Dhobis struggle as waterspouts dry up

- Dipak Bayalkoti, Kathmandu
Dhobis struggle as waterspouts dry up

Aug 21, 2014-

As majority of waterspouts in the Kathmandu valley have dried up, people belonging to the Dhobi community who are said to specialise in washing clothes in stone spouts, are struggling to save their traditional profession.  The acute water shortage in the Valley owing to disappearing source of water has also discouraged this indigenous group from engaging in their traditional occupation as many of these washermen have started seeking greener pastures for better financial security.

“Water is key to our profession. We cannot engage in our work without water. But now stone spouts and wells are drying up very fast. We are helpless,” said 46-year-old Sohan Rajak, a washerman who inherited the age-old profession from his ancestors. “Now our only option is buying water from water tankers, but we cannot afford that always.”

According to the Dhobi Community, a loose network of Dhobis in the Valley, a decade ago there were around a thousand Dhobi families who were engaged in the traditional profession.

But with the traditional source of water– spring and ground water--depleting fast owing to growing urbanisation, the number families involved in the profession has deceased to around 225.

Currently, eight out of nine Dhobi settlements based in the Capital are devoid of waterspouts altogether. Only the stone spout at Narayanthan- Dhobichaur--has adequate water for these washermen to be able to wash clothes, while waterspouts in other areas including Chhetrapati, Lazimpat, Tukucha, Lainchaur, Dhalkhu, Kaldhara, Swoyambhu, and Mhepi have all dried up.

Another problem faced by the community is the long hours of powercuts, because of which they have made hefty investments on expensive washing machines, hydro-machine, drier and hand press, despite being offered very low wages for their services.

In fact, they are mostly making their earning by providing services to commercial organisations like restaurants, small hotels, guest-houses, hospitals and outsourcing themselves to dry-cleaners. Historian Ramesh Dhungel said a small section of Newari people such as Rajak, Kanojia and Mongaya adopted the profession since the Lichchhavi period.

According to the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), there were around 165 waterspouts in Kathmandu alone until 2007. Among them, 33 have already disappeared while 34 others are not functional, and 2 have running water as they been linked to pipelines.

Narayan Bhattarai, an official at the Heritage Department of KMC, said it is difficult to claim the exact number of waterspouts with running water.

“Our research shows that over 50 percent of natural waterspouts have dried up,” he said.

Published: 22-08-2014 09:02

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