Friday, March 8, 2024

Uttar Pradesh Mritak Sangh

Picture a man named Lal Bihari, born in 1955, a farmer from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. He was told by a government officer in 1976 that he was dead. The land record said that the previous year, after the death of Lal Bihari, his one bigha (one-fifth of an acre) of land had devolved to his cousins. He was officially dead. The fact that he was a familiar figure standing before them made no difference: government records showed that  he was dead so he was dead. He had no proof that he was alive. Now how to get such a proof.

Lal Bihari renamed himself Lal Bihari Mritak (dead man), and went about proving himself alive. This would take him 17 years. One method was to organise his own funeral which would give him a receipt proving that he was alive.  Others were to apply for compensation for his ‘widow’, throw stones at a police station so that he is arrested and his existence recorded, kidnap his cousin, and finally, stand for election. He took on VP Singh from Allahabad in 1988 and Rajiv Gandhi from Amethi in 1989, but didn’t win.

By this time, he found that there were many others in the same plight as him, and founded the Uttar Pradesh Mritak Sangh, an association of legally dead people. At last count, they had 20,000 members, of whom four had managed to come back to life. One of them was Lal Bihari. From 1994 he was no longer Mritak. This tactic of declaring a person dead and grabbing his land seems to be a common practice. One person from  Azamgarh says, “My own son had killed me off. If it had not been for Lal Bihari, I would still be dead.”

Another person had left his village for some years and found that his brother had declared him dead. Following a dharna by the Mritak Sangh he was declared alive. He then lost on appeal, won on further appeal, but another officer pronounced him dead again. “I have died thrice. At present, I am dead but have a stay on it by the court,” he says. Another person and his four brothers were all shown dead in one village but alive in three other villages where they own land. 

You cannot make this up. Kafka was born in the wrong country and the wrong century. In present day India, he would have been a reporter writing about truth stranger than his fiction. There is a brief mention of the walking dead in the film Jolly LLB 2. Two movies that show the strange ways of the bureaucratic and legal systems in India are Chaitanya Tamhane's Court and Shyam Benegal's Well Done, Abba

1 comment:

  1. Challenges galore for people in our country - comes in all shapes and sizes....great post Kesu !