Since last 50 years, the dhobighat in South Mumbai at Mahalaxmi Bridge, stinking with garbage, but appro. 1000 foreigners still visit the world's largest washerman colony. On Google search engine, if you type dhobighat and click on it, you get list of visitors who visited the dhobighat and their experiences about the largest washerman colony in the world. On this topic about dhobighat, filmstar  Aamir Khan’s wife, Kiran Rao, is making the film  and  another  film Sunjay Dutt  starrer  Munnabhai-3,has also  description about this place.

Everyday around lakhs of clothes are being washed here. Inspite of that, you can see the visitors standing on Mahalakshmi bridge and capturing images of this place.

 
     
 
 
     
 
So what’s the new about the largest washerman colony in the world (mahalaxmi dhobighat)?

In mid 19th century, there was growth in industry and population, in which there were more number of English and Parsi people. In 1890-95, near to Mahalakshmi station, a dhobighat was built to wash clothes of these people. Along with washing the clothes, a huge separate place was allotted to dry the clothes. Today, dhobighat has more than 731 stones, used for washing clothes. Dhobi’s soaked the clothes at night in detergent water and wash clothes in morning on this stone.  Around 110 years ago, in the era of British, these stones were used to save the water and as a gutter to outflow the waste water. The second and third generations of dhobis from dhobi caste have had tremendous growth.

So how is the past and the present of the world's largest washerman colony in the world (mahalaxmi dhobighat)?


Mohammed Ibrahim alias Babubhai, a worker has worked in this place for last 80 years says “In 1930, my grandfather migrated from Uttar Pradesh. There are 14 doors around this dhobighat. Today, the conditions of these doors are in bad condition but around 50-100 years ago, these doors were in good condition. Around 4:30 or 5:00 AM in morning, the watchmen use to ring the bell and workers use to get entry in dhobighat. At 5 PM in evening, except gate 3, all the doors were closed. At 10 PM, gate 3 used to get closed.  Nobody was given permission to stay in dhobighat.”

Recollecting old memories, an excited Babubhai says“To avoid the damage to the stones or pipelines, the dhobis used to avoid using steel or iron tubs, therefore everyone used to take the help of leather tub. Not only that, any kind of construction was avoided to be done inside the dhobighat. To conserve water, peeps made of ply were used and if necessary, it can be shifted to another place. In monsoon, to built sheds, a written application was to be given to BMC and after the completion of monsoon, if dhobis did not break the shed, then the BMC had to take the responsibility to break it.  In short, the law was treated equally. At that time all the activities in the dhobighat were managed by Dhobi Commitee . This commitee was being run by Mr. Pritam Kanojia, Ram Manohar Kanojia, Amarnath Rajak, Bajranga, Ganagram, Balraj, Munnilal etc who earned their livelihood from this dhobighat.

 
     
 
 
     
 
What’s the condition today?

If you visit dhobighat today, you can see wastes compiled everywhere, broken condition of guttar. Most of the people have been staying in this place for several years. Everyday lacs of clothes are being washed, thousands of people come and go, and wastes thrown by the localite remains there. Inspite of that, foreign tourist visit this place using handkerchief to avoid the smell.

The main door of the world's largest washerman colony has banner of “Dhobi Kalyan and Audyogik Vikas Co-operative society”. The chairman of this society , Mr Santosh Kanojia, is young and dynamic says ” Everything will be changed in Mumbai, and also dhobi’s world”. We are fighting for our identity, livelihood and towards the betterment of the dhobi ghat.

Today also, the clothes are washed in traditional style. Today, on one stone, one family relies financially. Accordingly, on 731 stones, 4 to 5 thousand people rely on it. Apart from it, drying, ironing, and delivery of clothes, another 3 to 4thousand people are associated with it. On dhobighat, you can see graduate and double graduate people are working on it. From these educated people, you can get knowledge about their history, world of soaps and detergents, you will be surprised.

We interacted with  localite of Uttar Pradesh, Rammanohar Kanojiya. While washing clothes, Mr.Kanojiya says “My great grandfather used to wash clothes. The 4th generation luck has brought me here”.

