The Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People

by on April 7, 2017 at 7:27 am in Economics, Law, Travel | Permalink

The amazing story of Lal Bihari, founder of the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People, illustrates many of the issues I wrote about in my post on the chaos of land records in India.

When Lal Bihari first heard about his death, he thought it was a joke. He smiled at the lekhpal, the village officer responsible for land records. But there was no smile in return. “Lal Bihari died last year,” the lekhpal repeated. “I don’t know who you are.” That was when the 22-year-old from Amilo in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh (UP), realised something was amiss. He had come to his birthplace Khalilabad for residence, income and caste certificates. He needed them to get a bank loan for his handloom business.

“But I am here before you,” he said, puzzled. “You know me. I have met you before.” The lekhpal showed him the land record, a piece of paper, and read it out. It said that the previous year, 30 July 1976, 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.

Lal’s cousins had bribed a local official and declared him dead in order to take his land. One would think it a fairly easy procedure to prove that you aren’t dead but even in the United States this can take months. In India, it took 17 years.

“The price of my death was Rs 300,” says Lal Bihari. After he discovered he had ‘died’, Lal Bihari went to a lawyer, who said, “A dead man has come to me,” and laughed. Neighbours would mock him—“Look, there goes the ghost.” He felt humiliated. Since a court case could take decades, he visited various government departments. He beseeched and quarreled with officials. He filed complaints. In vain. “The enquiry would be conducted by the very officials who had listed me as dead,” he says.

Finding no help from officials, Lal began to engage in more and more desperate measures:

In 1985, he tried to get himself arrested. He kidnapped his cousin, a boy named Baburam in the fifth standard, whose family had shown him dead. But once he picked up Baburam from school, he didn’t know what to do. “I took him to a movie every day,” he says.
After five days, when the family did not file a police complaint, he decided to soak Baburam’s shirt in goat’s blood and send it over. “I thought it would scare them into going to the police,” he says. But the butcher he knew didn’t help and told him to go to the poultry seller. “The blood from a chicken was never going to be enough,” says Lal Bihari. He dropped the idea. The plan flopped, though Baburam got a new shirt.

…He bribed a policeman Rs 500 to get a case registered against him and his cousin for rioting. The policeman returned the money when he discovered the motive. He applied for widow’s pension for his wife, Karami. “They would refuse because I was alive. This would be a record for me,” he says. But the government’s refusal made no mention of him.

Next, Lal Bihari sold his property to contest the 1988 Lok Sabha election from Allahabad against former Prime Minister VP Singh. Surprising even himself, he got about 1,600 votes.

Lal’s bizarre case began to get newspaper attention and finally in 1994 he was once again declared alive and his property restored. The story, however, doesn’t end there. In his adventures, Lal had befriended many dead people and so he founded the UP Mritak Sangh, the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People. The association organizes marches of the walking dead. In 2003 Lal Bihari won the IgNobel peace prize.

Lal Bihari continues to be very much alive.

Hat tip: Amit Varma.

1 prior_test2 April 7, 2017 at 8:43 am

Well, at least he wasn’t in Gitmo after not coughing up enough cash – ‘The men and boys who resisted conscription by the Taliban were thrown into jails which were later captured by the Northern Alliance.

Rather than being liberated, many of the conscientious objectors were transferred to US forces and shipped to Guantánamo.

The US policy of offering a $5,000 a head bounty to anyone who could hand over a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda also led to dozens of innocent men and boys being kidnapped and sold by Afghan forces, Northern Alliance soldiers and groups of anonymous armed men.

Juma Khan, an Afghan civilian, ended up in Guantánamo after being “tricked into accompanying a man who later turned him in as a member of the Taliban for money”, according to his file.

The documents also show how Northern Alliance forces captured civilians and demanded ransoms of as much as $10,000 for their release. Those who could not pay were turned over to the US in exchange for cash.’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8472804/WikiLeaks-children-among-the-innocent-captured-and-sent-to-Guantanamo.html

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2 JWatts April 7, 2017 at 9:31 am

“Well, at least he wasn’t …”

It’s cute how you desperately try to establish some vague connection between the actual topic and whatever thoughts are running through your mind at the time. I’m sure everyone that read this article was struck between the similarity to this and Guantanamo incarceration. The connection is so obvious. It’s not at all the product of compulsive obsession.

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3 Pshrnk April 7, 2017 at 10:19 am

Greed/Corruption. Pretty tight connection there JWatts.

