Case Analysis: Association of Dead People v. State of U. P. & Others
In 1977, a 22-year old farmer, hailing from Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh, came to know of his own death. Therein began his 18-year long struggle with the bureaucracy to prove his own identity. All this happened because his uncle bribed a government official to declare him dead for the sake of misappropriating his property. This is the curious case of Lal Bihari. Similar cases abound in rural India where living people are declared dead by their relatives for the sake of siphoning their properties. During his legal battle, Lal Bihari decided to dedicate himself to helping people in such situations. For this purpose, he founded the Association of Dead People or the Mritak Sangh.
Facts of the Case
- The proceedings of this case originated from a piece of news reported by Time Magazine, titled “Plight of the Living Dead”. Lal Bihari, the petitioner in this case, returned to his native city Khalilabad to get a loan for his upcoming handloom business. However, to his shock, the village Lekhpal informed him that he had been declared dead for the past year (30th July 1976).
- His uncle had bribed the record keeper (Khatuni) to declare him dead on paper and give 1/5th of Lal Bihari’s land to them.
- In an attempt to get his name in the official records, he kidnapped his cousin Baburam whose father got him declared dead. However, Baburam’s family didn’t report the matter so Lal Bihari eventually let his cousin go.
- To gather evidence, he tried to bribe a police officer to register against him a false case of rioting. However, on knowing his intentions, the officer feared getting fired and returned the bribe.
- He also made an application to get widow pension for his wife. His idea was that on seeing him present their, the officials will deny the widow pension for his wife and he can use this as evidence. However, this idea turned out to be futile too. Officials denied the pension on some other ground.
- Following these unusual events, Lal Bihari’s plight got some attention, and an assembly member raised the matter of him being declared dead. After this, he managed to secure a visitor’s pass inside the assembly and drew attention towards himself by shouting “Mujhe Zinda Karo” slogan in the assembly. He was later escorted outside by the security.
- He contested the Lok Sabha elections against the former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh (in 1988) and Rajiv Gandhi (in 1989). In fact, the first time he managed to secure a total of 1,600 votes. This garnered media attention and he got interviewed.
- He founded the Mritak Sangh or the Association of dead people, to help people who were declared dead on paper despite being alive.
Important laws cited in the case:
1. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
2. The Indian Penal Code, 1860
3. Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949
4. Section 36 in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
5. Section 14 in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
Judgment of the Case
After 18 years of trying to regain his identity back, Lal Bihari was finally declared alive in the year 1994. The High Court of Allahabad extended the opportunity for people who have been declared dead to re-establish their identity as living beings.
Owing to the gravity of the situation, the case was transferred to the National Human Rights Commission with the required documents and details of the ongoing legal proceedings.
It was declared that those cases which had been processed and filed in front of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, as well as those cases which were yet to be filed, may continue to be filed.
As bizarre as this case was, thousands of people throughout the country have been declared dead despite being well and alive. According to an RTI petition filed by Bihari in 2008, about 335 previously dead people were reinstated as living individuals in the state of U.P.
People in such cases are often targeted by their own family members, for the sake of property. More often than not, the victims or petitioners in these cases are vulnerable people like old, sick, and widows. With rampant poverty and limited resources, this is a survival tactic used by some people – declaring someone dead so that they can live off their property.
The case of Lal Bihari puts into question the credibility of the official documents issued by government agents. The Allahabad High Court noted that what conspired was not a lone incident but an organized crime committed against the poor and helpless agriculturalists. Here, small farmers are declared dead by powerful land mafias who then grab their lands.
Further, the court noted that to ensure fairness it was necessary that the case be referred to the National Human Rights Commission under the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1994. Moreover, the ambit of Right to Life under Article 21 was also touched upon. Since, under the constitution every citizen has a right to life which nobody can take over or steal until natural death of the person.
After a prolonged legal battle, Lal Bihari reclaimed his identity and was declared alive. Now, through his organization – Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People (Mritak Sangh), he fights for rights of individuals who have been wrongfully declared dead. As an activist for such people, Bihari seeks justice and relief for the living dead. He popularly goes by the name Lal Bihari Mritak, a poignant reminder of his battle with the bureaucracy.
This case draws our attention to two key areas, public identity, and corruption. It compels us to imagine the plight of several officially dead individuals who lose all the rights of a living person. For a few bucks, the identity of a living, breathing man can be wiped off. This case brought national and international attention to the issue of the “official death” of living people in the country. Though we have come a long way from 1994, corruption still poses a barrier to the full enjoyment of the rights for all the citizens.
1. Lex Fort, The Curious Case of Living Dead, https://lexforti.com/legal-news/the-curious-case-of-living-dead/
2. Legal Desire, Curious Case of Lal Bihari, https://legaldesire.com/read-curious-case-of-lal-bihari-who-fought-for-proving-himself-alive/
3. Mythical India, Case of Lal Bihari, https://mythicalindia.com/features-page/the-curios-case-of-lal-bihari-who-rose-from-the-dead/
4. Samplius, Identiy Case, https://samplius.com/free-essay-examples/identity-case-of-lal-bihari/
5. Indian Kanoon, Association Of Dead People, … vs State Of U.P. And Others on 7 January, 2000, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/219835/
6. Time Magazine, Plight of The Living Dead by Michael Fathers, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2054133,00.html
7. Motherland Magazine, Officially Dead, https://www.motherlandmagazine.com/ghost-stories/officially-dead/
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