also involving a family and a diary of religious doctrine. All nine members of the family committed suicide together by jumping in front of a speeding train, and the youngest was a child of nine. According to a diary kept by one in the family and found in their home, now referred to as Adam House, they wanted to be pure and free of sin like Adam and Eve.
However, neighbours claimed that the family’s religious beliefs were hard to pin down. They had converted from Islam to Christianity following the death of the family patriarch, but didn’t participate in the Christian community. The diary even mentions the family trying out Kali worship. They had also tried to commit suicide twice in the preceding week, preparing their coffins and literally digging their own graves in anticipation.
The Solar Temple’s Secrets
Taking place across three years and three countries, the mid-’90s suicides of the Geneva-based Order of the Solar Temple sounds more like a James Bond film than an international tragedy. But through 1994-1997, dozens of followers of this cult committed suicide, as far apart as Switzerland, Canada, and France. The secret society, based on the Knights Templar, had existed since the ’50s, and aimed to unite all Christian religions. They also held the controversial belief that Christ would return as a sun-king.
The Order of the Solar Temple combined mass murder and suicide, beginning by killing a three-month-old infant that they saw as the Antichrist. Seventy four people died, and those who committed suicide believed they were going to the star Sirius. The deaths were timed to coincide with equinoxes and solstices, and like Jonestown, they left notes bequeathing their money to the cult.
Taking place across three years and three countries, the mid-’90s suicides of the Geneva-based Order of the Solar Temple sounds more like a James Bond film than an international tragedy.
Heaven’s Grisly Gate
The ’90s were clearly a big decade for cults, and with the impending new millennium, perhaps that’s no surprise. Most of us remember the utterly unfounded panic around Y2k (for Gen-Z readers, it was like when 2012 was the end of the world, but more). The Heaven’s Gate devotees, however, took this anxiety to new heights, joining a San Diego cult that was founded in the ’70s by Marshall Applewhite. There, nearly 40 people died by taking poison over three days. Applewhite considered himself the earthly representative of Jesus, and made dire biblical prophecies about the apocalypse.
The cult also held a Scientologesque belief that bodies were only vessels on a recyclable Earth, waiting to get to the next level, which involved an alien spaceship following the Comet Hale-Bopp. Its members thought they would join Applewhite on said spaceship. Possibly the weirdest fact of all? The cult bought actual alien abduction insurance. Maybe life insurance would have been a more practical idea.
Kahini spends an embarrassing amount of time eating Chinese food and watching Netflix. For proof that she is living her #bestlife, follow her on Instagram @kahinii.