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4 JWatts April 7, 2017 at 11:04 am

Sure, just like the pretty tight connection between these two actions and Judas Iscariot selling out Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver.

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5 The Other Jim April 7, 2017 at 11:29 am

It’s standard blog-hijacking, and it’s not cute. It’s a sign of deep mental illness.

This extremely lonely man desperately wants to share his own delusions with the world, on his own blog… but he knows that absolutely no one would read them.

So he goes to established blogs and spews them there, regardless of the topic at hand. Then he hits refresh all day, hoping that he roped someone into replying so that he continue the topic – as if the blog were his.

Best to ignore him. Alex+Tyler put up with it because they rake in .000001 cents per comment (from advertisers). Which is not a sign of their health, either.

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6 Dick the Butcher April 7, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Here’s the “irony” solution to Lal Bihari’s dilemma. Kill the cousins. The government cannot try for murder a dead man.

Good stuff, P_t2. For eight years after he promised to close Gitmo, Barack Hussein 0 let those innocent people languish. Plus, BH0 was lying last year when he and Kommander Kerry told the American people that Saddat had no WMD. Another side-splitter: Iran will never have nuclear weapons because of the 0 – Kerry asinine, Iran agreement.

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7 Yogi April 7, 2017 at 8:47 am

Are we sure this is not actually both the plot and the title of a scrapped Wed Anderson movie?

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8 Chris April 7, 2017 at 12:29 pm

It would make total sense for him to do so.

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9 msgkings April 7, 2017 at 1:17 pm

+1 Tenenbaum

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10 Dzhaughn April 7, 2017 at 9:17 pm

The Watery Death without Steve Zissou

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11 Thiago Ribeiro April 7, 2017 at 9:04 am

This is what happens when the fragile and complex machinery of a state devolves to the hands of savage tribes unaccustomed to moral thought and incapable of rational action.

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12 Ray Lopez April 7, 2017 at 11:51 am

No TR, the AlexT story was humorous. Consider Greece:

1) some relatives kill each other over plots of land

2) when your relative dies, “probate” (the process of declaring a person dead, so you can do things like turn off the utilities in their name, close their bank accounts, and inherit their wealth), takes about one year, and that’s WITH bribes (otherwise maybe 5 years, if records are missing), and,

(3) it’s not enough in probate to show a death certificate or other official document that shows the person died single (making you their next of kin if you’re mentioned in their will; and registering a will is also a hassle), but, you must find live witnesses (!) that can attest to that fact, who have supposedly known the deceased since they were young. Imagine doing this for a 95 year old granny. Who is still alive now when she was young and have known her all her life? Happily there are fake witnesses to attest to anything you want (some of them terminal cancer patients, who don’t care what happens to them), for a fee.

How do I know? I’m going through probate now for a relative. (Yes, they left a ton of money, more than I would have made in my high paying career here making low six figures for decades, lol, and that doesn’t count the money my still alive senile uncle graciously gave me while he was not yet senile; perfect timing, I know)

Now that’s Greece, which has two more submarines than Brazil does. That’s a good one. AlexT’s story is comical by comparison.

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13 Thiago Ribeiro April 7, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Brazil has 5 submarines and is developing a secret nuclear submarine. Brazil’s Navy is the biggest one in South America, never was defeated and has been feared for endless centuries.

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14 fwiw April 9, 2017 at 12:07 am

Not that big of a secret, is it?

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15 It's Over April 7, 2017 at 9:42 am

After reading these posts from Alex, I see why no one wants to visit India! Tragically, It seems that India has imported all the worst parts of Western civ while adopting very few of the good parts.

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16 Thiago Ribeiro April 7, 2017 at 9:45 am

Visit Brazil insted. In Brazil, no one will pretend you are ghost and you for not acrually being dead. Brazil’-#s coastine is one of the biggest in the world and the weather is usually great.

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17 Bunker Brown April 7, 2017 at 12:07 pm

I am Indian and would happily visit Brazil over India. Hot chicks, great beaches, awesome culture, nature, etc. Few problems with neighbors. That crime problem though…

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18 Thiago Ribeiro April 7, 2017 at 12:15 pm

The crime problem is under control, human life and dignity are widely respected, it is not like India with its collective rapes and sati and castes traditions. We have an unbroken history of peace and life worship. As I said to a Japanese girl who complained about crime in Brazil, a foreign woman is much safer in Brazil than a Korean woman was in Korea under the savage Japanese occupation.

