Dead Man Walking

Lal Bihari was born in the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh in 1955. He was pronounced dead sometime in 1975, perhaps even before his 20th birthday. The circumstances of his demise, though, were anything but typical. First, his uncle was responsible for Bihari’s death. Second, there was no body. Third, no one seemed to know why Bihari died at such a young age. And really, no one seemed to care, either.

Except for Bihari himself, especially because he was very much alive.

One day in 1975, Bihari went into a bank to obtain a loan and was informed that he needed proof of identity. No big deal — and nothing out of the ordinary, either. The problem? When Bihari went to the local seat of government to get the paperwork saying he was who he claimed to be, they denied his request. He couldn’t be Lal Bihari because Lal Bihari was dead, even though he was standing right there, not dead. And therefore, he couldn’t get ID nor a loan.

He shortly thereafter pieced together the story of his unlikely and fictional demise. According to the New York Times, his uncle was the person who “killed” him. For a bribe of $25 — the Times calls that “not an inconsiderate sum” and notes that a hitman would have run the uncle only about half that — Bihari’s uncle convinced the relevant bureaucrat to list Bihari as dead. The reason for the fraud? Bihari was owner of a small piece of property, an ancestral plot less than one acre in area. Upon his death, unless Bihari had a family of his own, the parcel of land would pass on to the uncle, as next of kin. So the uncle administratively “killed” him. And as Bihari hadn’t lived there in years, he had no idea that this had happened until he tried to take out that loan.

As bad as being dead was, it was also surprisingly a long-term affliction — coming back from the officially-dead turned out to be difficult. TIME reported that, to demonstrate that he was alive, Bihari “sought arrest, tried to run for parliament, kidnapped the son of the uncle who had stolen his property, threatened murder, insulted judges, threw leaflets listing his complaints at legislators in the state assembly and demanded a widow’s pension for his wife.” But not one of the above worked — at best, he was ignored, at worst, assaulted by officials (it’s probably not a good idea to insult a judge or throw things at legislators).

Things began to change after he discovered that he was not alone among the living dead. No, this isn’t a zombie story. Apparently, there were many others in Uttar Pradesh who were similarly dead-but-not-dead living in the area. Bihari formed the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People which, in recent years, rose to over 20,000 members. Collectively, they’ve been pressuring local governments to fix these problems, and to date, four members of the association have been declared not dead. One of those four was Bihari himself, who was reinstated as living in 1994. Whether he regained his property, though, or ever got that bank loan, has gone unreported. But as of this writing, at least he’s alive — officially and biologically speaking.


Bonus Fact: Uttar Pradesh has a land area of about 94,000 square miles (about 240,000 km^2), which, if it were a U.S. state, would place it just out of the top ten. (Oregon, the tenth-largest state by land area, is about 96,000 square miles.) But it has a lot more people than any U.S. state. Nearly 200 million people live in Uttar Pradesh, which is more than the top 13 U.S. states combined — and roughly 50 times as many people as similarly-sized Oregon.

From the ArchivesGet Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse: The U.S. government recommends it.

Related: A book of death certificates of the rich and famous. Not only has at least one person bought this (why?) but it has a review — of five stars!