New Delhi: In a harrowing incident reported from the Capital, a family of three died within their home in Vasant Vihar after inhaling toxic fumes on May 21. According to the neighbours, the family, a mother and her two daughters, had allegedly been facing financial difficulties.
What is shocking most about the incident though is how it had been planned over days. The inside of the house had been turned into a gas chamber by covering the windows using plastic bags and, as initial investigations have shown, a small angithi and charcoal had been purchased from an e-commerce website recently. “It appears that the family was suffering from depression,” said Manoj C, Deputy Commissioner of Police (southwest).
After receiving a call at 8:55 pm on Saturday from a resident of Vasant apartments, the Delhi Police reached the flat, located on the ground floor of a grey, worn-down apartment building, to find Manju Shrivastava, 55, and her two daughters Anshika Srivastava, 30, and Ankita Srivastava, 26, dead, presumably by suffocation, “The police team managed to open the door and found a partially-open gas cylinder and four suicide notes. Upon checking the inner room, three dead bodies were found lying on the bed along with three small candles and an angithi,” DCP Manoj added.
Times of trouble
The suicide notes recovered are long, running into multiple pages. One of the notes, police sources mention, gives an explanation of the family’s health issues and financial problems.
“Both daughters were highly-educated but didn’t have any jobs. The mother was bed-ridden and had suffered memory loss,” says Sanjeev Kumar, an egg vendor who parks his personal vehicle outside the house and knew the family. “The condition was so bad that she would routinely soil the bed. They had always had financial difficulties, even before their father died during Covid. They lived on borrowed money, would hardly come out of their flat and rarely interacted with others.” Some neighbours even spoke of how the sisters would never open the door completely if someone came to their house.
Manju’s husband, Umesh Srivastava, a chartered accountant by profession according to Kumar, died in April last year from Covid. Kumar adds that Umesh only worked part-time and didn’t seem to earn much despite his qualifications. He also claims to have lent some money to Ankita a few days before the incident with the assurance that it would be returned on Saturday. “I called her six times that day, but there was no answer. I didn’t think much of it and thought that I will ask for it later,” he says.
The Srivastava family, according to those who knew them, frequently borrowed food items from two grocery shops in their area—Jain store and Prashant General Store. The owners of both establishments had been promised their money back by Saturday evening. According to Kamal Singh of Prashant General Store, the family had borrowed groceries worth Rs 30,000.
“I didn’t find their habit of borrowing unusual because they had told me about their financial difficulties. They had called me on Saturday at around 6 pm, but I couldn’t take the call, and when I called them back, there was no answer. Later I saw commotion outside their flat and got to know what had happened,” says Singh.
The harrowing sight
The Srivastavas owed Rs 6,000 to the owners of Jain Store, who were attempting to get in touch with them. In fact, it was apparently a call from the Jains to Kamala, a domestic worker in the Srivastavas’ home and the closest thing they had to a friend and confidante, that alerted the neighbourhood that something was not right. “I went to their place around 5pm, which I usually do, just to see how they were doing but no one opened the door. I thought nothing of it. I sent my son later but again there was no response. I suspected something was wrong because they never used to go out because of their ailing mother. I tried to look in through the window, but couldn’t. It was the president of the society who called the police. When I found out what had happened, I was shocked,” says Kamala, tearing up.
In one of the letters recovered, the daughters apparently asked for her forgiveness for taking such a step and thanked her for everything. “I would help the girls with everything, cooking, helping them take their father to the hospital during Covid. Their only source of money was rent from another flat that they owned, but they had evicted their tenants around 6-7 months ago. I just can’t believe they did this. The younger daughter was so well-educated. They all spoke English. She could easily have taken a job and lived comfortably,” Kamala adds.
Kumar, though, believes that the reasons that drove them to suicide were more psychological than financial. “Their mother was already facing medical issues. The elder daughter behaved erratically and had even run away from home once. The younger daughter appeared fine, but now she has done this,” he adds.
Shirish Tripathi, a driver by profession and Srivastavas’ neighbour, helped the police with the bodies and described the harrowing scene to ThePrint—the windows had allegedly been covered using plastic bags, and the three women lay dead inside with blood streaking from their noses. The smell of gas was extremely pungent,” he adds. One of the letters recovered even cautioned the reader about the “gas chamber”. “Too much deadly gas…please ventilate room by opening the window and fan…don’t light a match or candle or anything. Be careful while removing the curtain…do not inhale,” said the letter.
The coverings on the windows can be seen still, a bright yellow police tape surrounds the house now. A board hanging outside reads “You are under CCTV surveillance”. Even as they watched the world go by, the three women inside their decrepit flat remained unseen.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)