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19 Nick April 7, 2017 at 3:43 pm

You’re bragging about how Brazil compares favorably to a warzone?

20 Thiago Ribeiro April 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm

It was not a war zone, it had been conquered since 1910. It had spent more years under Japanese rule than I have lived.

21 Kris April 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

It seems that India has imported all the worst parts of Western civ while adopting very few of the good parts.

I think that’s quite an accurate observation.

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22 tjamesjones April 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm

yes this sort of thing happens all the time in London where I am, wouldn’t even make the papers.

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23 shrikanthk April 7, 2017 at 10:16 am

I am reminded of the Cary Grant starrer from 1951 – “People will Talk” (Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz) , which features a character similar to Lal Bihari (Grant’s servant). The guy gets sentenced wrongly for murder, spends 15 years in jail. Comes back from Jail to discover that the person he was accused of “murdering” is still alive. Out of rage, he murders him for real this time. And gets capital punishment this time (second punishment for the same crime!). The hangman doesn’t do a great job. The cadaver is handed to Cary Grant – a medical student. The cadaver wakes up when Grant handles him. Grant, after listening to his sorry tale, decides to take him as a man-servant. He remains legally “dead” however.

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24 dan1111 April 7, 2017 at 10:59 am

Spoiler alert!

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25 shrikanthk April 7, 2017 at 11:17 am

This is not central to the main movie narrative.

This anecdote about the man-servant employed by Grant is narrated in the last 10 minutes of the film

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26 Bob from Ohio April 7, 2017 at 3:50 pm

I think he was joking, a 60+ year old film cannot really be spoiled.

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27 Thiago Ribeiro April 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Yes, it can. I am waiting for a lazy weekend to find out if Mr. George Bailey really will commit suicide.

28 polyglot April 7, 2017 at 10:17 am

In the old days a person believed to be dead and who was taken to the river for cremation but who then came back to life was considered ritually dead and- at least in theory- had to remain there subsisting on charity.

Cornelia Sorabjee, the first female lawyers in India, has recorded some such cases where greed to get hold of a widow’s inheritance led to her being hurried to the cremation ground where, no doubt, the officiating ‘Doms’ would have been bribed.
Sorabjee had been educated at Oxford with Benjamin Jowett as her guardian. Yet she wanted to retain the ‘purdah’ system and many of the other disabilities faced by women. Her sister, a doctor, disagreed. Ultimately Sorabjee was forced out of India by the new generation of more militant women.

It is interesting that a ‘rational’ Weberian bureaucracy can reproduce the inequities of ritualistic religion.

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29 albatross April 7, 2017 at 11:08 am

I don’t know what deeper lessons to draw from this, but it’s an entertaining and interesting story that gives you a picture of life in a very different bit of the world than I’m used to.

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30 Yancey Ward April 7, 2017 at 12:22 pm

R.I.P, Alex. I am going to miss him.

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31 Alex Tabarrok April 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm

+1

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32 Dzhaughn April 7, 2017 at 9:19 pm

Invalid vote.

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33 Yancey Ward April 8, 2017 at 2:18 am

Not true. The Ninth Circuit recently issued an injunction against the disallowing of the votes of the dead.

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34 Steve April 7, 2017 at 5:53 pm

A sub plot of Catch 22. The flight surgeon doesn’t like to fly, but needs to log flight hours each month. The squadron pilots will log him as a passenger on training flights, as a favor. One day a plane crashes and the doc is listed on the manifest. Because they can’t find his body in the wreckage, he officially becomes “missing presumed dead”.

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35 A April 7, 2017 at 9:37 pm

This seems like an apt place to put in a recommendation for the Vish Puri mysteries by Tarquin Hall. Think Carl Hiassen for India.

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36 Amigo April 8, 2017 at 2:58 am

Here are some stories of frustration of folks trying to prove their identity here in Florida.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/new-florida-drivers-license-rules-frustrate-a-confused-public/1075902

I went through the same thing when I moved here. This is kind of thing we get when overly concerned about security or perhaps the wrong people are voting.

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37 Sukwinder Dixit April 8, 2017 at 10:49 am

Mr. Bihari didn’t look at the obvious angle to bring back relief. As a mid-caste Hindu, he could have ‘reborn’ himself as a high caste Hindu and people would be worshiping him.

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