Jagdish’s routine is fishing out bodies while his wife keeps vigil on Gandhisagar Lake

Five years ago, when Sachin Meshram (50) decided to commit suicide, he chose the Gandhisagar Lake — also known as Suicide Lake — in Central Nagpur.

He left a curious note. “Dear Jagdish Khare, thanks for fishing out my body. Please hand it over to my younger son and tell him to perform my last rites,” it said. Jagdish was neither a member of his family nor friend. But Meshram knew he would retrieve his body. And he was right.

This was just one of the 1,300 bodies that Jagdish has recovered from the lake in the last 19 years, police say. Every year, the lake witnesses at least a hundred attempted suicides. “Whenever we get news of a suicide, our first call goes to Jagdish Khare,” the police say.

Jagdish has also rescued 400 people who tried to kill themselves in the lake. His wife helps him — sitting near the temple door and keeping a vigil on the lake all day. Police stations across the city now ask him to help retrieve bodies in lakes. “When there is none to claim the body or lodge a complaint about the incident, we ask them [the Khares] to be the complainants for the legal formalities,” says Rahul Tarase, sub-inspector at the Ganeshpeth station.

Limca record

The Limca Book of Records has recently recognised Jagdish’s work. But all that the couple get for this noble job is the goodwill of the bereaved families. In 2010, the Nagpur municipality started paying Jagdish Rs. 4,000 a month after appointing him as a diver. But two years later his contract was not renewed. “I don’t want any money for this work. I will do it until my body allows me,” says Jagdish. The couple earn Rs. 5,200 per month. Jagdish is a sanitary worker at the Gandhisagar Lake, while Jayashri cleans the police station. Both are from the Scheduled Caste Maitar community.

Haunted by problems

The couple have had to pay a price for their work. “We find it difficult to rent homes. People believe spirits follow us because I fish out bodies. When the municipality stopped paying me, many advised me to stop this work but it gives me immense satisfaction,” says Jagdish.

The police, who deal with bodies, appreciate Jagdish’s work. “The fire brigade is rough when fishing out bodies. But this man retrieves even decomposed bodies very carefully,” says inspector P.Y. Meshram. “Sometimes even relatives refuse to touch the bodies, but this man does. The water in the Gandhisagar Lake is itchy but Jagdish doesn’t mind,” says sub-inspector Rajesh Patil.

“The people who made things difficult for us want to know us after the Limca Book recognition. It feels good when you are recognised for the work you do. But that is nothing compared to the satisfaction I get after saving a life on Gandhisagar,” says Jagdish.