Pressing problems for dhobis in Chandigarh as fear of Covid-19 keeps customers away
1,500 dhobis who iron clothes and 200 families associated with eight private dhobi ghats in Chandigarh are not getting any work even after lifting of curfewUpdated: May 10, 2020 01:25 IST
Ramu Kanojia was eagerly waiting for the curfew to be lifted, confident that once he opened his little ironing stall by the roadside at Sector 27, the customers he had been serving for two decades would return, helping him replenish his earnings. The complete lockdown following the Covid-19 outbreak from March 23 to May 3 had exhausted his savings and compelled him to seek free ration.
Kanojia’s calculations were wrong, with May 4 and 5 bringing no work. When he contacted his regulars they refused to hand over clothes for ironing, advising him to come back after the situation normalised.
“People are wary of giving their clothes to dhobis for ironing, but it’s our only source of livelihood. I have no money left and without work I will be forced to depend on the mercy of others for a living,” says Ramu, 50, from Gonda in Uttar Pradesh, who settled in the city four decades back. “I charge around Rs 4 per garment and before the lockdown I was earning Rs 600 to Rs700 a day, after deducting the cost of coal. Because of this I can afford to educate my children. My elder son, who is in the final year of graduation, is also into theatre. But now things are going from bad to worse and I don’t know what the future holds for us,” adds Ramu, who lives in Sector 56.
Not welcome in societies
The scenario is bleak. “Since the curfew was lifted four days ago, I was expecting some work, but no one wants their clothes ironed. I live in Jagatpura and have been working in Sector 48 for the last one decade, but people there are wary of letting me into the society,” says Arvind Kumar, 31, who moved to the city from Bahraich village in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh).
“There are over 1,500 dhobis in Chandigarh and a majority of them are registered with the municipal corporation (MC), which means they have to pay a monthly fee of Rs 575 to Rs 1,575 depending on the sector where they work. We don’t know what new guidelines the administrations will come out with, or if the MC rental will be waived,” says Raghav Ram, 60, president of the Hindi Pressman Dhobi Parishad, the umbrella body of Chandigarh’s dhobis.
No laundry from hotels, clubs
There are eight private dhobi ghats registered with the MC in the city, on which over 200 families are dependent. “Around 80% of the work in the ghats was coming from the hospitality industry — hotel linen, clubs, salons, tent houses — and walk-in customers. Now with the hospitality industry yet to open up and no one giving us clothes to launder all the dhobi ghats are without work,” says Ajay Kanojia, who is associated with the Sector 19 ghat and is the president of the Chandigarh Dhobi Maha Sabha.
In 2008, MC upgraded the Sector 15 dhobi ghat under a pilot project, renaming it Modern Dhobi Ghat and charging a monthly rent for it. The 16 families who are members of the cooperative society of the ghat are now finding it difficult to pay the rent of Rs 13,800, including taxes. “Two days ago we got a call from MC office to deposit the rent pending for March and April by May 10. Were we doing regular business, paying the money would not have been a problem. But now things are bad. Yesterday we got only 13 clothing items to launder and today just one blanket was delivered,” says Vikas Deep, who works at the ghat.