Psychiatrists liken Delhi deaths to 1978 Peoples Temple cult suicide

A macabre incident that involved possible mass suicide of 11 members of a joint family in north Delhi could have happened under the spell of a “charismatic spiritual or tantric leader”.

Published: 03rd July 2018 08:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd July 2018 10:06 AM   |  A+A-

Relatives mourn after cremation of the 11 members of a family who were found hanging in their house in Burari at Nigambodh Ghat in New Delhi on Monday July 2 2018. | PTI

By Express News Service

NEW DELHI: A macabre incident that involved possible mass suicide of 11 members of a joint family in north Delhi could have happened under the spell of a “charismatic spiritual or tantric leader” who would have heavily influenced one or two dominant members, psychiatrists said.

The family of 11 had been found dead in a house in Burari on Sunday, with 10 members blindfolded and hanging from a ceiling while the oldest member— a 77-year-old woman—was found strangled and lying on the floor.  

The victims are believed to have committed a mass religious suicide, as authorities failed to discover any forced entry, gunshot wounds or anything that would clearly indicate a homicide.  

Cops also discovered handwritten notes, which indicated that the family had meticulously prepared for the “mass salvation” and had carefully examined ways of hanging themselves. No suicide notes, however, were found at the scene.  

“It looks like a cult-suicide and is as bizarre as it can get,” said Ajit Bhide, a Bengaluru based psychiatrist and president of the Indian Psychiatric Society. He said he can’t recall any other incident where such a large number of family members took such an extreme step together in India.  

“I have heard of cases where married couples along with kids sometimes end lives, but in most cases, the incidents are related to financial stress or family disputes. This incident surpasses all others and looks like a tragic end result of a twisted religious belief,” Bhide said.   

He also vaguely drew a parallel of the incident with Jonestown massacre of 1978 which involved murder-suicide of 918 members of religious cult Peoples Temples, led by American Jim Jones in Guyana.   
Mrugesh Vaishnav, a psychiatrist in Ahmadabad said that one or two dominant members could even be schizophrenic or suffering from severe clinical depression.  

“In such cases, people often start living in a delusion and supposed reality. It’s very likely that such person or persons might have led a murder-suicide of the entire clan,” he said.  

 “When one or two dominant members of the family start having altered sense of reality, it’s possible that other recessive ones follow the suit. That explains why younger ones —the two boys aged 15 — also would have joined the suicide pact,” Vaishnav explained.   

Jonestown mass murder-suicide

In 1978, Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones led 918 of his followers in a mass murder-suicide in Guyana, South America. Many of them willingly ingested a poison-laced punch while others were forced to do so at gunpoint.

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