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