This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Mythili Kamath. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Netflix’s ‘House Of Secrets’ Exposes The Dark Underbelly Of A Joint Family

More from Mythili Kamath

Trigger warning: mentions of death and suicide

A patriarch with absolute control, educated women with no power, the denial of mental illness and the need to display the “perfect family” image: these were some of the main ingredients that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 11 family members.

But, aren’t these factors present in almost every Indian household? What is to prevent a case like this from happening again?

The discourse around patriarchal traditions, gender disparities and mental health has been renewed in light of the recent Netflix release ‘The House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths’.

The Bhatia Family hierarchy with Lalit at the head
The Bhatia family hierarchy, with Lalit as its head. Photo credit: Screengrab from Netflix.

This documentary highlights the normalcy of the Bhatia family—a joint family, with a patriarch leading three generations of the family—in the Indian society. 

The Death Of A Patriarch

The death of the family patriarch often results in a power vacuum in the family, leaving the dependent members unsure about how to proceed with their life.

This is exactly what we see in the Bhatia family: the death of Bhopal Singh left a vacuum in the family that his youngest son, Lalit, tried to fill by being a medium for his father’s spirit. 

Lalit’s untreated trauma from the past (an accident and a fire), coupled with his father’s death, appears to have triggered psychosis. But, no family member appears to have questioned this possession of Lalit by his father’s spirit.

The dead patriarch’s so-called wisdom appears to have provided relief to this struggling family instead. 

Men need to talk about their mental health and struggles, just as much as women do. Men try to put on a show of being invulnerable, while women tend to silently suffer through their problems. Both approaches are problematic.

In joint families, the patriarch’s decision is final and binding. This unquestioning submission establishes a hierarchy within the family that places women on the lowest rung. The entire hierarchical structure is based on the exploitation of women and their labour.

Savita, a second-generation member of the Bhatia family, was always labouring in the kitchen on the orders of Bhopal Singh’s spirit. Relatives and neighbours said that she appeared to have no interests or hobbies beyond the family.

While this is seen as the role of a “good” Indian wife, it raises red flags because it normalises expectations from the women of the house to labour for numerous hours, be it in the kitchen or even otherwise, while men reap the profits of their unpaid labour. 

Of Unquestioned Obedience

The simple answer: the chance that women and children speaking up would be taken seriously is almost non-existent. Speaking out against the patriarch in our male-dominated society is equivalent to rebelling against the very foundation of the family.

The opinions and feelings of women and children are likely to be invalidated and dismissed. 

Women are expected to adapt to the requirements established by the patriarch and any deviation would result in punishment, ostracization and humiliation.

This is highlighted in the documentary: there are numerous mentions of the punishment women would have to face if they disobeyed orders and constant guilt-tripping involved: to encourage them to do better. 

The unconditional faith society places in men prevent any woman or child from speaking out. Women fear speaking out against harassment and violence they face on a regular basis because it is their word against a man’s.

The same fear would prevent the seven women of the Bhatia family from spilling the family secrets to an outsider. This faith extends beyond the family to society at large.

When speaking about Lalit, the neighbours and relatives continued to say that he was a nice man and had built the family up from the ground.

Did The Women Have A Say?

His control over the family was never questioned, even after the bone-chilling incident took place. 

What was questioned instead, was why none of the family members (majorly women and minors) had ever spoken up about what was happening internally.

The grandchildren of the Bhatia family pose with their grandmother for a photo. Photo credit: Hindustan Times.

When the family patriarch feels as though he is losing his control, he may take extreme measures to regain the unquestioning submission of all family members. This can be harmful to the family as a whole, but especially for the member(s), he feels are questioning his power. 

The feeling of loss of control generally stems from the loss of control over women and highlights the patriarchal hierarchy within society.

I would like to theorise that the engagement and expected departure of Lalit’s niece from the family was synonymous with the feeling of losing control, which in turn, triggered the so-called “ritual” that led to the family’s death. 

As pointed out by journalist Barkha Dutt: “Did the women of the house have the right to not participate in that ritual? And if they didn’t, can it still be called suicide? Or, should it be called murder?”

‘Othering’ The Incident Contributes To The Cause 

The power that the family patriarch holds is extremely destructive and detrimental. It takes away the freedom and independence of every family member and forces them to behave according to the wishes of one person.

The joint family model resembles a cult in many ways. 

We view the Burari case through the lens of an outsider, and so it appears as an alternate world detached from our reality.

But, this “othering” of the incident makes us believe nothing of the sort can happen to us and so, prevents us from understanding the causes and factors involved. 

The main reasons for this bizarre incident are nothing new to us: patriarchy, powerless women and unconditional obedience to a man. These are deeply rooted in our society.

The intersections between mental health, patriarchy and gender inequality need to be brought into the limelight to prevent another such incident from taking place. 

The current social and political climate allows for those in power to avoid accountability, by placing the responsibility on those who are already struggling.

Most importantly, we need to talk about the problems in our families just as much as we talk about the happy things: festivals, job promotions, births, weddings etc. Unless the good, the bad and the ugly is out in the open, the culture of secrecy is likely to sweep pertinent issues under the carpet.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Netflix, via Scroll.

Note: The author is part of the Sept-Oct ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program

You must be to comment.

More from Mythili Kamath

Similar Posts

By Vanshika Gadekar

By Yusuf Abidin

By Ranjeet Menon

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below