In a remote north Indian village, Ashu Malik’s name and phone number are written in big red letters on a small shed along a serene canal.
For a quarter-century, it has been his job to recover bodies that have fallen into the canal.
When someone in a nearby district goes missing, Malik often hears a knock at the door. Police officers, investigative agencies and families have all sought the 38-year-old’s help in dealing with accidents or suicides.
Built more than 60 years ago, the Bhakra Main Line canal, which runs through four states in northern India, is a tranquil sight that is often tainted by the odor of dead bodies. The canal’s sluice gate, where the water branches...