Psychological autopsy is considered as a vital tool in the world of forensic science, widely used to determine the mental state of the deceased.

The death of 11 members of a family in Burari in mysterious circumstances has baffled the Delhi Police that has now decided to go for a psychological autopsy, that is mapping the psyche of the deceased.

Hours after the bodies were discovered, police had found two notebooks in the house with details on how to “end life in order to attain moksha (salvation)”. As part of the psychological autopsy, experts will now go through the notes that spoke about replicating ‘badh tapasya’ in which people get into a banyan tree-formation whose branches hang around.

On Sunday morning, the bodies of Narayani Devi (77), her sons Bhuvanesh (50) and Lalit (45), daughters-in-law Savita (48) and Teena (42), daughter Pratibha (57), and grandchildren Priyanka (33), Nidhi (25), Maneka (23), Dhruv (15) and Shivam (15) were found gagged, blindfolded and hanging in the hallway.

Relatives of the family have already been questioned by police in order to build the family’s profile — they prayed thrice a day, recited the Hanuman Chalisa and Gayatri Mantra, and “detested spiritual gurus or self-styled godmen”.

What is psychological autopsy?

Considered as a vital research tool in the world of forensic science, a psychological autopsy is a method involving collection and analysis of information on the deceased through a procedure of structured interviews of the victims’ kin. It is an attempt to determine the mental state of the deceased.

The method is generally used in cases of suicides and incidents involving suicide bombers. According to Forensic Psychology.com, the nature of information collected is classified into three categories:

1-Biographical information (age, marital status, occupation).

2-Personal information (relationships, lifestyle, alcohol/drug use, sources of stress).

3-Secondary information (family history, police records, diaries)

How is it different from a physical autopsy?

A physical or medical autopsy is generally a physical examination of the deceased in order to determine the ’cause’ of death.

On the other hand, psychological autopsy aims to understand the mental state the deceased was in.

Has it been used earlier in India before?

-Sunanda Pushkar death case

In the Sunanda Pushkar case, the special investigation team (SIT) conducted a ‘psychological autopsy’ in order to establish a case of ‘marital discord’ between Shashi Tharoor and his wife Sunanda Pushkar. Interviews with her family and friends were taken in order to understand the psychological state of Sunanda Pushkar.

-2006 Nithari Killings

Forensic psychologists were also engaged in the investigations of the infamous 2006 Nithari killings, where 19 bodies were recovered from the backyard of Moninder Singh Pandher’s house at Nithari village in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.

Pandher was charged with murder and rape.

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