Delhi: In the outskirts of Connaught Place, just a few steps ahead of Agrasen Ki Baoli (near Kasturba Gandhi Marg) lies an extensive Dhobi Ghat. While in the middle of several high commercial buildings and adjacent to a historical monument may be an unusual setting for a dhobi ghat, it's been there for almost 55 years now.
These washermen, before late 1960s, had their abode in the slums near Birla Mandir, Gole Market. However, after those slums were demolished by the government, these washermen moved to their present location, where they were also given homes. As of today, there are total 64 houses, out of which, 60 are given to the families of the washermen and the rest four have been allotted to government officials.
The washermen of this dhobi ghat are carrying on the legacy of their forefathers. They do not have any fixed working hours, while some work till late at night, others prefer to work in the early morning. They bring clothes from pan Delhi, including areas such as Panchsheel Park and Greater Kailash. They bring and deliver the laundry on their cycles and motorcycles.
However, a conversation with these washermen is enough to understand their plight. The Covid pandemic has hit the community very badly. While these washermen have carried on the legacy of their families, they wish to break the chain for their children. Kiran Devi (85), who herself was a dhobi and now helps her son in the business, says, "Today, a dhobi is very helpless. Washing clothes is all we know, but after lockdown, people preferred to do their laundry themselves. this has hurt us badly. I am uneducated, so I am helpless. But I encouraged all my children and grandchildren to go to school. In this time, one cannot sustain by just washing clothes", says Kiran.
According to other workers on the site, the pandemic-induced lockdown had severely hampered their work, forcing the dhobis under severe debts and leaving them with no savings. Some of the washermen continue to wash clothes because they have to continue the profession of their forefathers, and some because even after getting an education, they cannot find a stable job. Poverty and unemployment are the two biggest problems faced by them.
To overcome these problems, the whole community of dhobis has encouraged their children to go to school and receive a proper education. With proper education, these children can get a good job in the future and help in the upliftment of their families. Not only do these children go to school, but they also help their families by washing clothes. "Our young children are working twice as hard as us. They are studying while also helping us with our chores," Kiran adds.