A unique feature of Mumbai, the dhobi is a traditional laundryman, who collects your dirty linen, wash it, and return it neatly pressed to your doorstep. All for a pittance, the "laundries" are called "ghats": row upon row of concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone. The clothes are soaked in sudsy water, thrashed on the flogging stones, then tossed into huge vats of boiling starch and hung out to dry. Next they are ironed and piled into neat bundles. The most famous of these Dhobi Ghats Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat, the world's largest washerman colony is at Saat Rasta near Mahalaxmi Station where almost 731 dhobis and their families work together in what has always been a hereditary occupation. This area is strangely popular with foreign tourists looking for a piece of quintessential Indianness. Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat was made in the year 1890 and since then it has been here to stay. Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat is one of the biggest dhobi ghat in Mumbai and one of the favorite tourist spots in Mumbai.
 
     
 
The washerman colony of Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat has been serving the local citizens for more than a century. The BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation) still authoritatively owns this dhobighat and extracts money from poor dhobis in the name of stone rent and maintenance charges. In the name of maintenance, the corporation hardly provides any utilities to the washerman community. The atrocities of BMC officers is so harsh that delayed payment by a washerman who has been holding the stone for more than five decades will have to vacate his work area in a short notice period. This gives an opportunity to the officers to extract money from dhobis and leads to corruption in the area. Most of this area can be found stinking with garbage and large area of dhobighat having been captured by outsiders by paying bribe to BMC offices and suppressing the rights of poor washerman. Dhobis have long history of fighting against these atrocities and more recently trying to save themselves from the eyes of powerful builders to get the land captured through by unauthorized means.
 
       
 

Late, Shri Umashankar R. Mishra, the founder and former chairman of Mumbai’s Dhobi Mahamandal and Dhobi Kalyan and Audyogik Vikas Co-op Society Ltd had led the struggle of washerman for more than 3 decades shaping it in the form of an organized movement. He had been fighting for the noble cause so as to get economic freedom for the dhobis who have been suppressed and exploited by the ignorant authorities for ages. Shri Umashankar Mishra, addressed by dhobis as “Babujee” with love and respect, was also a freedom fighter during Indian struggle to get rid of British Empire. He was a veteran congressman, who always relied on his self confidence and fearlessness to fight for the righteousness and natural justice and was never shaken due to long intentional delays by BMC officers in listening to dhobis. Shri Umashankar Mishra, being a firm believer in non-violence always adopted gandhian ideas and methods to solve issues relating to washermen.

The washerman of Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat came in contact with Shri Mishra in 1960 when he shifted his nucleus of social activities at Jacob Circle Saatraasta, Mumbai-11. Since then, dhobis found a leader and a guardian who could listen to their problems and who took initiative to fight for them. Initially, dhobis were united with Shri Mishra by being member of his union as Shri Mishra was a registered trade union activitist those days . But during that time, there was no much unity among dhobis, due to which they were far behind from getting their rights as citizens of a Mumbai and provider of essential service to the society. After some time, dhobi's with an intention of welfare of dhobi ghat, formed the union under the leadership of shri Mishra to help themselves come out of poor condition. The main workers of Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat who worked with their beloved leader “Babujee” were , Late Mr Manilal Kanojia, Late Mr Amarnath Rajak, Mr. Manulal Kanojia, Mr. Gangaram Boda, Mr Chhotelal S Kanojiya, Mr. T Adigiri, Mr. Posshtra Sheth, Mr Baban Kanojia, Pritam bhai, Mr. Rammanohar Kanojia. The enthusiastic team of dhobis voiced their rights through hunger strike, Morcha,etc not only to government of Maharashtra, but also to Mrs Indira Gandhi, Former Prime Minsiter of India and brought Mrs Indira Gandhi to dhobi ghat in 1978. She was made aware with the problems faced by the dhobi people and during that time Mrs Indira Gandhi appreciated their work and called them “hard working “people. The proof of all theses historical events can be found in the office of Shri Umashankar R Mishra. Today, in current scenario, these workers and their sons are helping their society by every means for the welfare of their society. The dhobis who have came from different states with their families are staying here, are the members of the society, as well as share holders.


Late, Shri Umashankar R. Mishra,
the founder and former chairman of
Mumbai’s Dhobi Mahamandal and
Dhobi Kalyan and Audyogik Vikas
Co-op Society Ltd

 
     
 
On 5th Dec 2007, Shri Umashankar. R. Mishra, left for his heavenly abode because of sudden heart attack, which gave a big shock to the society. Mr. Surendra Umashankar Mishra, son of late Mr Umashankar Mishra picked up the gauntlet and was a source of relief for the poor dhobis. He has been giving advice and support to washerman to maintain their courage and patience. After some time, this society got a very young, well educated, energetic, hard working and emerging social worker , Mr Santosh Gaurishankar Kanojia as their chaiman of society and leader. Mr Santosh, quickly won the hearts of dhobis with his dedication towards the right cause and consistent social service for his fellowmen. He is not only accepted by everyone in washerman fraternity but also is a future face of the community. Presently, he carries out all the activities of the society as the constitution of the same and major decisions are taken under the guidance of Mr. Surendra Umashankar Mishra, who has given new direction to their society.
 
     
 
In a very less time, present chairman, Mr. Santosh Gaurishankar Kanojia, has understood the basic principles of their society and helped his fellowmen in all emotional and economical matters along with his senior workers, awakening their people to achieve their basic rights. Getting this young generation into the main stream of washerman’s struggle was dream of Shri Umashankar Mishra. Seeing the enthusiasm of young leaders, washerman have decided to fight for their rights. The whole dhobi community is excited and there is happiness among dhobi people as they see rays of hope in near future.