Declared Dead While Alive: A Chaiwala's 16-Year-Old Struggle For Justice

The story of a man who's trying to prove that he's not dead.

In 2003, Santosh Kumar Singh from Chhitauni village in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi district was declared dead by the authorities. His name was removed from the family register, state revenue department and voter id card. But the truth is that he never died. For the past 16 years, he’s been trying to prove that he’s alive.

Santosh, who calls himself ‘Dead Man Alive’, lives in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar road, the iconic site of protests in the national capital. He sleeps on a makeshift bed which he says is his ‘deathbed’. The 39-year-old has been on an indefinite protest for the past seven years.

“In 2003, my uncles and cousins signed an affidavit and declared that I died in Mumbai train bomb blasts. They organised my funeral and illegally took over 12.5-acre land which was in my name. Since then, I have been appealing to the govt that I am alive but all my pleas fell on deaf ears,” he says.

. “I am not begging. I am fighting for my rights,” he adds.

Santosh, an upper caste Rajput was born into a wealthy family of six. After his parents’ death, he left his village in 2000 and moved to Mumbai. He claims that he worked as a cook at a famous Bollywood actor’s house. He lived in Mumbai for two years where he married a woman who belonged to the Dalit community.

But he never realised that his inter-caste marriage would be the beginning of all his problems. When he went back to his village, he was condemned for marrying a lower caste woman.  “I was told that I had been ostracised from the community. Things eventually got violent and I decided to leave my village for my own safety,” he says.

A few months later, he got a call from villagers who ‘informed him about his death’. They told him that they had attended his funeral ceremony. He returned to the village and decided to directly approach the authorities since he was scared to confront his relatives. But he alleges that neither police nor the district administration came to his help.

“When I approached the District Magistrate for help, I told him that I have no other option except ending my own life. However, instead of offering any help, I was asked how can I die since I am already dead. He taunted me by asking how I plan to end my life,” he says.

Since then he has been running from pillar to post to prove that he’s alive. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi, union ministers to successive chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Santosh has written to every authority. He also maintains that he has documentary evidence to support his claim. “They (relatives) removed my name from the family register, state revenue department and voter id card. But I have a ration card as well as a bank account in my name,” he says.

Not just documentary evidence, he also tried other means to prove he’s not dead. From contesting assembly elections to getting an FIR registered under his name, he did whatever he could do in his capacity. However, nothing worked in his favour.

For a living man who has been declared dead, it has been a lone battle. His wife deserted him a few years ago. Survival has been extremely difficult but he is thankful of the nearby Bangla Sahib Gurudwara which serves free food to all the visitors. Often citizens help him with cash and kind. He recently started working in a tea stall. “I earn Rs 300 per day,” he says.

But he is determined to continue his fight till he’s proven right. “There are other 50,000 such people in Uttar Pradesh alone who have been declared dead. I will continue to fight until I get justice, not just for me but for everyone who has met this fate,” he says.