Washermen in Chennai bear the brunt of water scarcity

When the entire city is reeling under a severe water crisis, how are those who are entirely dependant on water for their businesses, managing? News Today makes a visit to the 116-year-old Chetpet Dhobi khana, to find out.

According to 35-year-old Ramachandran, a fourth generation dhobi, the area receives water for less than two hours a day. “We fill the water in large cylindrical drums and use it throughout the day,” he rues.

It may be noted that over 100 families have been residing here, earning their living by washing and ironing clothes, for centuries together.

“We go about our work with 128 washing stones and three ironing sheds, that are here since 1902,” says A Vishnu, president of the Washermen Union. The current scarcity has hit their business hard, it is learnt. “Till November last year, we were getting ten drums of water. But now, it is difficult to get even five. As a result of this, our washing load too has decreased to 20,000 clothes a day, as compared to the one lakh, that we used to get earlier,” he says.

Chandra, another member of the community, feels that there are other problems too, apart from the unavailability of water. “The clients of our forefathers were Britishers and after that, we used to survive with the work given by bungalows and independent houses, that were in huge numbers earlier. Now, with flats everywhere, almost all residents have their own washing machines. People nowadays give clothes only for ironing. At present, we totally depend on orders from hotels, hospitals and salons,” she says.

“The cost of detergents too has steadily increased, resulting in many dhobis taking up other petty jobs,” she adds.
Summing up how their lives have changed, Ramachandran states, “There was a time when we used to be busy throughout the day. Now, we have work just for two hours- from 4 to 6 in the morning.”