Competition and chemicals send city's dhobis into oblivion

Competition and chemicals send citys dhobis into oblivion

By Rashmi Patil
Bengaluru: Modern technology has ended many a profession. And the city's dhobis are also fading away quietly due to the twin onslaught of the dry cleaning industry and health issues.
Bengaluru has 24 dhobi ghats, which are over hundred years old and are of a cultural importance employing around 5000 dhobis. But dhobis are in dire straits due to the arrival of dry cleaners and the overuse of chemicals.

"Dry cleaners charge Rs7 per cloth while we charge Rs10," says Mohan, a dhobi at the Murphy town dhobi ghat. "Most people go to dry cleaners. But there is lot of difference between machine washing and manual washing. The dry cleaners are new to the business and they do not know the fiber. Hence they mix every kind of cloth and dump it for washing in the machines. But we know how to clean different fabrics."

But that is no solace since business is sinking. Srinivas, a dhobi at the Millers Road dhobi ghat, says business has gone down after the arrival of dry cleaners.
"After dry cleaners came into the washing business, our business has gone down completely. It is the matter of our survival too as we need to pay the electricity bill, soaps, detergents and other chemicals that we use," he says.

Y S Shankar, a dhobi at Rajajinagar Dhobi ghat, says earlier they used to do business of Rs20,000 per month. "Now, we earn just Rs7,000 per month," he says. Shankar says the BJP government installed machines for cleaning clothes at the Rajajinagar and Malleswaram dhobi ghat. But Shankar says they can't use the machine at Malleshwaram since it emitted lot of smoke and a hospital is located nearby.

Health problems

Dhobis are also prone to skin allergies due to use of hard chemicals. "There is no other option for us. If we want to have good results, then we have to use bleaching powder and washing soda to clean clothes," says Chandramurthy. Sometimes, they also use an even stronger chemical known as Tenopal to wash clothes.

Radhamma, a dhobi at Murphy town, who has been washing clothes for the past 30 years, says slowly the capacity to wash clothes comes down. "When we approach doctors for skin allergies, they tell us to wear gloves but we are not used to wearing it and it gives a kind of uncomfortable feeling," she laments.