Dirty laundry of Dhobi Ghat

Beneath Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi bridge, and spreading far and wide beyond it, lies the world’s largest human-powered laundry. Known as Dhobi Ghat, it is the workplace of approximately 5000 people, from many different parts of India.

Many of the city’s hotels, restaurants and businesses make use of the laundry, a place where an average of 1 million items a day are physically beaten clean.

Those who work here are impoverished, joining many others who migrate to the city filled with dreams of wealth and a better life for their families. The reality, though, is very different.

Washermen will likely be so all their lives, and it is a profession that is passed down through generations. Children as young as 10 start by folding cleaned items, graduating to washers (dhobis) in their teens. They will live and die inside Dhobi Ghat’s harsh conditions. It is physically demanding work, and there is little or no relief. Home is likely the nearest slum, where as many as 15 or 20 people may live in a space that is suitable barely for one.

It is not only men who work here. Women are tasked with ironing, for the most part using equipment that is heated by burning hot coals rather than more modern day electricity. They also hang the clean items on the twisted rope lines that are strung across every available space. While there is some electrical machinery, the bulk of the work is undertaken via the old methods that were employed in 1890, when this beast of a workplace was inaugurated.