 
     
 

Mr. Rammanohar Kanojia
20 years ago, Mr Rammanohar was committee member of this society, says” We used to wash clothes with our hand and foreigners use to visit our place. This system is not there anywhere, where lacs of people wash clothes and soak it. He further adds ” Today because of  Hydro-machines, clothes get soaked in 45 to 50 minutes and cotton clothes gets soaked in hour. “
 
     
 


Mr. Manubhai Rajput
We further interacted with Mr Manubhai  Rajput. He adds “we are originally from Surat. My grandfather had worked on this stone for several years, also our workers work there.   But now my sons are in business and well educated. We are not interested in dhobighat. Today, people have washing machines”.
 
     
 

Once there was monopoly of UP people in this business. Today, there are UP, Gujarati, Telgu, Marathi, Biharis and people from different states are working here.

 A 48 year old Mr.Mannulal Kanojiya says “I was born here, but my father had done one good thing. He made us study in English school. When we were young, we washed the clothes, and did the delivery on bullock carts. After our graduation, this business had tremendous growth. Today, Tempo has been replaced by bullock carts. The educated people feel shy to run bullock cart.”

Recollecting old memories, Mannulal says” 30-40 years ago there was huge ground here. There was greenery all around.  Dhobis after washing clothes, use to soak clothes on grass. The dampness of land and air made to dry clothes in an hour.”   

To prepare food, design clothes, is an art, similarly washing, soaking, drying, is also an art.

Today lots of illegal tents are built in this place, where clothes are dried. Instead of grass, bamboos are used to dry the clothes. 2 bamboos in opposite direction and ropes are tied between these bamboos and clothes are dried on the ropes. On each rope, 100 to 150 clothes are being dried.

In the year 1993 on 19th August an agreement was made between BMC and Mumbai Prant Dhobi Maha Mandal to handover the dhobighat and the drying ground to the Maha Mandal and they will come with Proposed Society which is registered. BMC agreed to give the whole land on which dhobi ghat was made along with the hutments, drying ground and compound to the Society formed by the dhobi ghat. But still the BMC not cleared the agreemnt inspite of giving all the promises in written. A case for the same is still going on in the Mumbai High Court.

Another dhobi says that ,“ We have washed sarees  of Rs 50000 and also imported sarees of Rs .80-100, coming from the container and sold to the market. The clients come to us to wash these sarees. Washing, Soaking, ironing and doing up to date packing, these go for sell in the market. These sarees are washed separately. Many sales people spread rumor that, their factory has been closed and sell lacs of sarees costing mere20 to 25 Rs. Such secondhand sarees are washed in dhobighat and are sold in market. Not only that, imported products from china like Jacket, sweaters, first go through Dhobighat, and then they are made into a new product to be sold in the market.

 
     
 

In biggest dhobighat in mumbai, if any family has achieved success, then they are Chunnilal Kanojiya’s family, his sons are Pritambhai and Ramnikbhai. Mr Ramanbhai Kanojiya’s son,Prashant and his wife are doctors. Aboveall 3 daughters are engineer. Pritamlal is the eldest of the 6 sons of Chunnilal Kanojiya.

 
     
 
America’s former Prime Minister, Mr. Bill Clinton after retirement from presidency, specially visited Mumbai to see the dhobighat. Australian Cricket team has also visited this place. Famous Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachhan had also shooted at the world's largest washerman colony at Mahalakshmi in mumbai for the famous song of movie Don.

Currently, there is dispute between dhobighat society and BMC over 23 acre land.   Currently, the matter is in court. The government office in dhobighat is in bad condition. In short, hardly 1 minute from Mahalakshmi station and racecourse, the value of dhobighat land is in billion rupees. Therefore, politicians, and related person are playing bad politics to own this land. As a result, foreign tourists, and heritage people have to suffer a lot.
 
     
 

"Now we have to see, when will the dirtyness i.e. the bad politics, under development of dhobighat will go and how?" 

Mr. Santosh Kanojia (Chairman)
Dhobi Kalyan & Audyogik Vikas Co. op. Society. Ltd. (Regd.)


Chairman Mr. Santosh Kanojia