The Dhobi are a caste group found in Pakistan, India who specialize in washing clothes. The word Dhobi is derived from 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. The Dhobi is likely to be of diverse origin, with those who 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.
Scope and job
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 on the Indian subcontinent to modern professional dry cleaners. Since the dhobi charges are much lower than those of dry cleaners, they are popular with most 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. In Andhra Pradesh this caste is known as Rajaka (Chakali) and they make up 12% of the Andhra Pradesh population. They are known as Madvala or Rajaka in the state of Goa, and have Other Backward Class status, while most Dhobis in North India have scheduled caste status