Akrati Bhatia New Delhi 07 Apr 2018
Recently, I began visiting Jantar Mantar, a protest site, and documented the space through photography – meeting many protesters each day. One day, I slowed down as I saw a poster that read – “Main Zinda Hoon” (I am Alive) – which triggered my curiosity.
I encountered a man who was declared dead around 10 years ago. Or that, at least, is how Santosh Murat Singh, a 35-year-old man from Varanasi, is registered in government records.
He is protesting against his current status for the last four years now.
Santosh faced social boycott a decade ago for marrying a girl from a Dalit family. He shifted to Mumbai in the year 2000, after a chance meeting with Bollywood actor Nana Patekar who’d come to his village Chitauni in Varanasi for a film shoot.
The actor had decided to take Santosh along with him as his cook.
When Santosh went back to his village after a while to visit his friends and family with the girl he’d married, his relatives boycotted him and claimed his ancestral land with the help of the revenue department, thus declaring him dead.
Unfortunately, Santosh is one among 5,000 people in India who have been wrongfully declared dead. Many of these cases involve family disputes over land – which often means that someone is declared dead by family members, who then inherit the land of the (presumed) deceased.
In order to regain an officially recognised identity and to seek relief from their despair, some of the ‘undead’ took it upon themselves to form an association called the ‘Mritag Sang’ or ‘The Association of the Dead’ in Uttar Pradesh.
After years of being unheard, Santosh decided to file his nomination in 2012 for the President of India, in order to reinforce his presence.
“Despite years of struggle, I have failed to get my rights. But I will continue to fight till I get justice,” said Santosh Singh.
This photo essay is about the struggle of a living person officially declared dead, and his quest to prove his presence.
(Akrati Bhatia is a freelance journalist and a documentary filmmaker based in New Delhi. She is currently in the final year of her Masters in Convergent Journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia, AJK MCRC, New Delhi. ( The Quint )