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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Hindi, Rajasthani, Haryanvi, Tamil, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi
Hinduism, Christianity, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Muslim Dhobis, Rajakas, Dalits

Dhobi (English:"washerman") is a caste group primarily belonging to India and Pakistan, whose traditional occupation was washing clothes.[2] The word Dhobi is derived from the Hindi word dhona, which means to wash. They are found throughout North India, Gujarat, Maharashtra as well as the Punjab province of Pakistan, where they are known as Gazar.[citation needed]

Dhobis in various regions are likely to be of many different ethnic origins:

Dhobis in the Kanojia community are Brahmins - Kanyakubja Brahmins, also known as Kannaujia, a Brahmin community found in Northern India. They decided to take up the business of washerman, and a few opened well known cloth cleaning agencies for Indian Railways, for the British Empire.

Their ancestors took the occupation of washing clothes, evolving over time into a distinct caste bound by rules of endogamy. Most Dhobis follow the customs and traditions of the region they live, so for example those in North India speak Hindi, while those in Maharashtra speak Marathi.[3][4] The Dhobi rank themselves highest among the scheduled castes. The Census of 2001 found Dhobis to constitute six per cent of the Scheduled Castes (SC).[5]


Dhobis are an occupational caste grouping, and usually operate from door to door collecting dirty linen from households. After a `day or two, they return the linen washed, sometimes starched and ironed. Dhobis were the forerunners[citation needed] on the Indian subcontinent to modern professional dry cleaners. Since the Dhobi charges are much less than a dry cleaner, they are popular with most[citation needed] households. Each Dhobi marks a unique symbol or character on garments belonging to a particular household. This is marked in black indelible ink to prevent it from being washed off. Dhobis may wash the clothes themselves or outsource it to Dhobis who only wash clothes.[citation needed].Many are Middle Level Agriculturists.[clarification needed] Mainly depends on farming.

Indian Dhobies, c. 1905
Dhobies at work at Saidape, c. 1905



In Karnataka, there are Muslim Dhobis, also called Agasa, Dhobi, Pakzade, and Parit. Their population is spread over Karnataka, mainly in Bagalkot, Belgaum, Bijapur, Dharwar, Haveri, Davangere and Gadag Kumta, Sirsi, Ankola, Karwar, Mysore Banglore Gulbarga Ramnagar Districts. Their secondary language is Kannada or Urdu.[citation needed]

There are also Hindu Dhobis, called Madivala, concentrated mainly in Davanagere, Chitradurga, Raichur and Shimoga districts.[6] Madivals significantly depend on agriculture, and farming is their main source of Income.

Uttar Pradesh[edit]

In Uttar Pradesh, the kanojiya Dhobis (derived from Brahmins - Kanyakubja Brahmins) have been granted scheduled caste status to get benefits from Indian Government programs. The community is strictly endogamous, and practice clan exogamy. Their main clans, known as gotras, are the Ayodhyabas, Belwar, Mathur, Kashyap, Jaiswar, Jaiswal, Belwar, Yadava & Chauhans from Ajmer Rajasthan, practice hypergamy, with clans of lower status giving girls in marriage to those of higher status, but not receiving girls. They speak various dialects of Hindi, such as Khari boli, Awadhi Bhojpuri and Braj Bhasha.[7] The dhobi are still involved in their traditional occupation, which is washing clothes. Traditionally, the community would wash clothes for particular families, and would receive grain and services from them. But with the growth of the cash economy, most dhobi are now paid money for their services. A significant number of Dhobis are cultivators, particularly in western Uttar Pradesh. They live in multi-caste villages, but occupy their own distinct quarters. Each of their settlements contains an informal caste council, known as a Biradari Panchayat. The Panchayat acts as instrument of social control, dealing with issues such as divorce and adultery.[7]


The Dhobi community in Bihar is about 6% of the total population, primarily concentrated in Purnia and East Champaran districts. The Dhobi community in Bihar is a Scheduled Caste. Among the more numerous of the Scheduled Castes, Dhobi have registered the highest overall literacy rate.[8]


The Dhobi of Rajasthan claim descent from the Rajput community, and are known as Dhoba. Although the Dhobi are found throughout Rajasthan, their main concentration is in Ajmer District. The Dhobi speak Mewari, although most also understand Hindi. They have been granted Scheduled Caste status. Like other Hindu castes in Rajasthan, the Dhobi community is further divided into clans known as ataks. Their main ataks are the hathwal[clarification needed] Chauhan, Marwara and Hilogia. Marriages are forbidden within the clan. Most Dhobi are still involved in their traditional occupation of washing clothes. They are exclusively Hindu, and their tribal deity is known as Ghatmata.[9]


The Dhobi of Haryana are said to have originated from Punjab and Rajasthan. They are scattered throughout the state. Like other Hindu communities, they are divided into clans called gotras. Some of the major gotras are the hathwal~ Chauhan, Shukravar, Rajoria, Tonwar, Panwar, Badera, Satmase, Akhasriya, Mahavar and Basvadiya. These clan names are also used as surnames. Their main occupation remains washing and drying of clothes.A small number of Dhobi are marginal farmers.They are classified as an Other Backward Class (OBCs).[3]


