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LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - A villager is campaigning in northern India for the rights of people declared legally dead by cheating relatives seeking to steal their assets.
Lal Bihari, a lower caste villager who lost his father's inheritance due to an unscrupulous uncle, formed the "Union of the Dead" in 1980 to fight for the rights of thousands he says have fallen victim to scams by relatives.
He is contesting as an independent in a month-long election in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, which ends on Tuesday.
In 1976, an uncle allegedly connived with corrupt local officials to fudge village records and declare Bihari dead. The uncle then won the inheritance of Bihari's father.
"It was only as late as in 1994 that I succeeded in proving myself alive," Bihari, 52, said.
Like many poor in India, it was very hard for him to get a court ruling to reverse the decision, due to corruption and a backlog of millions of cases in the judiciary.
"Nearly 3,000 others are fighting their independent battles in other parts of U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) to prove that they are alive," Bihari said.
Senior state government official V.K. Sharma said as per records, there are 313 cases of persons who have been wrongly declared as dead even though they are alive.
"Another round of probe is currently underway and we suspect many more such cases could be unearthed," he said.
In 1980, Bihari added 'Mritak', or "dead," to his name.
He even got his wife to apply, unsuccessfully, for a widow's pension.
He once staged the kidnapping of a cousin so that a criminal case could be brought against him -- and therefore prove legally he was alive.
"But even that did not happen as my relatives understood my intention behind the desperate move and knew that there was no danger to the cousin's life," he added.
Bihari has contested other elections, including one parliamentary election in 1989 against then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
"Even my physical presence in the electoral fray did not help me to prove that I was alive," he lamented.
Victory came years later in 1994, when a local revenue official restored his status as "alive" in the same land records where he had been shown as "dead."