THEY COME TO RAISE THE DEAD

Death

In some of India's most underdeveloped states, where illiteracy and poverty are rampant, there exists a unique kind of murder. Murder by paper. Usually plotted by the greedy relatives of a landowner, the crime consists of a small bribe being placed on the desk of a public employee to issue an official death certificate for the unsuspecting person, leaving his property ready to be passed on to the family, and the landowner struggling to 'come back to life'.

Lal Bihari, a farmer in Uttar Pradesh learnt about it the hard way - when he was 22 years old, his family paid a bribe of Rs.300 (approximately 6 USD) to have him declared dead so that they could usurp a small piece of land he owned. What followed was a 17 year long legal struggle, trying to convince the obstinate Indian judicial system that he was indeed alive. He tried every possible measure during the long legal battle - getting arrested, running for elections, asking his wife to apply for a widow's pension, adding the word Mritak (Hindi for dead man) to his name, and gathering support of other men who were also legally dead. Together, they started the organisation called Mritak Sangh (Hindi for Association Of The Dead) which continues to help people who are too poor to have the resources to prove they are alive.

While the organisation continues to grow, Bihari doesn't keep track of its exact size. They have no organised meetings or agendas. But when the need arises, dead men from all the nearby villages show up to give advice and share their stories.

So far, the only recognition Bihari has got for his resurrecting work is an Ignobel prize in 2003. He tried to make it to the award ceremony, but the US government refused to let him enter the country. The fact that he was dead for 17 years probably had something to do with it.

Image: Lal Bihari via thefridaytimes