Mumbaikar dhobis at work in the Mahalaxmi area

In Maharashtra, the Dhobi are found throughout the state, and are also known as Parit. They claim to have originally belonged to the Rajput community, and in particular the Chauhan clan. The Dhobi have been listed as Other Backward Class (OBC). They speak Marathi among themselves, and Hindi with outsiders.[4]

The community are endogamous, and practice clan exogamy. Their main clans in Maharashtra are the Abidkar, Bannolkar, Belwarkar, Chawhan, Chilate, Chawlkar, Chewakar, Dudhmogre, Dhongde, Gaikwad, Ghousalkar, Harmekar, Hedulkar, Jangade, jagdhale,Kalyankar, Kanekar, Kalatkar, Katkar Lad, Motikar, Nandgaonkar, Nane, Pawar, Pabrekar, Palkar, Purwarkar, Sonone, Salekar,Sardar, Sewane and Waskar. Marriage within the clan is prohibited.[4]

The Dhobi of Mumbai wash their linen in the Mahalaxmi area known as Dhobi Ghat. This area is strangely popular with foreign tourists looking for a piece of quintessential "Indian-ness". Another region in South Mumbai, Dhobitalao used to be a lake (now filled in) where British soldiers used to have their uniforms washed about 120 years ago.[4]


The Dhobi of Punjab are said to have immigrated from the ancient city of Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh, and are now found throughout Punjab. They are further sub-divided into clans called gots (from the Sanskrit gotra), and marriages are forbidden within the clan. Their main clans are the hathwal ~ Chauhan, Panwar, Tonwar ,Rajoria and Mandora. The Dhobi speak Punjabi, and their customs are similar to other Punjabi dalit castes. They are still very much involved in their traditional occupation which is washing clothes. Some have also taken to other occupations such as dry cleaning, shop keeping, hosiery. A significant migration to the urban areas of Punjab and other parts of India has begun. Traditionally, the dhobi lived in villages dominated by landowning castes such as the Jat, who acted as their patrons. This relationship has broken down, and any transaction now is made in cash. Each dhobi settlement contains a biradari panchayat, which acts as an instrument of social control and resolves intra -ommunity disputes.[10]

Tamil Nadu[edit]

The Tamil Dhobis are called Vannar.[11]


The state is having fair percentile of Dhobis in coastal belt i.e.. eastern Odisha (Cuttack, Puri, Balasore, Ganjam) and marginal percentile of population in central Odisha and western Odisha.[12]

Andhra Pradesh[edit]

In Andhra Pradesh, the Rajakas form 12%[citation needed] of the total population and they are considered backward caste.[13]

Other uses[edit]

There are also streets called Dhobi (or Dhoby) Ghaut in Singapore and Penang (Malaysia), where Indian dhobis used to carry out their ancestral business.[citation needed]

Dhobi remains British Armed Forces slang for washing (i.e. "doing your dhobi"). In addition, washing powder is known as "dhobi dust".and there are 11 states in India in which dhobis are taken in above castes.[citation needed]

Sometimes, a colloquial verb "to dhobi" is used. The sentence "My clothes were stinking, so I took them off and dhobied them native fashion by bashing them on a wet rock" from The Gold of Malabar by Berkely Mather, an author who had spent many years in India.[14]

The word "dhobi" has been absorbed into the Malay language as "dobi" to mean "laundry". So "kedai dobi" means "laundry shop". A laundry shop in Malaysia may be owned by members of any group, not only Indian.[citation needed]

Dhobi itch or dhobi wallah's itch refers to skin irritation caused by cleaning products and is an alternative name for jock itch.[15]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/16709/IN
  2. ^ People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part One edited by A Hasan & J C Das
  3. ^ a b People of India Haryana Volume XXIII edited by M.L Sharma and A.K Bhatia pages 149 to 153
  4. ^ a b c d People of India Maharshtra Volume XXX Part One edited by B.V Bhanu, B.R Bhatnagar, D.K Bose, V.S Kulkarni and J Sreenath pages 523-528
  5. ^ Dalit and Tribal Representatives in Chains: A Gift of Joint Electorate
  6. ^ http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=216244
  7. ^ a b People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part One edited by A Hasan & J C Das pages 446 to 451 Manohar Publications
  8. ^ http://censusindia.gov.in/Tables_Published/SCST/dh_sc_bihar.pdf
  9. ^ People of India Rajasthan Volume XXXVIII Part One edited by B.K Lavania, D. K Samanta, S K Mandal & N.N Vyas pages 336 to 338 Popular Prakashan Govind Prakash Vashishtha Vill. Sanija Bawadi Kota, Rajasthan
  10. ^ People of India Punjab Volume XXXVII edited by I.J.S Bansal and Swaran Singh pages 169 to 171 Manohar
  11. ^ http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main13.asp?filename=Cr082705Caught_in_the.asp
  12. ^ http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/1766850/
  13. ^ List of OBCs in Andhra Pradesh
  14. ^ Berkely Mather, "The Gold of Malabar", Fontana books, London, 1967, Ch. 7, P. 145
  15. ^ "dhobi itch". Chambers Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  16. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/474873/Ranasinghe-Premadasa

External links[edit]