Burari Deaths Bring Us to the Crossroads of Religious Dogma, Superstition and Rationality

CRITICAL INSIGHT

The strange but possible entwining of modernity, spirituality and individuality in the latest Burari deaths shows the irony of modernity and what Weber would have regarded as disenchantment in our age.

Chandaryee Goswami | The New Leam

The death of eleven members of a family in Burari,Delhi by hanging themselves have become the latest sensational news as all the media channels are now busy in decoding the mystery behind the deaths. According to the police investigation, this hanging was part of a ritual that the family has been performing since 2007 after the death of the family’s patriarch Bhopal Singh.

From the diaries which were found, a same kind of situation as that of the incident was found written and explained. Apparent, the youngest son of the family Lalit Bhatia made the family believe that he was possessed by his father’s soul as it was after this reincarnation theory that the family recovered from their financial crisis which they were facing at the time of their father’s death. This June as one of the grandchildren, Priyanka got engaged, as a part of thanksgiving ceremony the family decided to follow this ritual as a way to get salvation and meet the ancestor.

Though the entire episode sounds like a supernatural movie which cannot take place in 21st century, but the fact is that it is indeed a reality. This incident like any other incident will be in news for some time, then some kind of investigation will take place and finally will be washed away from public memory. But what will remain are certain questions and the practices that led to these deaths. The questions are whether these are simply a case of personal belief system of a family or is it also reflective of the society?

Could we shy away from the case that one person probably hypnotised the entire family and presented themselves in such a way that no one (not to forget that the incident took place just after the guests finally left the house who came to attend Priyanka’s engagement) got to know what was happening within the family, And finally how do we see this death, as murder or suicide?

First of all looking at the deaths as a personal matter will not lead us to anywhere as the kind of belief in religious dogmas and superstitions it has exhibited is very much prevalent in our society. These superstitions are not very different from those of witch hunting, child lifters or that of reincarnation of human God or Goddess. Superstitions are excessive believe on supernatural forces where the believer loses out his or her self and becomes a blind follower whereby he or she could see nothing but that unquestioned faith. Usually, what is perceived is that with the advent of modernity, all kinds of unscientific, theocratic and irrational knowledge will be replaced by logical, precise and systematic knowledge informed by reason and causality.

But when this kind of formal rationality guided by calculative and exact judgement of the modern, neoliberal age experienced by the  21st  century India become too engulfing, affecting different walks of life, a sense of what Max Weber called disenchantment takes place.

Max Weber

The German sociologist would argue that disenchantment from the world begins to take place when the imposition of a highly rational modern civilization creates a milieu where all wonder is lost. The fact that the family relied on the theory of reincarnation instead of discussing the problems and economic crisis with the extended family and friends evidences the lack of trust and confidence on others as well as on oneself. When an urban middle class family ,quite informed and privilege resort to such practices with utmost faith, then the question is not about illiteracy or poverty which is very easy to blame on. Rather it tells us about the ugly side of modernity which upholds excessive individuality by reducing everything to money and profit.

In the case of Bhatia family, the person who is said to be the reincarnated soul has been tremendously affected by the circulation of images of spiritual and religious faith in media. The way people believe the god men, the unscrupulous priests and astrologers is not very astonishing as in real life, there seems to be a vacuum in the social relationships with increasing fast pace of life and human beings slowly surrendering to an automated world.

In such an atmosphere of mistrust, weak bonds, a hollow social life, people mostly turn to the unreal, fallacious and deceptive world which pretends to provide all the comforts, the care and security which a human being seeks. The deaths of the Bhatia family represent the gaps which have been widening in society.

These gaps cannot be seen but hit the public conscience whenever such tragic incidences occur. It is on the investigation, the police and the law to decide whether the deaths of the eleven members of the family are a murder suicide.

But what should not become oblivious and rather needs a reflexive understanding is the very cause of the death, the strange but possible entwining of modernity, spirituality and individuality.

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